NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The New Rochelle Board of Education went into Executive Session at 8 p.m. tonight in the Board Room on the 2nd Floor at City Hall. The glass enclosed Board Room is known as “The Fish Bowl”.
The official meeting announcement specified the meeting would take place in the Board Room. It did not.
Board President Amy Moselhi called the meeting to order in the fish bowl room then asked for a motion to go into Executive Session to meet with District Counsel to “discuss the employment history of a particular person, which may lead to the appointment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person. At the conclusion of the Executive Session, the Board anticipates making a motion to reconvene the public session and immediately adjourn the meeting. The Board will not take any official action.”
Chris Daniello moved the motion. Rachel Relkin seconded Daniello’s motion. The entire board then got up, left the publicly announced meeting room and walked out without any explanation as to where they were going. A security guard closed the door to the fish bowl room.
The board members walked through two sets of fire doors, down a hallway, and into a different room in a secured area of the building, the Edwina Carew room. A school district security guard stood post at the second set of fire doors blocking access to the hallway and thus the Carew Room.
Shortly before 10 p.m. Board Vice President Paul Warhit came into the fish bowl room and informed the people waiting for the board to return that the meeting had ended. Most of the board members had already left the building.
This same sort of trick was done on November 3rd, 2011.
In that case, six board members attended a meeting of the Trinity PTA Meeting. The PTA and many members were upset over a controversy involving a person given an administrative position without a background check and required state certification and that to get around that a popular new new teacher was removed from her classroom to make way for the newly-demoted fake administrator.
The Superintendent and Board were confronted by a howling mob of Trinity parents.
The board member’s quietly slipped away from the auditorium where the PTA meeting was still going on and went through an area of the building closed off to the public, through fire doors where a security guard blocking access to the public, down a hallway to the library and without any public notice whatsoever called a school board meeting to order. The board decided to reinstate the teacher. The door to the library was opened and a motion made to adopt a resolution to restore the teacher to her position. The board then adopted a motion to close the meeting.
Based on our past reporting on the Trinity story, Talk of the Sound has previously confirmed with New York State that opening a door to a room in a part of a building closed off to the public does not comply with the Open Meeting Laws.
Likewise, public meetings are not a “moveable feast” where meetings of a public body start in one location, accessible to the public, then slink off to another location, not accessible to the public, and then conduct the public’s business out of site of the public.
In January, 2011, Talk of the Sound reported on a meeting of the Municipal Civil Service Commission where the meeting began in a public conference room but the Executive Director abruptly announced the rest of the meeting would take place in her office. Without adjourning the meeting, the three civil service commissioners and left the conference room, went back to the Executive Director’s office and locked the door.
Public bodies cannot simply move locations in the middle of the meeting nor can they pretend a meeting held in a secured location inaccessible to the public is a public meeting.
As was the case at Trinity School, the board’s motivation tonight for hiding behind fire doors and security guards was to avoid criticism from members of the public and scrutiny from the assembled media.
After the illegal meeting concluded, Vice President Warhit told those remaining in the fish bowl room that when the truth came out about Lou DiRienzo all those people who criticized the School Board would owe him and his fellow board members an apology.
Asked by this reporter whether the Board intended to issue a statement as to whatever it was he was talking about he said, “no”.
Asked how the public would come to know what he said would warrant an apology from the board’s critics, Warhit said DiRienzo could tell the public.