Elizabethtown Supervisor Margaret Bartley.
The sparring battle between the Elizabethtown Supervisor and a former Town Board member was taken up a notch over the past week.
Supervisor Margaret Bartley called an emergency meeting of the Town Board April 18 cancel several town accounts due to their information being placed at the Elizabethtown Post Office.
On April 17, I learned that copies of the town bank statements, including critical items, bank numbers, account balances and comments had been duplicated and distributed,” Bartley said. “According to a post office employee, copies of the town bank records had been left at the post office in the public mailbox area for several days. I was told that this was a violation of U.S. Postal regulations. The employee had disposed of the material, but it re-appeared the next day.”
Bartley said that she had given end-of-the-year financial statements to former Town Board member Ken Fenimore, who had asked for them through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIL) request.
“(We) made copies of the documents available to the applicant on March 14, as required by law,” she said. “The account number at the top of each statement was blacked out. All other financial data was intact.”
Fenimore said that he had received the information and had indeed made copies of the record available at the Post Office because they were a matter of public record.
“I FOIL requested for the town’s financial documents because the Board cancelled the Dec. 27 meeting to close the books, which didn’t balance,” Fenimore said. “No public followup has occurred. I have been, and will continue to, distribute financial information to the taxpayers of Elizabethtown.”
Fenimore said that he was specific in the FOIL request that any sensitive information be blacked out, which included any account numbers.
“I was specific in asking that,” he said. “Those are the same numbers that are the front of every check they write.”
As part of the process in determining what to do after discovering the documents had been placed at the Post Office, Bartley said that she contacted the New York State Police as well as the town attorney and county district attorney’s office.
“I reported it to the New York State Police because I did not know if there were any legal issues,” Bartley said. “I would rather be safe than sorry, and I wanted to have the confidence that the problem was being handled properly.”
“I was astonished that the State Police would be requested to investigate for me sharing public information that was received through a FOIL,” Fenimore said.
Fenimore said that he wanted to show residents how much fund balance the town had in their accounts, which he said totaled $929,788 in three main reserve accounts.
“It has been reported that the previous board left the current one short on cash, and these records give a clear representation of the cash that they were left,” Fenimore said.
During the special meeting, the board voted to close the total of six accounts that were listed as part of the FOIL request and to stop all wire and electronic transactions taking place through them. The town then resolved to create new accounts for each.
For Bartley, the issue came down to where the information was placed.
“It was put in a public arena where it should not have been,” Bartley said.
“I don’t think that the Post Office should be used as a bully pulpit for political issues,” said town Councilwoman Evelyn Hatch, who won Fenimore’s seat after he resigned last year.
Fenimore also debated the legality of the special board meeting.
“While a special meeting may be called by the supervisor, my Town Law Manual states; ‘The Attorney General and the Comptroller have agreed that business conducted at a special meeting held without 2 days notice is valid as long as all council persons had actual notice of the meeting and attended and participated therein,’” he said.