Court Finds Town of Harpersfield in Violation of the Open Meetings Law

In Ballard v New York Safety Track, LLC, 2015 WL 919739 (NYAD 3 Dept. 3/5/2015), the Appellate Division found that the neighbors’ challenge to the Town’s agreement with Safety Track and the airport was moot after the agreement expired by its terms.

New York Safety Track, LLC had applied to the Town of Harpersfield (Delaware County) Planning Board for site plan approval to convert a former airport property into a motorcycle safety training facility.  The Planning Board conditionally approved the application, and the facility was completed.

After receiving numerous complaints from neighboring landowners that the facility was hosting “large, high-speed racing events,” the Town’s Code Enforcement Officer notified Safety Track that its advertised racing and large track events were not authorized by the Planning Board.   The Town subsequently entered into an agreement with Safety Track including an events calendar through December 31, 2013.

After addressing some procedural matters the Court took no issue with the Supreme Court’s determination that the Town committed violations of the Open Meetings Law in connection with the 2013 agreement with Safety Track, and its award of reasonable counsel fees and costs to Petitioner neighbors. The Court reiterated that generally, “[e]very meeting of a public body shall be open to the general public, except that an executive session of such body may be called and business transacted thereat in accordance with [Public Officers Law § 105]” under Public Officers Law § 103[a]. While a governing body may enter into an executive session, it may do so only for certain purposes, including, as is relevant here, the consideration of an appointment or to engage in private discussions relating to proposed or pending litigation. The Planning Board during some meetings failed to announce any reason for going into executive session. While the Town respondents later explained that the purpose of the executive session was to discuss the appointment of a new Planning Board member, the Court deemed such omission a clear violation of the Open Meetings Law. The Court also found that the Town’s failure to make the agreement and Planning Board minutes available within two weeks after the meetings violated the Open Meetings Law.

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