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Here’s How to Contact the Committee on Open Government

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Something is brewing in the Town of Sweden, and it isn’t a pot of coffee. It’s a scandal about the secretive, underhanded way the Sweden Town Council conducts business.

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That’s why Sweden residents are asking how they can contact the New York State Committee on Open Government.

The scandal raised its ugly head last month and then it raised its ugly head again at Tuesday night’s Sweden Town Council meeting.

At their January 28, 2014 meeting, the Sweden Town Council violated New York State’s Open Meeting Law when they went into executive session to discuss "a legal matter."

That was the euphemism the town council used to describe the proposed 421-m tax exemption for preservation of the property at 60 Clinton Street, which is on the National Historic Register of Historic Places.

New York State’s Public Officers Law Article 7, Section 105 lists the eight subjects that it is legal to discuss in an executive session, but “a legal matter” is not on that list.

Neither is discussing a tax exemption to preserve an historic property.

On January 31st, Meaghan McDermott, from the Democrat & Chronicle, published a great article about how the Open Meetings Law isn't optional.

But the members of the Sweden Town council don’t care. They seem to think that they are above the law, and that no one will ever hold them accountable for their illegal actions.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, supervisor Rob Carges opened the meeting by denying that the members of the town council had violated the law.

Since the violation has been well documented by the D&C, Carges’ claim makes almost as much sense as denying that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. But Carges said it anyway.

Rob Carges sounded like a kid with a cookie in his hand who gets caught standing over the broken cookie jar, and then claims that he didn’t do it.

If this illegal action by the Sweden Town Council concerns you, here’s how to contact the NYS Committee on Open Government.

1. Log on to the Committee on Open Government website: http://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/

2. Select “I would like to…” from the header at the top of the page.

3. Select “Request an advisory opinion” from the drop down menu.

4. Decide whether you want to write a letter to the COOG, or send them an email.

Mailing Address:
Executive Director: Robert J. Freeman
NYS Committee on Open Government
Department of State
One Commerce Plaza
99 Washington Avenue, Suite 650
Albany, NY 12231

Email: coog@dos.ny.gov

Telephone: (518) 474-2518

Fax: (518) 474-1927

Here is a sample letter/email to Robert J. Freeman, the Executive Director of the NYS Committee on Open Government. Feel free to use it as an outline for your own letter/email to the Committee on Open Government.

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Mr. Freeman,

Can you tell me if the Sweden Town Council violated the New York State Open Meetings Law when they went into executive session to discuss a “legal matter” at their January 28, 2014 meeting,?

Meaghan McDermott, from the Democrat & Chronicle, contacted you about this situation last month. Her article about it is online at: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/watchdog/2014/01/30/sweden-open-meetings/5056381/

The official minutes from the January 28, 2014 Sweden Town Council meeting are available online at.
http://www.townofsweden.org/pdf/minutes/Town-Board/2014/01-28-14.pdf

The test of those minutes reads:

“EXECUTIVE SESSION Councilperson Windus-Cook made a motion that was seconded by Councilperson Roberts to go into executive session at 7:30 p.m. to discuss a legal matter on a proposed tax exemption. All voted in favor of the motion. Motion adopted. No action taken. Councilperson Roberts made a motion that was seconded by Councilperson Muesebeck to leave executive session and return to the regular meeting at 8:15 p.m. All voted in favor of the motion. Motion adopted.”

At the Sweden Town Board meeting this past Tuesday night, Supervisor Rob Carges opened the meeting by denying that the Sweden Town Council had violated the New York State Open Meetings Law.

I am contacting you because of that statement made by Supervisor Carges.

My elected officials in the Town of Sweden seem to have violated the law, and I think they should be held accountable for their actions if they did.

I hope that by writing to you about this matter, I can help ensure that the Sweden Town Council will not violate the New York State Open Meetings Law at any future town council meetings.

I would appreciate any advice you can give me in this matter.

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