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Reminder: Local Government Can’t Vote In Private

by Ethan Fry | Jun 21, 2017 6:35 am

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Posted to: Ansonia, Your Right To Know

Photo: Ethan Fry Ansonia’s Police Commission violated an open meeting law by taking a vote behind closed doors Thursday (June 15).

State law says public entities are only supposed vote in public, so the public can see what’s happening.

Earlier this year the city’s corporation counsel circulated a memo specifically telling Ansonia boards and commissions not to vote in executive session.

The police commission’s vote June 15 vote was trivial.

They had been meeting for about two hours in a (legal) closed-door executive session to talk about a disciplinary issue involving a police officer.

The vote was simply to end an executive session and to move to a public session.

But, in a move underscoring why the law exists, an official briefly prevented a member of the public (a Valley Indy reporter) from going into the meeting, while allowing another member of the public (a recording secretary) into the room.

The commission then voted to end the private session, and adjourned the meeting as the reporter entered the room.

The commission’s chairwoman indicated she didn’t realize the vote was against the rules, and a labor lawyer representing the city at the meeting said the police commission’s actions were OK.

But in January 2017, Ansonia Corporation Counsel John Marini circulated a memo with a subheading — “NO VOTING IN EXECUTIVE SESSION.”

“No official action may be taken in executive session,” the memo says. “All votes must be taken on the record after your board/commission comes out of executive session (even the vote to return to public session must be taken on the record).”

Marini told The Valley Indy that he would stop by the police commission’s next meeting to “remind everyone that no vote means no vote.”

The city’s police commission isn’t the only government entity making executive session mistakes.

At a meeting June 7 the city’s Board of Education entered an executive session for an expulsion hearing without voting to do so.

A member of the school board completely misstated open government law, saying the board didn’t need a motion or vote to go into a private session.

The Freedom of Information Act says that before entering an executive session, public agencies must, in public, state the specific reasons for doing so — and they need a vote by a two-thirds majority.

After the meeting, Ansonia School Board Chairman William Nimons said he’d research the issue more, but agreed that the school board should have had a public vote to go into executive session.

Finally, the minutes from the meeting incorrectly say the school board voted to enter executive session, which they did not.

Nimons said the minutes will be corrected.

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