City business, which is taxpayer business, should not be conducted in secret.
Last night, the City Council met in secret session to discuss a proposed settlement in an unfair labor practices claim with the local firefighters union.
It's a great deal, as we know it so far, for the firefighters, and probably well deserved and maybe even inevitable. It's possible that the best thing for City Hall is to settle this matter and move on.
But if not for a leak to The Batavian, residents of the City of Batavia would have scant knowledge that a proposed settlement was in place, nor the details of the settlement (we're confident the details provided to The Batavian are correct, but grant that we haven't seen an official document nor received confirmation from an on-the-record source).
We can only presume, then, that the city would charge ahead with a public meeting on Monday where the council could presumably vote on the settlement.
In such a rush to vote, where is the opportunity for public input? In the minutes before the vote? That hardly provides residents a chance to fully digest the agreement, let alone provide meaningful feedback.
If the vote is going to be Monday, the details should have been released to the public last night if not today.
City Council President Charlie Mallow says releasing the details jeopardizes the city's business and that the matter is still in negotiations.
It's clear the negotiations were wrapped up Tuesday.
And, what jeopardizes city business -- taxpayer business -- is withholding information from citizens. In environments of secrecy, it is when mistakes are made and elected officials wind up looking foolish for voting on things without giving constituents a proper chance to provide input.
In comments on the story breaking the details of the settlement, John Roach raises a number of important questions that should be answered before a vote.
This is a big issue. Eliminating the ambulance service was supposed to save the city money, but by putting off negotiations for two more years on overtime pay, by keeping four firefighters and guaranteeing no layoffs, and promising a 5 percent pay increase, by giving away $36,000 in bonuses, we have to wonder how much of the cost savings has just been given away?
Even if the settlement must be accepted, the public has a right to get answers to these questions.
City officials will argue that the closed session was necessary because it involved litigation and contract negotiations.
But there is nothing in New York's Open Meetings Law requiring elected officials to go into closed session on such matters. It's an option, but not a requirement. Nor are elected officials, as matter of law, prevented from discussing what happens in closed session.
City Manager Jason Molino and the City Council could handle this issue in a much more transparent manner if they so choose. But apparently, they want to get this matter put in the past with as little public input and possible.
(NOTE: Friday at 1:10 p.m. and so far no public notice of Monday's meeting. We assume that's still the plan, but the clock is ticking according to New York's laws on public notice for meetings.)
UPDATE 5:04 p.m.: The city released this announcement at 3:23 p.m.
Please be advised that Batavia City Council will hold a special business meeting on Monday, August 31, 2009 to discuss contract and collective bargaining issues. The meeting will begin at 6:00 pm in the Council Board Room at Batavia City Centre.