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Reporter is banned from boat excursion

EMILY LINDEN PHOTO Daybreak over West Neck Creek.

EMILY LINDEN PHOTO Daybreak over West Neck Creek.

The Gary Gerth administration, which has made transparency with the public a priority, got tripped up Tuesday, taking advice from a project manager handling an application for a dock installation in West Neck Creek.

At issue was whether South Ferry boats could enter the creek in the event of a hurricane or major storm and be able to leave the area after the storm.

Mr. Gerth had invited the Reporter to join the boat excursion, which was part of Tuesday’s Town Board work session, but project manager Greg Nissen banned a journalist from boarding his boat to see the site.

Under the New York State Open Meetings Law, a board can do a site visit without the press present. But any discussion must occur in an open session.

Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. said he was aware of the law and advised board members not to discuss the issue.

But they peppered Mr. Clark with questions about whether he had concerns about the dock request.

Mr. Clark told them he had no problem with the requested dock placement, Mr. DeStefano said.

Mr. Clark confirmed that there’s plenty of room to moor his boats in the area in foul weather even if the dock is built.

The Waterways Management Advisory Committee in July had recommended granting the dock with certain conditions. It falls to the Town Board to make the final decision to either accept or reject the WMAC recommendation.

Current case law that dictates allowable practices under the Open Meetings Law provides that site visits by public bodies can be for the purpose of observation but “any discussions or deliberations regarding such observations must occur in public during meetings conducted in accordance with the Open Meetings law.”

The case in question according to Robert Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government, was from the Riverkeeper v. Planning Board of the Town of Somers, in Westchester County in June 2002.

The site visit was not in violation of the Open Meetings Law, but any discussion not held in an open session would be, Mr. Freeman said.

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