WEEDSPORT — Weedsport Trustee Chris Lukins was removed as the village's deputy mayor, but officials are not saying why.
The village's board of trustees voted Feb. 14 to release Lukins from his duty as deputy mayor, which was a position appointed to him by Mayor Jean Saroodis in April.
The removal followed a special closed-door meeting held Feb. 8. At the Feb. 14 meeting, village trustees said an issue with the Feb. 8 minutes prevented them from being approved, and the village has refused to make them public, possibly in violation of the state's open meetings law.
"I know you all have read (the Feb. 8 minutes). There are some very strong concerns with the way they're worded, and no vote was taken," Saroodis said to the board during the Feb. 14 meeting. "I personally can't see how we can approve the minutes on Feb. 8."
"That's fine," Lukins said, suggesting that like other meeting minutes the board could make amendments before voting to approve them.
Saroodis said that she was advised by two attorneys not to approve the minutes, and Lukins' request to vote on the minutes "was totally wrong.
"In this case this was an executive session, so the minutes should have been correct ... and not done like that," Saroodis said. "If (the board) votes to approve them, it's putting the village in not a very good position."
Lukins made a motion to go into executive session, saying if the minutes were taken in an executive session the board should discuss them in an executive session.
"We're not going into executive session right away," Saroodis said, looking down at the table in front of her.
"There's also been some other issues that have taken place, and those issues we will go into executive session on. But before they do that, I have to do something that doesn't make me real happy. And I don't know if it's been done in the village before. But I'm sure, and I have minutes and I have paperwork and I have laws, to release you, Chris, from your duty as deputy mayor. I hate to do it, but I have to do it," Saroodis said.
Lukins responded with a calm "OK."
Saroodis said she needed a motion to accept that action from the board. After a long pause, Trustee Chere Perkins made a motion and Steve Sims seconded it.
"And it's all legal?" Sims asked.
"I have everything right here, you can read it, you can read the whole thing," Saroodis said. "I have the paperwork, actually I can give you all copies."
Saroodis prompted the board to vote on the motion. Nearly two minutes passed before the board said it was ready to vote.
Lukins abstained and the motion to remove Lukins' from his duty as deputy mayor passed with no opposition.
The board then went into executive session with village attorney David Thurston, clerk Jeannine Powers, and Greg Gilfus, officer in charge of the village's police department.
The executive session lasted well over 90 minutes, and the public meeting that resumed afterward was two minutes long.
"We need to appoint someone to work on the situation we talked about," Saroodis said.
"I don't have the time. I would nominate (Trustee Harry Hinman). I don't feel I'm ready for that. A combination of I don't have time, A, and B, I don't have the experience," Sims said.
Attorney Thurston interjected, saying that he didn't believe an action was needed, adding that "it might shake itself out by tomorrow."
"So, that's that," Saroodis said, and the meeting adjourned.
Immediately following the meeting, Lukins pursed his lips, looked down and nodded a "no," when asked for comment.
Neither Saroodis nor Thurston offered further comment, and they both stayed behind to meet with Lukins privately after the meeting.
A day after the meeting, Thurston said he "cannot offer any comment at this time," and was "honestly not sure" when he would be able to speak about the matter.
The Citizen contacted each trustee this week to seek further information about what took place at the meeting. Hinman said he could not comment, while Lukins, Perkins and Sims did not respond.
"It's just a hush, hush thing," said Cayuga County Legislator Christopher Petrus, whose district includes Weedsport, in a phone interview on Monday. He added that he's been trying to get more information, but "people just keep saying it's a personnel issue."
"There is nothing criminal," said Gilfus, the officer in charge of Weedsport's Police Department, in a Thursday phone interview. "It's all internal employee issues. ... It's not a police issue."
New York state's open meetings law states that minutes "shall be available to the public within one week from the date of the executive session." But Powers, the village clerk, said that she could not provide a copy of the Feb. 8 minutes when The Citizen requested them Tuesday. She said that once the minutes are approved, they will be published on the village's website.
A state official who monitors and advises on government transparency issues said the Feb. 8 minutes should be available to the public.
"It doesn't matter if they've approved them or not," said Kristin O'Neill, the assistant director of the state's Committee on Open Government. "There is nothing in the law that says the minutes have to be approved. There is something in the law that says they need to be made available."
Because the minutes were taken in an executive session, O'Neill said that, depending on what the person taking the minutes included, the village could redact any information that legally does not need to be made public given that an explanation is provided for the redaction.
The state Freedom of Information Law outlines what is required to be made public: "any action that is taken by formal vote which shall consist of a record or summary of the final determination of such action, and the date and vote thereon."
In a phone interview Wednesday, Saroodis said "I'm still going to say no comment because (the Feb. 8 minutes) are not approved.
"It's a confusing situation right now," Saroodis said. "I'm sure there are a lot of questions out there."