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Town denies Hay Beach Property Owners’ Association allegation of withholding information

The Town Board issued a written statement Tuesday refuting a charge from Hay Beach Property Owners’ Association President Patrick Clifford that information requested in relation to a now-defunct application for staff housing at the Gardiner’s Bay Country Club (GBCC) is being withheld.

Mr. Clifford wrote a letter to the editor appearing in today’s paper charging that the town was failing to provide full information requested in a Freedom of Information request. He received information previously made public, but said there should be information from email accounts or cellphone conversations that weren’t provided.

“There appears to be a sentiment as expressed by the correspondence from Mr. Clifford that the public is not being provided with information regarding what the Town Board is doing,” the Town Board-issued statement says. But that’s not the case, according to the statement. “All substantive proposals are brought for a hearing before the public and most are discussed at numerous work sessions.”

At Tuesday’s Town Board work session, Supervisor Gerry Siller referred to the Hay Beach Property Owners’ Association letter, saying, “We can’t give you documents we don’t have.”

Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. said the only thing he ever withholds relate to materials that are attorney-client privileged communications.

Mr. Siller said in today’s society there are “all sorts of conspiracy theorists” but he and his fellow Town Board members are following procedures in the Freedom of Information Act.

Councilman Jim Colligan said he didn’t remember any discussions at work sessions, regular Town Board meetings or even executive sessions that dealt with the GBCC application. He said he reviewed his notes and emails and can find no mention of any such discussions.

The one time when a former Community Housing Board member tried to add a discussion of the application to an agenda, he was rebuffed by then chairman Mike Bebon. According to practice, to avoid influencing a ZBA decision, other boards and committees are restricted from discussing ZBA applications unless specifically asked to do so by the ZBA. 

The application was referred to the Zoning Board of Appeals and while the Town Board was aware of it, there was no discussion at the Town Board level, the Town Board statement said.

“In fact, to avoid even a hint of undue influence on the Zoning Board, all town committees including the Town Board were asked specifically not to discuss the matter unless asked by the Zoning Board,” according to the statements. “Consequently, there were almost no communications regarding this issue.”

As for charges that changes to the Zoning Code have been suggested, they amount to recommendations for the Town Board to discuss. Until Tuesday’s work session, there was no discussion taking place. 

“Despite the concern raised during the comprehensive plan committee meetings, there have been no significant discussions on this issue,” the Town Board statement said.

In his letter to the editor, Mr. Clifford said he thought there had to be other materials because Country Club representatives are working on a revised proposal. A new proposal has not yet been submitted and Club President Doug Sandberg has not revealed any information on potential changes that might be made if a new application is submitted.

There were statements while the initial application was pending that Supervisor Gerry Siller had commented favorably about the proposal. The Supervisor has denied making any statements relating to that application.

Mr. Clifford’s request was not limited to the GBCC application, he said. The Association has interest in Town Board actions that may impact the Island as a whole, he said.

He referenced rezoning discussions that have not actually gotten underway yet; the Site Plan Review process that was finally concluded with a new local law enacted in December 2020; and information relating to protecting the aquifer.

The Town Board statement said the site plan review legislation has been documented and is available on the town website.

If any issues move forward, they will be publicly discussed, the statement said.

Mr. Clifford said he will continue to pursue the issue, believing that there are more materials that could have been provided.

“If the Town Board continues to resist, it will be able to delay production until after Election Day,” he said. “We wanted to bring this matter to the attention of Island voters so that they can draw their own conclusions about their elected officials’ actions and their desire to keep them from public view.”