OSWEGO, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ The Oswego School Board spent considerable time Tuesday night debating a confidentiality resolution.
The resolution stated that the board “acknowledges that it is bound by the principles laid out by the Commissioner of Education on this matter.”
It resolved that: “The Board of Education hereby confirms that any subsequent disclosure of information permitted to be discussed in an executive session, and which is discussed in a duly convened executive session, would be a knowing, willful violation of the above referenced provisions of General Municipal Law and Board Policy.”
Board member Fran Hoefer said he was in favor of the resolution.
However, the board decided to withdraw the resolution instead of acting on it.
The board had just approved a previous resolution stating that only matters authorized by the provisions of Public Officers Law 105 (a-h) as appropriate topics for executive session and only matters that were identified in the motion that convened the session, were discussed in the executive session the board had just conducted.
Both resolutions were in reaction the issue raised recently regarding the release of information discussed in properly convened executive sessions.
The Association for Administrative Personnel, which represents principals, assistant principals, directors and assistant directors, filed a notice of claim against the Oswego school board last month.
They claim AAP members were discriminated against due to Hoefer’s attempt “to interfere, restrain and coerce” the association in exercising its right under the Taylor Law. Hoefer posted information regarding the contract on insideoswego.com, a Web site that allows readers to post opinions about local issues.
Hoefer said he would have voted in favor of the resolution Tuesday night.
“The mistake I made last time was that I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get this into the courts,” Hoefer said referring to 2004 when he was expelled from the board for disclosing what happened in executive sessions. “I want this to pass. I want to take this to the courts and see what they have to say.”
“This says what we talked about in the executive session that we just came out of was appropriate for executive session. We are trying to firm things up so that there are no problems down the road,” Sam Tripp, board president, said of the first resolution.
“Are we going to do this at every meeting,” board member Dave White asked.
“I think that would be the intent,” replied Mike Stanley, the district’s attorney.
Hoefer, who didn’t arrive until after the regular meeting had resumed (following the executive session), abstained from voting on that resolution.
“There are some things that obviously need to be secret. But I’d just as soon do as much in public as possible,” board member John Dunsmoor said. “I’d just as soon talk about everything out in the open.”
When board members take their oath of office, it requires them to abide by the law, White pointed out.
He cited an opinion on the matter by the state attorney general.
“That’s just his opinion; that’s all it is. Some people might interpret that as ‘the law.’ But unless a judge says that is the law, that’s just his opinion,” White said. “Now if you take the argument in the case of Mr. Hoefer, his opinion might not be as valuable as that of the attorney general, but in this case until a judge says that’s the law, that’s just his opinion.”
“It’s no secret who we’re aiming this (resolution) at,” White added.
The board already has a policy to address these issues, he pointed out.
“I think all we’re doing here is re-enforcing this thing that if somebody says something we don’t like, we’re going to get rid of him,” White said. “Now, I may not like what Mr. Hoefer says, but I’m not going to say he can’t say it.”
“I took an oath of office like every other man in this room,” Hoefer said. “I believe we are all a bunch of honorable men and we all care about our children. We have a commissioner of education who has ruled what ever he says is confidential is.”
That is what he wants to challenge, Hoefer explained.
“The commissioner of education is an appointed bureaucrat; he is in effect making laws that are contrary to the Open Meetings Law,” Hoefer said. “As a citizen of New York State, I have to challenge that. I cannot live in a state where bureaucrats make laws instead of our elected officials. I have to stand up to what I believe to be a threat to our constitution.”
It is a turf war between bureaucracy and open government, he added.
“I want you to pass (the confidentiality resolution) so that I can challenge it,” Hoefer told the other board members. “It’s not personal.”
“What we’re trying to get to, Fran, is a place where we know what is confidential and what is not,” Tripp said. “We’ve kicked this thing around for so long through all kinds of discussions and resolutions, I don’t believe we’re there yet. I would like to get there. I’d like to put this to bed forever.”
Hoefer suggested having open meetings expert Robert Freeman address the board. But then again, Tripp noted, what he says is also just an opinion.
For the time being, the board will present the resolution stating what it discussed in executive session at each meeting where it convenes an executive session.
The next regular board meeting will be held March 16.