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Board discusses use of executive sessions, Thomas is appointed CDA director

Members of the Riverhead Town Board are considering changes to their meeting rules that would set stricter guidelines on what discussions are considered confidential during executive sessions.

At a work session Thursday, Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz presented a proposed amendment to the existing town code. “I took the majority of the matters that are set forth presently in Section 105 of the [Open Meetings Law] and laid them out as being considered matters that, when this board moves into executive session, will be or shall be considered confidential,” he said.

Those matters include those which may imperil public safety if disclosed, involve ongoing investigations or law enforcement, litigation, personnel matters and collective bargaining.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith suggested Mr. Kozakiewicz also include discussions on the sale or lease of real property when publicity would affect the value thereof.

At a work session earlier this month, town board members feuded over holding an executive session. 

During that work session, the supervisor accused Councilwoman Jodi Giglio of divulging information related to hiring an employee outside of an executive session last week. Ms. Giglio said she holds a different opinion on who should replace a retiring water district employee.

A week later, at a Feb. 14 work session, the board continued to tiff over personnel matters involving Dawn Thomas, who heads the Community Development Agency.

She was appointed in 2017 following Chris Kempner’s resignation in 2017. She has since scored a 100 on the civil service test for the position, and Councilman Tim Hubbard introduced a resolution to formally appoint her.

Ms. Jens-Smith acknowledged that Ms. Thomas was qualified for the job, but wanted to interview the other candidates who scored a 100 for transparency’s sake. 

A resolution to appoint Ms. Thomas as CDA director was ultimately approved at a Town Board meeting last Wednesday, Feb. 20. Council members Catherine Kent, Jim Wooten, Tim Hubbard and Jodi Giglio all voted yes.

“[Ms. Thomas] does a tremendous job and I’m glad to have her here,” Mr. Hubbard said after casting his vote.

Ms. Jens-Smith abstained from the vote and said that it came about in an unprofessional manner. “Most times, when we promote or hire somebody, it’s a discussion in executive session prior to being discussed at an open meeting,” she said. 

Instead, it was brought up during a public work session. “I think that was totally inappropriate. I think that Ms. Thomas got stuck in the middle of that, and that was wrong. We apologize for that. I don’t think employees should be put in that position,” she said.

The next morning at work session, Ms. Giglio said the discussion should not have initially been held in public. “We discussed an employee, and it created a lot of havoc,” among employees at Town Hall.

“But, we’re all guilty of doing it in one way or another,” she added, noting that she was thankful for the clarification from Mr. Kozakiewicz.

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