BRASHER FALLS — Brasher Town Council members met with St. Lawrence County officials behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss opening ATV trails in Brasher State Forest, a meeting that did not appear to fall under the executive session privilege, according to a state open-meetings official.
Those present were St. Lawrence County Legislator Anthony J. Arquiett, D-Helena; Brasher Deputy Supervisor William D. Demo; Councilmen John M. Keenan, Mark Peets and Wilfred Recore; Brasher Highway Superintendent Larry P. Hewlett; St. Lawrence County Trail Coordinator Debbie A. Christy; St. Lawrence County ATV Association Vice President Warren Irwin, and William E. Dashnaw, who serves on a subcommittee of the St. Lawrence County Trails Advisory Board.
Resident Florence Patterson also was on hand, but left when the board moved to enter executive session.
Town Supervisor M. James Dawson, who was out of town and not present for Tuesday’s meeting, said last week the meeting would be open to the public. However, Mr. Arquiett said Tuesday, it was closed because officials were initiating discussions with the state Department of Environmental Conservation about opening some trails in Brasher State Forest, and he did not want “misinformation” put out to the public before any decisions had been made.
Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said that there are eight reasons for entering into executive session, and that discussing the opening of ATV trails is not among the permissible reasons for closing a meeting to the public.
They include discussion of matters that would imperil public safety if disclosed; discussion of any matter that might disclose the identity of a law enforcement agent or informer; discussion of information relating to a current or future investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense that would imperil effective law enforcement if disclosed; discussions regarding proposed, pending or current litigation, and discussion of collective negotiations.
Also permissible is discussion of the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation; the preparation, grading or administration of examinations, and discussion about the proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property or the proposed acquisition of securities, or sale or exchange of securities when publicity would substantially affect the value.
Mr. Freeman said he could not see how Tuesday’s discussion fell under any of those reasons.
“Certainly the county legislator ought to know the limit of subjects that may be properly discussed in executive session. Certainly, in my opinion, the (town) board has no duty to roll over for county legislators. It was not his choice. It was the board’s responsibility to comply with the open meetings law,” Mr. Freeman said. “Misinformation is always going to go out, for better or worse.”
Mr. Arquiett disagreed, however, saying after the meeting that he was justified in closing it to the public for “negotiation” with the DEC “to lay out the framework for getting the ability to access the state forest.”
He said he felt they were off to a good start in those conversations.
“I thought it was a very productive meeting. It was the beginning of several that will be ongoing between the county and the town of Brasher and DEC,” Mr. Arquiett said.