Featured Story

Shelter Island Town Board work session canceled: Lack of quorum cited

In what several long-time Town Hall observers called unprecedented — the cancellation Tuesday of a Town Board work session not due to a weather emergency — was found to be justified.

The meeting was canceled because of a rare, but legal necessity; there was a lack of a quorum, and so, in line with the state’s Open Meetings Law, couldn’t proceed.

Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams announced on Monday the Tuesday work session was being canceled because a single agenda item — a discussion of pesticides — had been pulled by the presenter because it was incomplete.

In addition, with the current Town Board at four-members until a fifth member is added, the supervisor said only two of the four members were expected to attend, meaning there would not be a quorum.

That raised a question of whether a quorum is required for a work session at which no votes were to be taken. An opinion on the subject from the Committee on Open Government clearly states a Court of Appeals ruling, upheld by the Appellate Division, that “so-called work sessions and similar gatherings during which there was merely an intent to discuss, but no intent to take formal action” are public meetings requiring a quorum.

Town Attorney Stephen Kiely expressed the need for a quorum similarly, explaining that if a subject came up and discussion ensued, even without a vote or action, any future decision on that subject could be considered the “fruit from a poisonous tree.”

Any decision reached on an issue discussed at a session without a quorum could be subject to being overturned. Even at a work session, the board is doing the public’s work and must be subject to requirements for a public meeting, he said.

Ms. Brach-Williams acknowledged she didn’t want to cancel the meeting, but given that two members were not expected to be able to attend, she felt obligated to take action and to do so as soon as she knew the circumstances.

For that reason, the cancellation was posted on the town website Monday afternoon, and explained further at Monday night’s regular Town Board meeting.

The supervisor also noted that one of the reasons for the very short agenda was that both she and Councilman Benjamin Dyett were in Albany prior to the meeting for training for newly elected town officials. That resulted in not having the time to bring a more expansive agenda to this week’s work session.

She noted she is working on the agenda for the Jan. 30 meeting and it will be more typical of longer agendas.


Ms. Brach-Williams said the Town Board has interviewed nine of the 11 people who have indicated an interest in filling the fifth seat that remains empty since she was elected supervisor. She anticipates the last two candidates will be interviewed by the Town Board next week.