Legislators Propose Public Talks To Fill Vacancies

John Whittaker

March 31, 2022

Originally published in The Post-Journal on March 31, 2022.

Filling vacant elected offices should happen in public view, according to legislation introduced in the state Legislature.

S.5871/A.8304 is sponsored by Sen. Anna Kaplan, D-Carle Place, and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale. The legislation requires consideration of matters relating to the appointment of a member or officer of a public body to fill a vacancy happen in a meeting open to the public and not be conducted in an executive session. That would include interviews with candidates and any discussions about the appointment.

“When an elected public official resigns, public bodies will often solicit applications and subsequently conduct interviews and have discussions about filling the opening behind closed doors in an executive session,” Kaplan and Paulin wrote in their legislative justification. “This practice has been scrutinized, particularly in the case of filling school board vacancies.”

The legislators cite state court decisions, including Gordon v. Village of Monticello, a 1994 case from Sullivan County Supreme Court, in which judges ruled the process of replacing elected officials must be subject to “public input and scrutiny.” In addition, the state Committee on Open Government has issued an advisory opinion in relation to whether a school board may convene an executive session when a school board member resigns. In 2001 the committee wrote in Opinion 3354 of the “obvious importance of protecting the voter’s franchise” and declared that an executive session is not appropriate to handle appointments to fill the unexpired terms of elected officials.

“Filling a vacant elected position should never occur behind closed doors,” Paulin and Kaplan wrote. “This change to the law is a needed step towards greater transparency.”