HENRIETTA, N.Y. (WROC) — In a late January decision, a New York State Supreme Court justice ruled the Rush-Henrietta Board of Education violated parts of the New York Open Meetings Law during a June 2020 meeting.
“A search of the record reveals no material dispute that Respondents violated Public Officer’s Law sections 105 and 106,” Justice William Taylor wrote, “by failing to state prior to entering executive
session that it planned to discuss – and thereafter in fact discussed – whether to allow the Town to use school facilities for summer camp.”
“The undisputed record further establishes that Respondent School Board failed to take minutes during said executive session and subsequently failed to release minutes of the session within one week,” Justice Taylor added.
The Town of Henrietta had approached the Board with a request to use the district’s facilities for summer activities, according to court documents. The district’s superintendent, the documents say, presented the proposal in executive session because of potential liability and personnel issues, and anticipated some community pushback about his recommendation “not to host any summer programming given the fact we’re in the middle of a pandemic.”
An executive session is, in essence, a private meeting during a public meeting — a closed-door discussion meant to safeguard sensitive and personal information.
The Justice’s decision comes after legal action by a former Board member, Douglas Rivers, who petitioned to regain his position on the board after being ousted, and for a declaration that the Board violated the Open Meetings Law.
At the time of his ouster, Rivers was accused by the board of improperly divulging confidential information.
The Board of Education declined a request from News 8 for an interview, but read aloud a statement at Tuesday’s board meeting, which is as follows:
The Rush-Henrietta Board of Education’s unanimous decision to remove Mr. Rivers after a hearing in August 2020 was the subject of pending litigation which is now complete, per Decision, Order and Judgement issued by Judge Taylor on January 29, 2021. As the litigation is no longer pending, I will address it briefly.
While the court declared a violation of the open meetings law regarding a discussion in executive session, it dismissed Mr. Rivers’ challenge of the board’s decision to remove him. The court has awarded no further relief to Mr. Rivers. There are no appeals pending, therefore, the district considers this matter closed.
The Board of Education is pleased that Mr. Rivers’ challenge to its unanimous decision to remove him from the board has been dismissed. Neither the district nor members of the board will be elaborating further.
— Diane McBride, Rush-Henrietta Board of Education President
“Mr. Rivers did nothing wrong,” argued Sheila Buck, the President of the Rush-Henrietta Employees Association Teachers’ Chapter, in an interview with News 8. “Mr. Rivers was trying to serve his community and serve the constituents.”
Buck asserts the Board’s reason for going into executive session was not good enough.
“It’s not to avoid controversial topics,” Buck said. “Those topics are supposed to be discussed in the public meeting place.”