Special Meeting turns chaotic in Seneca Falls

It was a chaotic 17 minutes in Seneca Falls on Friday.The special meeting held Friday afternoon was brief, but started like most of the meetings this year. The sole item on the agenda was the issue of possible litigation from Seneca Meadows, which would require the Seneca Falls Town Board entering executive session.

According to Seneca Falls Attorney Pat Morrell, executive session was necessary to discuss the stance of the board regarding possible litigation related to proposed Local Law #7. Morrell said that the board received notice of potential litigation during a regular board meeting earlier this summer – after the local law was proposed.

As Supervisor Greg Lazzaro read the motion to enter executive session tensions rose inside the room. Immediately after the motion was read, it was seconded by Vic Porretta, allowing for discussion and comments from the rest of the board.Annette Lutz, a member of the board since March, asked why repeated executive sessions are necessary when litigation isn’t being discussed. At which point, Lazzaro explained that entering purpose of executive session was also to solidify a stance on behalf of the Town Board. The implication being that, if the board does not, or cannot enter executive session – as an entity they cannot solidify their personal stance.A few outbursts from the crowd ensued, which led to multiple board members speaking about their personal investment in the community, and those they represent.

Dave Delelys said that he had likely received as many as 75 emails – in addition to the phone calls and face-to-face conversations had with residents. Mary Sarratori, a member of the board since March also voiced concerns about the perception created entering executive session. “We’re breeding fear,” Sarratori said. “We need to be open and upfront with the community,” she concluded. Morrell assured Sarratori that “The board creating a position is not a new host agreement.” He also assured those on the board, as well as those in attendance that the board is not close to making a decision, or finalizing a host agreement.

The moment of truth came as the board voted on whether they would enter executive session. Voting against going into executive session were Mary Sarratori, Annette Lutz, and Dave DeLelys. Both Greg Lazzaro and Vic Porretta voted to enter executive session, which was not a majority. At that point, Lazzaro used “Supervisor’s Discretion” to close the meeting since no other items were on the agenda. A verbal vote affirmed the closure.

As the meeting closed, a brief verbal altercation was had between Supervisor Lazzaro and Seneca Falls resident Bill McHale.

Supervisor Lazzaro told FingerLakes1.com that following the end of the special meeting, three members of the board — the individuals who voted against entering executive session — met with the Town’s lawyers. Lazzaro said that he received a phone call from the board members, asking him to return — which prompted his call to Seneca Falls Chief of Police Stu Peenstra.

Lazzaro said he asked Peenstra to break up the meeting, which he classified as an “illegal session.” He went on to point out that he was disappointed that the board members would meet illegally like that with the Town’s lawyers privately, after voting against a legal session.

On Friday evening, all three members of the Town Board, who were accused of meeting in an illegal session responded to FingerLakes1.com’s request for comment.

Statement from Annette Lutz:

“I applied for the vacant position to try and bring a sense of trust and openness to the town board. I was frustrated at the way the boards secrecy in the past led to public fear and rumors. Since being on this board I feel we have made great strides toward mending community relationships but was concerned with the public impression that we were having secret meetings and not being honest. My actions at the meeting last night were to question the validity of those meetings. I know the board will not always see eye to eye on every subject but it is our job as community representatives to do what we feel is right for the majority of the town. I am committed to listening to both sides of every issue and allowing public input to help in my decisions. For 5 people to decide the fate of this very volatile and polarizing issue, is in my opinion, old school politics at its finest. If it affects us all, then all should have a say. I understand we were chosen to represent, but we must do so with the input of residents. My intent last night was not to get anyone angry, but to let both sides of this issue know what the board was doing. I was hoping for a different outcome – a public discussion of what we as a board had been meeting about – but that was not to be. Hopefully the board can put aside the emotions and come up with a solution that everyone will be satisfied with.”

Statement from Dave Delelys:

“We did call Greg to come back to see if we could work something out to meet with the lawyers in the future on a client/lawyer privilege which according to law we can do. We did not discuss anything that was in the Host Agreement or any line items in it.Yes, Greg did call the Chief to see if we were meeting with the lawyers and told him it was an illegal meeting — and to break it up. It was just asking advice on what we should do next. There were two other groups in the gym talking and Kyle Black was standing in the back by the bleachers by himself. There was no meeting ‘privately’ as Lazzaro asserts. When I called him to come back, he said ‘no’ and was angry at me for voting ‘no’ to entering executive session. In the last 7 months, two board members have walked out of a board meeting and resigned. He has just been causing turmoil on any issues that come up during board meetings. I do not know how to take him right now.”

Statement from Mary Sarratori:

“I spoke with legal counsel confidentially for a few minutes after the public meeting. I think we were all a little shocked at the events that took place. When I first was placed on the board Supervisor Lazzaro said that often we wouldn’t see eye to eye on a situation, but that it was important to work together for the good of our community. I think right now as a board we are not seeing eye to eye. Hopefully however, we can work together because after all this isn’t about us as individuals, it’s about all of us as a community.”

Watch the entire meeting in the video player above.

Also on FingerLakes1.com