There was an alarming revelation made at the May 19 pre-council meeting that has serious implications for city employees, residents and taxpayers.
I have written in the past of the city council’s “executive session” privileges—that such a power could potentially be used to discuss improper topics when all members are sworn to secrecy.
However, this danger could be eclipsed should sensitive information be wrongfully divulged by individuals with such privileges.
State law describes several instances in which a public body may vote to enter executive session. This includes matters which could endanger public safety if disclosed; the identity of a law enforcement agent or informer; pending investigations, collective negotiations, and lawsuits; and private information about a particular person such as an employee, or a corporation; among others.
The potential for harmful disclosure is not hard to imagine. In fact, I recently learned that a personnel matter that was disclosed to me by Councilman Efraim Spagnoletti earlier this year was not public information, but in fact executive session deliberation. This is among several other known executive session leaks that have occurred since January 2014. In full disclosure, I also recently learned confidential information about my father’s passing was improperly divulged that same month.
When Councilman Spagnoletti told Robert Germino and I about his now-debunked witness to a supposed executive session conspiracy, we couldn’t understand why he remained silent. We asked Councilman Gallo about it as well. They both deflected to fear of a lawsuit due to violation of the executive session oath of secrecy.
But what was suggested at the May 19 pre-council meeting however, is that other and future violators of the oath of secrecy have nothing to fear. When Councilman Joseph Capobianco asked our city attorney what the ramifications are for violating executive session privileges, the answer he received was quite a shocker: “there is no remedy.”
Capobianco posed the obvious rhetorical question: “why even have executive session?” City Attorney McQuair prudently shot it down, though suggested the Council fill an Ethics Board. In the meantime, he said, “I would recommend that [members] honor executive session.”
I must note that McQuair did, on another topic, use language similar to Article II, Section 6 of the Glen Cove City Charter, when he noted that “the city council shall be the judge of the qualifications of its members.” Paragraph B of that section reads that a board may vote by a four person majority to remove a member due to “conduct constituting removal.” While it was said that there is no codified remedy, I suggest this is one.
To be clear, neither the Spinello administration, McQuair, nor a majority of the council are responsible for this crisis, but they are in charge. As long as there are no ramifications for violating executive session privileges, I fear what could be divulged because as James Madison wrote, we don’t always have angels in government.
Editor’s Note: The author is a member of the Glen Cove Charter Commission and Glen Cove Republican Committee. Opinions expressed are his own.