Despite an attorney's advice to the contrary, Mayor Jean Saroodis refused to recuse herself from an executive session in the village of Weedsport on Feb. 8 in which an unspecified conflict of interest arose, according to meeting minutes The Citizen obtained this week.

The state Committee on Open Government released the Feb. 8 executive session meeting minutes to The Citizen this week after Saroodis had sent them to the committee for review. The village has refused to make the minutes available to the public despite a request from The Citizen, a refusal that is a violation of open meeting law, said Robert Freeman, the executive director of the Committee on Open Government.

The Feb. 8 meeting minutes provided by the committee indicate that a motion was made to enter an executive session to discuss "personnel matters" with attorney Colin Leonard.

The minutes indicate Leonard requested for the record to "reflect that his advice to Mayor Saroodis was to recuse herself from the meeting of which (Saroodis) refused. The advice and request was made due to a conflict of interest."

Additionally, the minutes indicate discussion resulted in a "majority consensus" vote "to place the involved employee on paid administrative leave commencing Feb. 9, 2018 until a Decision could be made regarding the employee’s employment."

Leonard, an employment and labor attorney with Bond, Schoeneck & King law firm in Syracuse, did not respond to requests for comment.

The employee in question was not named.

So far, three attorneys in addition to David Thurston, the village's regular attorney, have been involved in village matters in recent weeks. Jan. 3 special meeting minutes indicate attorney Caroline Westover, whose practice includes employment, labor, layoffs and employee discipline, of Bond, Schoeneck & King, was present in the executive session in addition to Thurston.

On Feb. 28, Saroodis refused to enter into an executive session without the presence of another attorney, Richard Graham, who was there as a representative on behalf of an unnamed employee. During that same meeting, following the executive session, the village board voted to hire Bond, Schoeneck & King to represent the village for its "situation."

Saroodis, all four village trustees, Thurston, Graham and Westover have yet to answer questions about the situation, including what is the mayor's "conflict" referred to in the Feb. 8 minutes.

Saroodis' son, James Saroodis, is employed by the village as the superintendent of public works. When The Citizen inquired this week about the status of James' employment, the village clerk, Jeannine Powers, said she "cannot comment on that issue at this time."

According to the Cayuga County Civil Service's records, James is still currently employed by the village, but that agency said it is unable to share whether or not he was placed on paid administrative leave.

The issue of the Feb. 8 executive session meeting minutes came to light in a Feb. 14 village board meeting in which the board decided it could not vote to approve the Feb. 8 minutes. At the same time, Trustee Chris Lukins was released from his position as deputy mayor for unspecified reasons.

At that time, Mayor Saroodis stated that if the minutes were approved it could put the village in a bad position.

In a letter the state Committee on Open Government's Freeman sent to Weedsport on Feb. 27 in response to the mayor's request for his opinion on the minutes, Freeman critiqued additional flaws in the minutes.

The use of the word personnel "has been rejected by the courts," Freeman said. Going into an executive session citing merely "personnel matters" is inadequate because it does not "identify the subject matter to be discussed" with the public, which is necessary "to qualify for entry into executive session," Freeman said.

Freeman also informed Mayor Saroodis that "a record must be maintained indicating the manner in which each member cast his or her vote," so the verbiage in the minutes of a "majority consensus" vote is also insufficient.

Lastly, Freeman reiterated that "the open meeting law requires that when action is taken during an executive session, minutes indicating the nature of the action taken, the date and the vote of the members must be prepared and made available on request within one week of the executive session."

The Citizen reached out Trustees Chris Lukins and Steve Sims with no response, and received no comment from Trustees Chere Perkins and Harry Hinman. Mayor Saroodis has not returned messages for comment, and James Saroodis was not available at the public works offices on Thursday.

Staff writer Megan Ehrhart can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or megan.ehrhart@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @MeganEhrhart.

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