Let’s hear it for State Supreme Court Justice Diane Y. Devlin, who ruled that the secret hearing on misconduct charges against a Hamburg Central School Board member violates the public’s right to open government and must end.
And while over the past several years enforcement provisions have been added to the New York State Open Meetings Law to give the public a little more power when government officials conduct illegal meetings, there ought to be sharper penalties in those provisions.
Devlin rightly delivered a stinging rebuke to the board and its attorney, Andrew J. Freedman, who had advised the board that the hearing could be held in secret.
The judge said not only the plaintiff would suffer but “the public would suffer irreparable damage to the public’s right to an open government.”
In granting a preliminary injunction, the judge ordered the School Board to conduct the misconduct hearing for board member Catherine Schrauth Forcucci in public.
Three sessions have already been held in secret, thanks to the board’s determination to stonewall the public. The board was so fearful that information could be made public that officials not only locked the door to the conference room in the Hamburg Administration Building, they escorted the public and media out of the building and locked the door.
That is outrageous behavior, even by the low standards set by this board.
We don’t know whether Schrauth Forcucci committed misconduct, and the public will never be sure if the hearing continues to be held in secret. This is a board that has demonstrated an alarming lack of common sense in shutting out the public.