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Salmon River attorney: Executive session was legal

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FORT COVINGTON - An attorney representing the Salmon River Central School District says the school board was acting within the bounds of the law when it met behind closed doors at a Monday night special meeting.

The meeting was called to select a new board president and address the seat vacated by former President Stacy Skidders, who resigned Dec. 21 after being sentenced to house arrest sentence for a cigarette smuggling conviction in Canada.

The board held a 90-minute executive session on Monday night that led to board members Judith Stark and Emily Lauzon being nominated for board president and vice president, respectively. They were the only two nominees and the votes were carried out with no public discussion. The board further resolved to hold an election for Skidders’ vacant seat on March 19, which was the only date suggested and garnered no discussion.

Questions as to the propriety of the executive session arose when the board closed the doors “to discuss [a letter of] correspondence from our attorney,” which is not one of the eight legitimate reasons pursuant to the state Open Meetings Law.

But Kathy Ahearn of Latham-based Guercio and Guercio, who represents Salmon River, says the stated reason is allowed as an exemption listed under a different section of the Open Meetings Law. The section says the board can meet privately, without notice to discuss “any matter made confidential by federal or state law.” The correspondence qualifies under attorney-client privilege, which is protected, according to Ms. Ahearn.

She added that the letter contained her advice for filling the vacant seat and the board discussed nothing beyond its contents.

“My understanding is that the board did not discuss appointments, they did not take any vote about who would be appointed,” Ms. Ahearn said, adding that they only discussed “legal alternatives for filling a vacancy.”

Ms. Stark did not return phone calls seeking comment.

An official with the New York State Department of State Committee on Open Government (COOG) says the explanation seems legitimate, but still leaves questions.

“If that is true, in my opinion, yes they could have discussed [Ahearn]’s legal advice in private,” Executive Director Bob Freeman said, adding that he wonders why the board would have sought legal advice in the first place, as there are only two options for filling the vacancy: hold an election or appoint someone.

Ms. Collins would not comment on why the board sought counsel or why the votes were carried out with no discussion.

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