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E'town board heats up over open government law

ELIZABETHTOWN Margaret Bartley may have lost her bid for a seat on the Elizabethtown town board, but shes determined to keep her campaign promise. At the Dec. 18 regular town board meeting, Bartley brought the topic of open government during the public comment section. At the heart of the issue was the shifting of the November meetings date from Nov. 20 to Nov. 13 without notice being posted. According to the New York State Open Meetings Law, notice of the time and place of all meetings must be given. If the meeting is scheduled a week in advance, there is a three-day notice period for the public and media. Elizabethtown usually meets the requirement by posting notice on the door of the town hall. The town board shifted the meeting from its regular third Tuesday schedule to pass its 2008 budget in time for state deadline. Bartley, concerned about the lack of notice, responded by converting several of her campaign signs into town board meeting notices which will be posted throughout the community prior to meetings. She also purchased a sandwich board-style sign to place outside the town hall. I know its not the most attractive sign, but it is one that is visible from the street. I would like the town board to put it up before the meeting is held, said Bartley. I bought it because this town needs it, especially because it's visible from the road. It's available for you to use in anyway that benefits the community. If you tell me, I'll be glad to put whatever you request, she added. Resident Evelyn Hatch said she felt the board was a good idea, because it would remind people when the meetings were to be held. Hatch agreed to store the sign at her residence, which is located across the street from the town hall. I think this is something people will see and identify, said Hatch. The town board unanimously passed approval for the sign to be placed outside on meeting days until a permanent meeting notice board could be constructed. The one the town used to have was removed during a renovation project. Bartley recorded the meeting with a video camera, and sent it for broadcast on Charter Cable TV channel 16. She set up a web site, www.E-towncitizens.org , with information like resolutions, budget and town board minutes and placed a note book with print copies of the town board minutes in the Elizabethtown Library. She also volunteered to supply the Valley News with a monthly column on the town boards activities. Councilman Philip Hutchins said the he was getting worn down by the criticism in town about the boards handling of meetings. He said hed always been available to the citizens, and wanted to work with them. If there are things that this board is doing or I'm doing particularly that leads people to people to believe our conduct is clandestine, I'd be glad to work on them if I knew (who) they are. I'm getting tired of innuendo - they're beating us to death over it, said Hutchins. I do not think I am being paranoid to respond to this, when I continue to see things you (Bartley) put out that are saying we are going to get some open government. To me that is an indication, at least by innuendo if not accusation, that we didn't have it until now, said Hutchins. Supervisor Noel Merrihew said the November meeting issues were a glitch which happened to a communication error. He pointed out that in his six years of service, it was the first time a problem had with notice. He added that he had contacted local media outlets for the meeting. I don't believe anyone can cite one other example - it's a curve ball that has upset Mr. Hutchins. We don't do business behind closed doors, said Merrihew.

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