Monday, November 21, 2005

Potentially illegal activity of Community Board 4

This was published recently in the Highbridge Horizon. Click the title above to read for yourself.

November 2005

Board discusses stadium plan privately
‘Simple tour’ may have been illegal, says expert

By Joe Lamport
Managing Editor

Members of Community Board 4 met privately Nov. 12 for a tour of sites of the proposed new Yankee Stadium and Bronx Terminal Market development projects, apparently violating New York's open meetings law, an expert on the law said.

But the board was only doing a "simple tour," said Community District Manager David Mojica, who arranged the event with the board's Parks Committee Chairman Jose Diaz-Oyola. Diaz-Oyola paid for the tour, Mojica said.

The limited number of seats on the trolley would have made public participation impossible, he said.

The meeting involved about 20 community board members, Mojica said, some of who came with their spouses. Wilhelm Ronda, the Bronx Borough President's director of program, policy and planning, led the tour. The board members met first at the offices of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation and then boarded a trolley bus for the tour.

"This is a private meeting," Mojica told a Horizon reporter who attempted to enter the building where the board members were meeting before the tour. A board member had informed the reporter of the meeting. When the board members came out to get on the trolley, the reporter's attempts to attend the meeting were rebuffed, this time by Board Chairman Ade Rasul.

"We have every right to meet privately," Rasul said. "It's a tour for board members. We paid for it. The media has had terrific access to all of our meetings.

"You're not getting on," he continued. "It's for board members only."
Rasul refused to comment when reached later.

No matter who paid for it, however, the meeting apparently violated the state's open meetings law, said Bob Freeman, executive director of the committee on open government, a state agency.

"The fact that something may be privately financed is irrelevant," Freeman said. "If it's a committee consisting of two or more community board members, there's no doubt that the open meetings law would apply."

The only exception that might apply was if the tour involved no discussion of the proposed projects, Freeman said. During the tour, board members did discuss the project and "strong views" were expressed, Mojica said in an interview days after the tour.

"Some raised the question of why Yankee Stadium can't develop to the southwest," he said. "But it wasn't that we were going to make a decision."

But at least one board member who attended said the tour seemed intended to affect board members' opinions. When asked why the tour had been organized as she was boarding the trolley, Anita Antonetty said, "They want this plan to pass."

Diaz-Oyola said he paid $70 for the trolley but did not intend to prevent a reporter attending.

"I would have had no problem with you joining us," he said, days after the tour. He said he was not sure whether the tour violated the law.

"I will definitely do some follow-up," he said. "If this was a violation, I certainly do apologize."

Other local officials expressed dismay the tour had not been publicized.

"I certainly wish I had known about it," said Jim Fairbanks, chief of staff for Council Member Helen Foster. "I would have loved to have gone along."

"If it's a violation of the city charter, then obviously it's something that needs to be looked into and addressed," said Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo.

Horizon reporters followed the trolley bus as it circled Mullaly Park, the proposed site of the new Yankee Stadium, and then went through the Bronx Terminal Market.

Residents opposed to the park who have been circulating petitions against the new Yankee Stadium were livid.

"Our elected and appointed officials are so out of touch with the needs of the community, that they will sell out their integrity for a few," said Joyce Hogi, a member of the Save Our Parks group opposing the new stadium.

The board did not release minutes of the meeting. The Bronx Borough President's office did not return calls for comment.


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