October 24, 2021

Stealth meeting leads to a near violation

One legislator was forced to leave

Had one legislator not left a budget meeting Oct. 6, the Budget and Finance Committee would have been violating the state Open Meetings Law by not giving public notice of the meeting ahead of time.

“As soon as Kelly (Preston) walked in, she said, ‘Oh it’s a quorum I can’t do it,’” said Legislator Sandra Price (D-Harford, Virgil).

After several legislators met for committee meetings, another meeting regarding the budget and a request by Tompkins Cortland Community College officials was held.

Under the law, public notice of a meeting must be given at least 72 hours ahead of time, if the meeting is planned a week or more in advance. If there is less advance planning, the meeting must be announced “to the extent practicable.”

Price said legislators Kelly Preston (RHomer), Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton), George Wagner (R-Marathon, Lapeer) and Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland) attended. Also at the meeting was County Administrator Rob Corpora and Clerk of the Legislature Eric Mulvihill.

Preston said she immediately brought up that there was a quorum of the Budget and Finance Committee when she realized four members were present — her, Wagner, Bischoff and Price.

Wagner and Preston are the chairman and vice chairwoman of that committee.

“I brought this to the attention of Chairman Heider, at which time he told me I could leave,” she said. “At that time, I reminded Chairman Heider that I am the vice chairwomen of Budget and Finance and I would not leave.”

To rectify the situation, Price volunteered to leave and follow up later to find out what happened.

She said she talked to the TC3 officials and learned they were there to discuss the county giving the college funding ahead of schedule because of budget issues the college expects because of the coronavirus pandemics’ effect on the economy, and the state’s budget.

“It appears we have enough cash flow to do two payments ahead of time,” Price said.

She said that decision was expected to be brought up today in committee, and then voted on by the full Legislature.

Mulvihill and Heider could not be reached for comment on the lack of public notice.