Following an impassioned discussion about a confidential personnel document that was leaked to the local media, apparently by a fellow member of the Batavia City Council, Council President Charlie Mallow said whomever leaked the document violated the trust of citizens and fellow council members and should resign immediately.
There is no way, Mallow said, that the council members can hold another executive session with any degree of confidence that what is discussed in closed session will remain confidential.
Mallow doesn't plan to call any further closed sessions on any matter during the remainder of his term as council president, which is about two months.
"If you cannot protect one of your citizens, protect your staff and follow your word, you don’t belong here," Mallow said. "I would expect them to resign. Absolutely. I don’t know how the citizens of the city wouldn’t expect someone to resign. If you have no integrity and you are not out there to protect the interests of our citizens, what are you doing here? You don’t belong here."
He then added, "That’s how the majority of the council feels. This is a betrayal. It’s a dirty betrayal."
And on the specific issue, Mallow said, the council is now stymied on dealing with it because nobody wants to go into executive session and risk having their statements leaked to the media.
"If there’s potential for further litigation on that matter, I can’t discuss it," Mallow said, "and that's a shame, because it needs to be discussed. It’s important. There’s an important matter there that needs to be discussed."
Mallow said one of his great disappointments is that a citizen who brought forward a complaint to the city with the intention that it be kept confidential was betrayed.
"They wanted the problem solved, not to make a spectacle of things," Mallow said. "They wanted a problem solved and they went to their government to do that and we didn’t. We failed them."
It was Councilman Frank Ferrando who brought the issue of the leak up at the close of Monday night's conference meeting. Ferrando called the leak a betrayal.
"There’s no reason to go behind closed doors if in fact everything can be shared," Ferrando said. "Let’s do it here, because I don’t want someone else telling someone what I said. I’ll say it myself. ...
"I will not go into executive session unless it’s stated clearly in council rules that what happens in executive session stays in executive session."
At one point, Ferrando turned to Daily News reporter Joanne Beck and said, “I want to say to Joanne Beck right now, if I’m the person who disclosed that letter, put it in the paper, I want people to know, because I know it wasn’t me."
Councilwoman Kathy Briggs also released Beck from any confidentiality agreement saying, "I know it wasn't me."
Beck reported the leak, and Mallow's criticism of it, Sept. 25. She disclosed that the Daily News received a copy of a letter accusing City Manager Jason Molino of "unprofessional and unethical behavior." The newspaper did not reveal the name of the letter's author, which Mallow praised as an example of good ethics. Beck did not disclose any other details of the letter or what prompted the complaint. Mallow characterized the
accusations leak as a "witch hunt" but would not comment further at that time (regarding correction in this graph, see Charlie's comment below).
Mallow's commentary: Piecing things together, it appears that a member of the City Council called the author of the letter following the closed session and disclosed in some detail what was discussed in the session. That letter writer then contacted at least four council members and discussed the substance of what that person was told. It does not appear that Council member disclosed to Beck any of the closed session conversation. The Council member who called the letter writer may or may not be the same Council member who leaked the letter to the Daily News. I think they are two different people. At least, that's my best speculation as to the sequence of events based on available information.
NOTE: The two files above were recorded with my computer. The sound quality is just good enough so you can hear what Frank, and George are saying. Charlie was recorded with my iPhone and there is a bit of background noise on the first clip, though Charlie is quite audible. I include Van Nest even though I don't quote him above because his comments are interesting, especially since he notes that council has, as I've said before, discretion on whether to enter executive session on many topics. The council is rarely required by law to go into closed session. It's merely an option.