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Queens Chronicle

Complaint: ain’t no sunshine at CB 3

Allegations community board keeps public in the dark about meetings

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Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:28 am, Thu Mar 28, 2013.

Community Board 3’s March 13 public hearing featured the expected theatrics of a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure applicant presenting a contentious plan for Flushing Meadows Corona Park: angry statements, slideshow presentations and the odd round of applause.

But there was a second show going on. In the idealistic world of open meetings, laws and light being shone on public documents, CB 3 has been the oddball.

The all-volunteer board has a history of thwarting press attempts for access to documents, and even for taking photos at meetings.

During its vote on the United States Tennis Association’s expansion within the park, Chairwoman Marta Lebreton took to hiding behind a sheet of paper when a camera lens faced her direction.

Fair game. But Lebreton also rebuffed a Chronicle editor who asked to obtain a copy of the motion voted on that evening by the board.

The state Open Meetings Law says all documents discussed at open meetings must be available, though a board can charge a “reasonable” fee for copies.

The board’s attempts to limit public access allegedly go beyond holding back records. Two parks advocates have filed a complaint against the board for allegedly acting unlawfully.

A letter from Robert LoScalzo and Alfredo Centola, addressed to Queens Community Board Director Barry Grodenchik, claims the board did not properly alert the public or press about a committee meeting on the USTA proposal held March 5.

A review of the board’s website shows no record of the meeting.

Geoffrey Croft, the president of NYC Park Advocates, plans to file a complaint later this week.

“If they have a website and it’s easy to post, and they do not, then that would be failure to comply with the law,” said Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government.

The letter goes on to say that Lebreton told LoScalzo and Centola, “There is not a meeting.” When they followed up, a staff member said “[I’m] not allowed to say anything.”

The Open Meetings Law’s provisions on meeting notification are threefold — community boards must give notice of meetings to media outlets, designated public locations and, if possible, put them online. Freeman says there is nothing in the law that says CB 3 must speak to the public.

“There is nothing in any law that they have to talk to you,” Freeman said. “But we are public servants. If we know when a public meetings is, it would help to be courteous. I refer to it as the Spike Lee principle — ‘You do the Right Thing.’”

Additionally, the complaint alleges the board did not give documents to the public and attempted to prevent photography.

LoScalzo and Centola ask in their letter that Lebreton be removed from the board and District Manager Giovanna Reid be formally disciplined.

The letter has been referred to the borough president’s board and a response has been requested from CB 3, Queens borough president spokesman Dan Andrews said.

“We got a seven-page letter alleging certain things. We are doing what we should be doing. We reached out to our legal person. These are allegations,” Andrews said.

The borough president’s board has authority over Lebreton, but not Reid, who is an employee of CB 3.

When asked for a comment at an unrelated press conference on Tuesday morning, Lebreton said she does not speak to the press.

There is an unexplained history of hostility towards the media. At three meetings during the fall, Lebreton told all members of the press they could not make audio recordings of the meetings or take photographs unless given prior authorization. Several phone calls seeking permission were never returned.

That violates state open meetings laws that allow the public to photograph, broadcast, webcast or otherwise record. The board can only adopt rules on governing where equipment is placed so the meeting is orderly.

“I don’t know anything about this,” Reid said, when asked at a press conference about Lebreton’s demands. Reid attends every CB 3 meeting.

Reid was forwarded a copy of the complaint after she said she was not aware of the document. She did not return any phone calls for further comment.

Joseph Orovic contributed to this story

This story has been changed from the version printed in the March 21 edition. The original story said the letter alleges that a CB 3 staff member  told Robert LoScalzo and Alfredo Centola "there is not a meeting." It should say that CB 3 Chairwoman Marta Lebreton allegedly told this to LoScalzo and Centola.

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Welcome to the discussion.

1 comment:

  • LoScalzo posted at 3:56 pm on Thu, Mar 21, 2013.

    LoScalzo Posts: 0

    I want to be absolutely clear: CB3 Chairperson Lebreton stated via telephone "There is NOT any meeting" -- patently FALSE information, in view of the fact that the committee meeting was indeed scheduled for several hours later. She did this, only after first refusing to provide any information at all about the committee meeting; and after CB3 staff stated that they are "not allowed to say anything" about the committee meeting that was the topic of enquiry.

    Couple that with the lack of required public notice, the refusal during the following week's public hearing to make available to the public and to the press records that were a topic of the pubic hearing, plus the Chronicle's observations about CB3's prior attempts to prevent press access and to insist that CB3's permission must be obtained to record a meeting (it doesn't under the Open Meetings Law), and you have a portrait in dysfunction that needs to be remedied. CB3 members should think long and hard about whether they want to maintain a board Chairperson and District Manager that not only tolerate such dysfunction, but promote it.

    A Complaint has been made to Barry Grodenchik in his capacity of Director of Queens Community Boards. Grodenchik is a candidate for Queens Borough President. We will be closely watching how he responds.