In May, Village of Corfu trustees met in closed session and discussed whether the village court really needed both a full-time and part-time clerk.
A portion of that closed session conversion was leaked to Justice Robert Alexander.
At Monday's meeting where the full-time clerk, Pamela Yasses, raised a formal complaint about alleged harassment by Alexander, Trustee Ralph Peterson was accused of being the source of that leak.
At the meeting, Peterson flatly denied it, but a May 24 memo from Alexander to the village trustees suggests Peterson was the source of the information.
From Alexander's memo:
I was amazed when Trustee Peterson informed me this morning that Trustee Graham reported to the Board that the Village Court Clerk Pam Yasses told him that she didn't need the Part Time Court Clerk, (Tom Ingram) and that she can and is handling all the court business without in the him (sic) in her 40-hour-work week. The court clerk does not have the legal right to speak for the Court or evaluate and or comment on the duties or her performance of the court duties to the Board of Trustee members.
Al Graham said today the only place Peterson would have heard about his conversation with Yasses was in the executive session, held the night before Alexander's memo was issued.
Here's the conversation from Monday's meeting:
Peterson: My question is, what do we do?
Attorney Mark Boylan: What do you not do. What you do not do is get on the phone after the meeting and call the judge and tell him what just happened, first of all.
Peterson: I’m asking a question, the question I’m asking is related to this particular situation and the action of the board to pursue this.
Boylan: I’m concerned about action with individuals, too.
Peterson: Well, OK fine, but ...
Boylan: If you’re not acting in concert, in other words, as a board, you're acting individually against the board's wishes ...
Peterson: Are you accusing me of something?
Boylan: Well, I don’t know how this last issue with executive session could have gotten to the judge so quickly. I don’t have any information, but I’m just wondering.
Yasses: Let me say on the record, Rosie, I’m going to call you out because it was you.
Peterson: Well, I asked, that's right.
Yasses: You lied to my face and then you tried to tell me you didn’t tell Judge Alexander something. You did.
Peterson: Where did I lie?
Yasses: You came to me and then we had that meeting ...
Peterson: Whoa, whoa, whoa ... where was the lie.
Yasses: You breached executive session and then he came to me and told me.
Peterson: No I did not.
Yasses: It's the only way ...
Peterson: I did not.
Yasses: Rosie, ...
Peterson: I did not. I did not tell him. I don't know how he found out, but I did not tell him.
Boylan: What I'm telling you is if anybody, if anybody acts against the agreement of the board, you are subjecting this board to potential litigtion.
Tonight, Peterson said he did talk with Alexander, but only after consulting with a staff member at the New York Conference of Mayors who said the board met in a session that should not have been closed to the public.
Under New York law, elected bodies can -- but are not required to -- go into closed session to discuss personnel matters. Peterson said he was told that since the board was discussing a staff position and not the person who held the position, there was nothing confidential about the conversation. The conversation should have taken place in an open meeting.
In his May 24 letter, Alexander accused the board of conducting an illegal executive session and said he, or any village resident, had the option of pursuing litigation to overturn any decision in an illegal executive session.
Graham said the issue came up in May because he went into the court clerk's office prior to a trustee meeting and happened to ask if the part-time position was really necessary.
Yasses, he said, shared with him her thoughts on the matter. He conveyed those thoughts to the rest of the board, which voted to eliminate the position.
At the time, Graham said, the part-time clerk was apparently working on a project for Alexander and Yasses was handling all of the court's business during her 40-hour work week.
The issue has apparently become a sore point for Alexander (who hasn't responded to our request for a statement or interview) because Yasses said he's raised several times with her his belief that she should have no communication with trustees about court business, even though Yasses is employed by the village.
Because Yasses is an employee of the village, according to Boylan, it's perfectly acceptable for trustees to communicate with her and for her to respond to questions about her duties, responsibilities and how they're are discharged.
In emails obtained by The Batavian as part of a larger FOIL request this summer, after this May meeting, Alexander begins a long argument with Mayor Todd Skeet about the re-appointment of Yasses as his clerk.
In a May 31 email, he suggests that the board of trustees didn't follow proper legal procedure in her re-appointment and that he needed a meeting with Skeet. He concludes: "I would like to fulfill the last year of my 24 years as Village Justice with an experienced clerk. I am therefore asking that you confer with me and re-appoint my court clerk."
Alexander maintains in several emails that he has not been properly consulted, as required by state law, on the re-appointment of Yasses.
According to Graham, the trustees feel Alexander gave his consent to her re-appointment in the May 31 email and in a voice mail he left for Skeet.
The board has taken the position that Yasses is an employee of the board and cannot be dismissed by Alexander.