New Rochelle's Municipal Civil Service Commission met today at City Hall. Apparently, you were not supposed to know that. Now you do, courtesy of Talk of the Sound.
This ostensibly public meeting was not listed on the City of New Rochelle web site. There was no calendar event on the City web site. No meeting agenda or order of business was published on the City web site or made available at the offices of the Municipal Civil Service Commission, even on the day of the meeting or during the meeting. It was, obviously, not broadcast on NRTV and will not be made available on the City web site. The City Clerk's office told Talk of the Sound they had no information about the meeting. The City's Media Relations department told Talk of the Sound they had no information about the meeting.
Talk of the Sound has a pending FOIL request for copies of public records demonstrating that the Municipal Civil Service Commission properly noticed the meeting today by publishing a meeting announcement prior to the meeting in an official paper of record (e.g., The Journal News). The City confirmed earlier today that the FOIL request had been forwarded to the Municipal Civil Service Commission which has yet to respond. At this time there is no record that any effort was made to inform the public that the Municipal Civil Service Commission would be meeting.
The meeting itself was scheduled for 3 PM today at the City Hall office of Civil Service Administrator Jeanett Medina. When these public meetings take place they occur in an inner office with the door locked. There is no signage anywhere in the building indicating that a public meeting is taking place or where.
At about 2:40 pm, shortly after I arrived at the offices of the Municipal Civil Service Commission on the first floor at City Hall, Jeanett Medina came out of her office to inquire as to my purpose in the office. Informed that I wished to attend the meeting of the Municipal Civil Service Commission, Medina stated that the meeting was scheduled for 3 pm. This would appear to constitute the first mention of the meeting to any member of the press or public. Moments later Omar Small, Assistant to the City Manager, walked into the offices of the Municipal Civil Service Commission and made a beeline for Medina's office. Two people arrived in the office, one of whom turned out to be John Imbrugia, a man on the agenda regarding a position as Housing Inspector with the Building Department. As Commission members Domenic Procopio, Rev. Feston Leak and Ms. Margaret Chadwick arrived, Medina informed them that the meeting was being moved to a larger room. Moments later Small came out of the office to inform those waiting outside that the meeting was being moved to the Development Department's conference room down the hall.
Shortly after 3 pm, the Commission members along with Medina and Small sat at the conference table across from Imburgia and his brother. Medina called the meeting to order. No mention was made of Agenda item 2, approving the minutes from the last meeting. Imburgia presented a case as to why he should not be declared ineligible for a position with the City, an interesting issue best left for another day.
As Imbrugia made his case, presenting dozens of documents, neither the Assistant to the City Manager, the Civil Service Administrator nor any of the Commissioner took a single note or asked to inspect the documents as they were presented. Afterward, Commissioner Procopio assured Imburgia that he wants to help everyone and that the Commissioner would discuss his case. As the meeting was ending Commissioner Chadwick asked to review one document and did so.
Medina announced that the rest of the meeting would take place in her office. Without adjourning the meeting, the three commissioners and Medina left the conference room, went back to her office and locked the door. Talk of the Sound requested a copy of the meeting agenda from Omar Small who agreed to provide one later.
After several attempts to open the door to Medina' office and realizing it was locked from the inside, I knocked on the door a few times and was admitted to the room by the somewhat astonished Medina at which point the following exchange took place.
"Is there a reason the door was locked?" I asked.
"We were just going to finish up the items on the [agenda]," said Medina. "You wanted to attend?"
"Yeah...the whole thing," I said.
The Commission proceeded to go through the remaining items on the agenda and adjourned the meeting. After the meeting was adjourned, the group scheduled the next Municipal Civil Service Commission for February 16th.
Talk of the Sound later obtained a copy of the agenda after the meeting from Kathy Gilwit via Omar Small: NewRoCSCMeeting_2011-0119.pdf
A few thoughts on the meeting.
1. Whether the meeting was legally noticed or not, it is out of keeping with the other city departments that there is no regularly scheduled meeting of the Municipal Civil Service Commission listed on the City web site.
2. Whether the meeting was legally noticed or not, the Municipal Civil Service Commission did not add their meeting to the City calendar nor post any signage directing the public to the meeting or make available in hard copy or via the web a meeting agenda or order of business.
3. No notes were taken by any one at the meeting (except me)
4. The minutes from the previous meeting in November 2010 were not approved.
5. After Imbrugia completes his presentation, Propcopio says "you show to us all the paper, we're going to talk about" by which it appears he means to say that the Municipal Civil Service Commission will discuss the information presented. No such discussion took place at any point during the remainder of the meeting. The Municipal Civil Service Commission never went in to Executive Session and no Municipal Civil Service Commission meeting was scheduled until mid-February which suggests that there will be some sort of illegal meeting where the Commissioners will confer before making a decision in the case.
5. The meeting was not adjourned after Imbrugia finished making his presentation it was simply transported to another location.
6. The rest of the meeting was set to occur not only behind closed doors but locked closed doors but for my knocking on the door and asking to observe the remainder of the meeting.
7. The meeting was already adjourned when the Commissioners decided to schedule the February meeting.
8. If the meeting was not legally noticed, then the entire proceeding was illegal.
9. The City Council, the Industrial Development Agency, the Zoning Appeals Board and the Planning Board are all held in public meeting rooms, rooms equipped with chairs for the public and the press, rooms which open directly into publicly accessible hallways, rooms with TV cameras in them. It costs $200 to televise a public meeting in City Hall from one of the three available rooms. The Municipal Civil Service Commission meets about 10 times a year so televising its meetings will cost about $2,000. Given that the Municipal Civil Service Commission is the Human Resources department for the City of New Rochelle and handles all of the Civil Service requirements for the City School District of New Rochelle and that personnel-related costs constitute about 70% of the budget for both governments using the shared services of the Municipal Civil Service Commission, a budget of well over $300,000,000, spending two grand a year so the public can keep an eye on their Municipal Civil Service Commission seems a pittance.