Lack of Transparency Becomes Transparent

The May 9th meeting of the Town Council was unremarkable except for the very end of the meeting. Bill DeFuniak, the Town Clerk, raised the same issue he had spoken about at previous meetings, that of paying invoices for attorney fees to Harris, Welsh & Lukman, the town attorney where the invoices contained no detail about what services were rendered to justify the charges. When Board President Peter Byvoets asked if he couldn’t pay it anyway and solicited a vote to approve payment. Mr. DeFuniak stated that he had become concerned and called the State Board of Accounts for advice. He spoke to Susan Gordon, the second in command at the Board, who told him, “If I paid a bill with no detail I was breaking the Law.” (It is apparent why Mr. DeFuniak felt it was important to retain his own lawyer to review actions requested by this board). Mr. DeFuniak then told the others he would not pay the bill even if they approved it, unless it complied with the law.

Interestingly enough, informed sources tell us that Harris, Welsh & Lukman do not provide bills like this to other municipal clients.

Some additional context will be helpful here. During the Fall election campaign, the party opposing the current party in power requested through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) the detailed charges of the town attorney for several months. The purpose of this request, it can now be said, was to determine whether Board Member Peter Byvoets (now Board President) had been conversing with the town attorney about new ordinances which he was not revealing publicly, sharing with sub-committee members, nor sharing with other town board members. In other words, whether he was secretly preparing a raft of new ordinances that he could spring on the public with little notice or opportunity to discuss them. (Note that such ordinances were in fact presented very soon after the new board was sworn in, too soon not to have been developed during the preceeding administration.)

At the time of the FOIA request Mr. Byvoets, through the town attorney, asserted attorney-client privilege and denied the request. Due to lack of time before the election, the refusal was not followed up in court. After the new board took over, I raised this issue again and expressed my skepticism over the applicability of the privilege to public charges. This time I said that if they did not turn over the billing statements upon a proper request, we would compel their production in court. Following that, the town attorney began to submit invoices with no detail. It was these vague invoices that Bill DeFuniak objected to paying.

Wait, there’s more. When the Clerk told Mr. Byvoets that he would not pay the bill unless it was properly submitted, Mr. Byvoets said that they would vote on it and have a meeting on the issue “in executive session” (i.e. in secret).

A member of the audience then raised a point of order questioning the propriety of conducting such a meeting in secret, but Mr. Byvoets said that it was permissible, and Julie Paulson, the attorney from the Harris firm, said there were a list of exceptions to the rule, and without identifying one, said that executive session was permissible. When one of the board members started to ask a question, Paulson said she would talk to her “after the meeting”.

So, our Town Board is having a secret meeting to talk about their ability to keep their discussions about ordinances and other town business secret from us!

As in the previous article, “Secret Meetings Are Not Transparent“, this kind of thing has been a pattern of conduct with this group. There, despite the noticing of a meeting at the Town Center, sub-committee meeting Chairman Patrick Cannon adjourned a meeting with McKenna & Associates to a fellow Alliance member’s house to avoid public scrutiny.They do not really want want us to know what is really going on, and they do not really want to be transparent. They just want to appear as though they are being transparent.

Frank Parkerson

3 Comments

  1. First of all Long Beach Views looks great! Thanks Mary Lou and Frank for creating it. I hope the opposition feels free to add their points of view too. Secondly, the silence is deafening regarding @$14,000 of legal bills for one month-without knowing what it was for. That’s @$700 per working day for the month. Thanks Bill DeFuniak for insisting on accountability. Why didn’t the Town’s attorney speak up for accountability too?

    • Thanks Dave and welcome. I hope the site fills the need for which it is intended. FJP

    • In answer to your question, I have it on good authority that we are running low on money budgeted for attorney fees. You will remember that the likelihood of wasting large sums on lawyer fees was an issue in the campaign, an issue that Pat Cannon and others in the Long Beach Party who are affiliated with the Alliance made light of. Well, the chickens are coming home to roost. Before long we are going to have to cannibalize other programs or vote a special assessment to pay Harris, Welsh and Lukman. Won’t the voters love that? As to why the town attorney didn’t say something, perhaps she really believes what Byvoets is saying, which reflects on her intelligence, or she doesn’t believe it and is just going along, which reflects on her character.

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