New Rochelle City Manager Calls on NRMHA to "Correct Deficiencies", Open Meeting Law Violations

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In response to a Talk of the Sound article published 10 days ago, City Manager Charles B. Strome says he has spoken with Steve Horton, an official at the New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority ("NRMHA), to address "deficiencies" in how the NRMHA conducts its public meetings.

Following our article Who is Elisa Singer?, about egregious violations of the New York State Open Meeting Law at the NRMHA under Chairperson Elisa Singer, I sent an email to the City Manager with copies to all City Council Members.

Not receiving a response, I published the email as an Open Letter.

In the letter I identified several ways in which the City Manager could help to insure that the NRMHA adhere to New York State law regarding public meetings:

1. Formally notify the NRMHA that the City expects the NRMHA to comply with the letter and spirit of FOIL/OML including some, if not all, of the recommendations in my article including those that go beyond the law such as not serving food and drinks during the meeting or putting board member information on line.

2. Offer to subsidize OML compliance by the NRMHA by hosting their public meetings in City Hall and to integrate their meetings into the existing system of broadcasting and archiving video of those meetings on the City's cable access channels and web site.

3. Set some requirements regarding the future appointment of Commissioners including a form of term limits - 4 commissioners have been on the board for more than 10 years, one for 24 and - and require some enforceable commitment to support FOIL/OML.

4. Promise that no incumbent commissioners will be re-appointed unless the FOIL/OML requirements of the City Manager (and by implication all of you) are fully implemented by the end of this year, starting with not re-appointing Dr. Woods, whose term ends in March 2015.

"As reappointments come up, I will evaluate and determine if there should be reappointments or new Board members," said Strome.

Strome went on to point out that Rev. Dawkins is a new appointment and there are two new elected members by the tenants.

While this may be, there is no way for the public to know who these two new elected tenant-members are because there is no information online, it was not discussed at the public meeting and the NRMHA refuses to say who they are.

Further the NRMHA has, so far, refused to provide contact information for any of the board members.

I have put the NRMHA on notice as to my intentions regarding OML and FOIL so they are not confused and understand that have drawn my gaze, I will not turn away from them until they are in complete compliance with New York State Sunshine Laws.

This is my email to NRMHA Executive Director Steve Horton and NRMHA General Counsel Ira Goldenberg:

Steve and Ira,

I want to be clear that I have no expectation of you two willingly providing information or being transparent or otherwise taking steps to support the public’s right to know. I will be happy to be wrong in this belief on any occasion but my experience is that the NRMHA is a gross violator of OML and FOIL and that this is something you two, with complicity from the board, actively seek as a goal not a result of any oversight or lack of resources.

Therefore, realize that I make requests not necessarily expecting that you will comply (again, happy to be wrong) but for purposes of making reasonable requests in the area of “public right to know” so I can document all the many ways in which you operate the NRMHA in violation of New York State OML and FOIL and share that with my readers.

As you may not be aware, I have worked hard over the years to create greater public access to meetings and records in New Rochelle. Having succeeded in every way with the New Rochelle Board of Education and the City of New Rochelle (City Council and all 6 statutory commissions), there is just one public body left — the NRMHA.

As a result, you are now the singular focus of my attention on this issue. Ask around town and see if folks think that is a good thing for you (hint: it's not).

You two got on my radar about a year ago when you improperly withheld a CD of records, attempting to charge me far in excess of the statutory limit. I suppose you thought I would just go away. That tells me you did not bother to educate yourself on how I do what I do.

I then observed how you handled a recent hearing involving a tenant.

This prompted me to want to attend a “public” meeting where I observed about what I expected — you all operating as if OML did not exist.

If you ask around town you will find that when I fix my sites on an object regarding OML and FOIL that I have never once failed to achieve my objective even when that takes years — and I can be quite relentless on this once I have the bit in my teeth (as I do now, with you).

I am going to take whatever time is required to achieve the same outcome with NRMHA as with the others — complete compliance with the letter and spirit of OML and FOIL. In the meantime, I intend to highlight every single violation that becomes known to me and help my readers understand those violations.

If you want to experiment with hoping I will go away, feel free to do so — it provides me better stories for my readers.

If you want to repent and just get onboard with OML and FOIL I am more that willing to support you in that endeavor on a positive basis — it provides the public with better access to information and you get credit for it.

While I hope you will choose the latter, I love a good fight and so do my readers.

For instance, if you do not willingly provide me the names and contact information for board members, I will have no choice but to hire a PI to run a background check on each of them to get that information. I will then get a report on each of them. Once I have spent the money to get those reports, there would be no reason not to publish the ENTIRE report — the contact information and whatever else turns up.

I trust you see the point — that I am going to get the contact information anyway and so motivating me to go about obtaining that information on my own will be far more complicated and intrusive for you and the board than just giving me the information I have requested.

I am available to answer any questions you might have.

Have a nice day.

Robert Cox

Managing Editor
New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound

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