Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Negligence in complying with the Open Meetings Law may not be sufficient to vacated decisions made at a meeting subject to its provisions


Negligence in complying with the Open Meetings Law may not be sufficient to vacated decisions made at a meeting subject to its provisions
Cutler v Town of Mamakating, 2016 NY Slip Op 01543, Appellate Division, Third Department

The Town of Mamakatingabolished its position of Parks Maintenance Supervisor.

The then incumbent of the position, Oliver Cutler, challenged the Town’s action. Cutler contended that the Town had “had illegally and in bad faith abolished his position.” Cutler also alleged that the Town violated the Open Meetings Law, Public Officers Law Article 7, when it voted to abolish the Parks Maintenance Supervisor position at a closed executive session and was unrecorded.

Supreme Court dismissed Cutler’s “combined proceeding pursuant to CPLR Article 78 and action for declaratory judgment” to vacate the Town’s action abolishing his position which resulted in his being terminated from employment.

Cutler appealed the Supreme Court’s action but the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s rulings. Citing §80 of the Civil Service Law, the court ruled that a public employer may, in the absence of bad faith, collusion or fraud, abolish positions for purposes of economy or efficiency.

Here the record included affidavits of the Town Supervisor and a member of the Town Board indicating that because its “parks maintenance department consisted of only [Cutler] and one part-time laborer, it could achieve greater economy and efficiency by abolishing the supervisory position in favor of hiring additional laborers.” The Town also said that Cutler’s managerial duties were “shifted” to the Town Supervisor and that this reorganization and the employment of two full-time and one part-time laborer provided an overall “cost savings.”

Thus, said the court, the burden was then shifted to Cutler to demonstrate that his position was eliminated in bad faith or as a subterfuge to circumvent his rights under the Civil Service Law. The Appellate Division said Cutler failed to meet his burden, submitting only “conclusory and unsupported assertions” which failed to refute the Town Board's showing that its actions were part of “a good faith effort to reorganize a municipal department for the purposes of reducing costs and increasing efficiency.”

The court explained that the mere reassignment of duties, in and of itself, does not constitute proof of bad faith nor was there any indication in the record of any personal or political animosities that would suggest some deceitful purpose of ousting and replacing Cutler.

Addressing Cutler’s argument in the alternative, that the closed executive session in which the unrecorded vote to abolish his position was taken constituted a violation of the Open Meetings Law, the Appellate Division held that “Supreme Court had good cause to void the Town Board's action.” Although a discussion of the abolishment of Cutler's specific position for reasons of economy and efficiency was a proper subject of an executive session, the court said it agreed with Cutler that the Town Board violated the Open Meetings Law by inadequately describing the purpose for entering into the executive session as, simply, "personnel issues."

The Appellate Division also agreed with Cutler “that it was improper for the Town Board to vote on its decision without recording the vote in the executive session minutes, even though it did not "appropriate public moneys."

Notwithstanding its agreement with Cutler concerning these two “procedural defects,” the court decided that Cutler failed to show the requisite "good cause" for declaring the Town Board's action to be void stating that the record does not suggest that the [Town Board's] failure to comply with the precise requirements of the Open Meetings Law was anything more than mere negligence." Citing Roberts v Town Board of Carmel, 207 AD2d 404; Leave to appeal denied, 84 NY2d 811, the Appellate Division concluded that “mere negligence” does not constitute good cause for invalidating the Town Board's otherwise permissible action.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_01543.htm

_____________________


The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual - a 645 page e-book reviewing the relevant New York State laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions involving layoff and related matters. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/5216.html
_____________________

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

Caution:

Subsequent court and administrative rulings, or changes to laws, rules and regulations may have modified or clarified or vacated or reversed the decisions summarized here. Accordingly, these summaries should be Shepardized® or otherwise checked to make certain that the most recent information is being considered by the reader.

THE MATERIAL ON THIS WEBSITE IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY. CHANGES IN LAWS, RULES, REGULATIONS AND NEW COURT AND ADMINISTRATIVE DECISIONS MAY AFFECT THE ACCURACY OF THE INFORMATION PROVIDED IN THIS LAWBLOG. THE MATERIAL PRESENTED IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE AND THE USE OF ANY MATERIAL POSTED ON THIS WEBSITE DOES NOT CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.

Consistent with the Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations, the material in this blog is presented with the understanding that the publisher is not providing legal advice to the reader and in the event legal or other expert assistance is needed, the reader should seek such advice from a competent professional.

Items published in NYPPL may not be used for commercial purposes without prior written permission to copy and distribute such material. Send your request via e-mail to publications@nycap.rr.com

Copyright© 1987 - 2017 by the Public Employment Law Press.



___________________



N.B. From time to time a political ad or endorsement may appear in the sidebar of this Blog. NYPPL does not have any control over such posting.

_____________________

.