HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- A demand by several residents for a copy of a strongly worded, prepared statement presented by Town Supervisor Keith Cipperly at a meeting in April led to a heated town meeting on Monday.
Cipperly refused to provide the public with a copy of the statement, claiming that, since said act did not appear in the minutes, it therefore did not occur. Audience members were infuriated with his response and with his refusal to turn over any proof that the incident actually occurred, and immediately questioned his honesty and ethical standing.
Contacted by The Banner after the meeting, Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said that under the Freedom of Information law, a document read out loud by a public figure at a meeting constitutes a public record, and therefore must continue to exist for retention in the state archives. Thus, the "disappearance" of the statement in both print and digital form must be resolved and Cipperly must provide copies of the statement to the desired parties, as per New York State law.
"Citizens have the right to access any public records they wish," said Freeman. "Because the statement was read aloud, there is no constitution for it to be withheld from the public."
The absence of Cipperly's speech in April's minutes was also of concern to Freeman. According to Freeman, the recitation of public records by a public official during a public meeting should most definitely be documented in the meeting's minutes.
Freeman said of the whole incident, "We don't lie about records in New York State and we certainly don't destroy them."
Another cause for concern at the meeting was the continued absence of Charles Filkins, a man who was known to record each town meeting with a video camera and audio recording equipment.
Residents commented on his absence and confronted Cipperly about the situation.
Cipperly responded saying he had simply asked Filkins to "take a few months off" and that it "wasn't a big deal." It is to be noted that Cipperly did so without the consent of the board.
Cipperly explained that his decision was based on the fact that he was "left alone to help Charlie pack up his equipment after the rest of the board members skipped out."
"I have a family that I want to get home to," said Cipperly. "I don't want to be here any longer than I need to be."
Freeman responded to this saying, "Anyone is welcome to attend a public meeting. No one has the right to tell them they cannot come." To boot, Freeman explained that, under the open meetings law, anyone has the right to attend and record public meetings, so long as their presence is not deemed intrusive or disruptive.
"Cipperly has no right to tell residents otherwise," said Freeman.
When asked to comment on the situation, Filkins responded, "He (Cipperly) said he didn't want the meetings recorded anymore, so I stopped coming."
Filkins continued, saying, "I really enjoyed coming to the meetings, so I was disappointed."
Tempers rose yet again when Hoosick Falls resident, Margaret Casey was targeted by Cipperly.
Cipperly accused Casey of breaking and entering into his office several months ago and had prepared packets of "surveillance" photos as proof for the audience, a clearly pre-meditated act.
Casey immediately responded, saying that the photos were taken off of the "Save The Armory" Facebook page and shot during a supervised tour of the Armory before it started to undergo construction, by board member Mark Surdam, back in February 2012.
Casey commented, "I believe what happened tonight was in response to the letter I wrote that was published in The Eastwick Press."
Casey's letter accused Cipperly of being dishonest and demanded that he come forward with the truth in regard to claims that he illegally broke into the Armory a few months ago.
"I think the only reason charges weren't pressed was because HAYC3 hadn't yet received the town's rent payment and no lease had been established," she said.
Hoosick Falls resident Ellen Scott was concerned, saying, "People need to know what's going on in the community. It's just so bad."
Contact Elizabeth Conkey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.