Town Attempts To Remove Public Disclosure Laws
We recently challenged the Huntington Housing Authority in regards to Chapter 40 of the Town Code. We were trying to determine if they were complying with the law. After many attempts to ascertain the facts the attorney for the HHA acknowledged that they were not complying with the law and they did not intend to. The law is now under consideration to be repealed.
According to Town Hall spokesperson A.J. Carter, the repeal is the result of the legal conclusion that the provisions of the code are unenforcable “due to the fact that the Huntington Housing Authority has a corporate existence separate and apart from the Town of Huntington. That while the Housing Authority’s board members are appointed by the Town Board, they are independent of the Town. Under state law, the Housing Authority is a corporation with its own separate existence and legally, the Town has no authority to require the Housing Authority to submit reports on their activities and minutes to the Town Clerk”. AJ Carter gave his opinion that Section 40 is being repealed to remove a section of Town Code that legally has no reason to exist.
About a decade ago, after a scandal at the Huntington Housing Authority, Town Law was passed to ensure that the public would have access to information and the HHA would not be permitted to operate in secrecy. Steve Israel and Frank Petrone were instrumental in seeing that these public disclosure laws were passed. After the former HHA board was removed the law was never followed or enforced. According to a Long Islander Article dated October 21, 1999, Steve Israel called for the resolutions to insure disclosure of financial and operational practices of the HHA. He referred to it as the Huntington Housing Authority Accountability Act and described it as a measure that would keep the HHA from continuing down the path of secrecy and obstruction. He insisted that these laws go beyond the bare minimum and intensify the Authorities accountability to the tax payer.
There will be a public hearing at the April 17, 2012 Town Board meeting to consider adopting Local Law Introductory No. 6 – 2012 amending the Code of the Town of Huntington so as to repeal Chapter 40 (Huntington Housing Authority).
This code was adopted in 1999 and it states:
It is the intent of the Huntington Town Board to require regular and systematic disclosure and dissemination of financial and operational information of the Huntington Housing Authority to ensure that the Town Board and the people of the Town of Huntington are fully informed as to the financial activities, operations and integrity of the Huntington Housing Authority.
At a recent HHA public meeting, Paul Levitt, the Attorney for the HHA, stated that they have not complied with the Town Code. He stated that the code was put into place at a time when there was a conflict between various commissioners and that this code was intended to assist these commissioners in obtaining information. He explained that there is no longer a need to follow the law because all the commissioners get along and share information. He explained that the law is not enforceable because you can’t have one separate political body demanding legislation to provide the records of another separate and distinct political body.
Below are comments made in regards to the law at the time it was adopted in 1999.
“I believe that under Mr. McKay the Housing Authority operated its own private fiefdom, Town board member Steve Israel said. The fact that there is no requirement that the Housing Authority give information to the Town Board, in my view, enabled these allegations to flourish.” (Newsday, May 13, 1999: A35) Steve Israel was a Town Councilman at the time he made this statement.
“It is necessary to immediately restore public confidence in the Housing Authority and to assure the proper delivery of services to the clients of the Housing Authority.” Said Supervisor Frank Petrone. He then called a special meeting for the purpose of passing 3 important resolutions. (The Observer, April 1999: 9).
“These requirements go beyond the bare minimum and intensify the Authorities accountability to the taxpayers of Huntington. Given its troubled history it should do no less”, said Steve Israel. (Long Islander, October 21, 1999, New Rules Eyed For Housing Authority).
The Housing Authority is created by the state of NY but the Town Council has power to appoint the commission that oversees it.
Specific requirements of the law are:
A. Provide certified copies of the minutes of all of its meetings, including a Treasurer’s report to the Town Clerk, Town Supervisor, Town Board and the Town Attorney within thirty (30) days of the approval or acceptance of said minutes and reports.
B. Submit quarterly financial reports to the Town Clerk, Town Supervisor, Town Board and the Town Attorney. Such financial reports shall include itemization of all disbursements and receipts.
C. Publish an annual public report, including statements of goals for the following year, on or before December 31.
D. File meeting agendas with the Town Clerk at least one (1) week prior to any meeting of the Authority.
E. Provide copies of all audits from whatever the source to the Town Clerk, Town Supervisor, Town Board and the Town Attorney within thirty (30) days of their receipt by the Authority.
F. Require that no Commissioner may be denied information and/or documents related in any matter to the Huntington Housing Authority.
G. Require the Town Comptroller to conduct an audit on an annual basis.