The Northern Westchester Examiner

Fingers Pointed in Yorktown Over Closed Session Talks

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An executive session discussion and apparent vote by the Yorktown Town Board last week regarding a proposed resolution to hire outside counsel to defend Supervisor Michael Grace over an ethics complaint has town officials pointing fingers at each other.

Councilman Vishnu Patel contended the board violated the New York State Open Meetings Law by passing a resolution that appropriates taxpayer funds in closed session. Patel said he voted for the resolution, along with councilmen Tom Diana, Gregory Bernard and Ed Lachterman, on September 26 after Grace, who recused himself, said his defense was covered by the town’s Defense and Indemnification Law.

“The resolution, which wasn’t even written down, didn’t include a cap on how much money could be spent for the lawyer,” Patel stated in a list of bullet points he submitted to Examiner Media. “The supervisor never told the board exactly what the complaint was, to what body or agency, and who filed it. All he said was that it was related to an ethics issue.”

Town Attorney Michael McDermott refused to confirm what the board discussed in executive session, but did refute Patel’s claims of a vote taking place that required public funds, saying, “That’s untrue. There was no allocation of taxpayer money.”

When Examiner Media approached Diana and Lachterman September 29 at a press conference on a different matter to question them about the executive session, McDermott intervened and prevented them from responding. However, Lachterman maintained it was illegal for a councilman to publicly comment on closed session items.

Without stating what the matter was that the board discussed, Diana said the board only reached a consensus on a resolution that may be publicly voted on tonight (October 3).

Kristen O’Neill, assistant director of the Department of State Committee on Open Government, said Monday there was no provision in the Open Meeting Law that prevents an elected official from publicly discussing any issues talked about privately, but added, “Is it a good practice? Probably not.”

Patel, the lone Democrat on the board who is seeking a third four-year term in November, maintained he did nothing wrong by informing the public.

“By going public, I am not disclosing confidential information. I am letting the public know that the town board took an illegal action,” Patel said. “This illegal action follows in a long line of the board discussing town issues that are not permitted in closed executive sessions.”

Former Supervisor and Councilwoman Susan Siegel believes the pending resolution centers on her August 26 request to the New York State Bar Association Grievance Committee for the Ninth Judicial District to investigate what she contended “appears to be a clear-cut violation” of the conflict of interest provisions of the Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct by Grace.

In her correspondence, Siegel stated in 2016 Grace voted to award a towing contract to a local business, Yorktown Auto Body. A year later, as a private attorney, he represented the same company in a private legal matter.

In a September 7 letter to Siegel, Gary Casella, chief counsel for the Grievance Committee for the Ninth Judicial District, stated the committee has commenced an investigation into her complaint.

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