October 18, 2021

Legislators go back and forth on budget meeting

An unannounced meeting Oct. 6 of a quorum of Cortland County’s Budget and Finance Committee to discuss an issue regarding the county’s finances wasn’t a meeting of the committee and therefore not a near violation of state Open Meetings Law, Legislature Chairman Paul Heider said Tuesday.

However, if the county doesn’t have secretive meetings, then it should do a better job at ensuring the possibility of a quorum wouldn’t happen, Legislator Kelly Preston said at a meeting of the Budget and Finance Committee.

“If we are going to have conversations for Budget and Finance Committee members, then all Budget and Finance Committee members should be invited,” said Legislator Kelly Preston (R-Homer). “If we have to go into executive session, so be it if there’s a cause, but I am adamant that we should have complete transparency. We don’t need to look like we are hiding anything.”

On Oct. 6 four members of the Budget and Finance Committee met with Heider to discuss a budget request by Tompkins Cortland Community College. The meeting was not announced. However, the meeting couldn’t begin until one legislator left the meeting after Preston said a quorum of the committee was in attendance. With a quorum, the meeting would have to be open to the public and advance notice given.

Under state Open Meeting 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.”

To rectify the situation, Legislator Sandy Price (D-Harford, Virgil) volunteered to leave and follow up later to find out what happened.

The issue was then addressed during the Budget and Finance meeting Tuesday.

Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton) said it wasn’t a meeting of the Budget and Finance Committee.

“We don’t do illegal meetings, we don’t hide anything from the public,” Heider said. “We are quite frankly out there to the public.”

Heider said certain legislators were invited to the meeting because they have or have had some sort of relationship to TC3.

“Ms. Preston had a relationship, Ms. Price had a relationship, Mr. Fitch has a relationship, Mr. Wagner had a relationship,” Heider said. “So when we think deeply about this concern, it should stand out in front of us why people were invited. It was not a Budget and Finance meeting period.”

All of the people he listed sit on the Budget and Finance Committee and constitute a quorum of that committee. The committee members: Preston, Price, Chairman George Wagner (RMarathon, Lapeer), Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland), Beau Harbin (D-Cortland), Christopher Newell (R-Cortlandville), and Kevin Fitch (R-Homer, Preble).

“I think we can do better,” Preston said. “I think when people are invited we need to check to see if they are on a specific committee. We can do better. Our community and our taxpayer and the public expects us to do better.”