11 August 2017
Bureau Chief Daniel G. Cort
New York State
Office of the Attorney General
Public Integrity Bureau
120 Broadway, 22nd Floor
New York, NY 10271
Dear Mr. Bureau Chief:
A situation has arisen concerning the intentional “provoking” of an Article 78 matter here in the city of Utica that warrants your attention. Because I believe the violation of the Open Meetings Law I am about to describe was an attempt to fraudulently deprive Utica Common Council members of their right to vote on an issue, as Representative Democracy demands, local remedies available through any ethics procedure at the city level will not suffice. The person I am complaining against, as indicated on the cover sheet, is Utica Common Council President Michael P. Galime.
On or about 17 July 2017, it was decided that there would be a meeting between the Utica Common Council and representatives from the Oneida County Legislature so they could “work out”, i.e. negotiate, bonding percentages and the like regarding an attempt to build a Parking Garage. Because I am a candidate for the Oneida County Legislature, I was informed that the meeting was going to happen as a courtesy.
Being familiar with the Open Meetings Law and knowing that the meeting would fit the qualifications of the real property exemption I asked, “So there’s no reason for me to go since they’re headed directly into Executive Session, right??” The answer was an affirmative “Yes, that would be what they’re going to do.” At that moment I put a note in my calendar to ask attendees about the meeting after it happened. I figured everything would go along as scheduled.
At some point in time after that date and before the actual meeting on or about 31 July 2017, Common Council Member Joe Marino, somewhat a leader on the local downtown hospital issue, and Steve DiMeo, President of Mohawk Valley EDGE, begin inviting Common Council members to the meeting.
Under our charter, there is a particular process for how this should be handled. I will repeat the following sentence several times during this discourse: because I expected the meeting to go into executive session, there is no reason for me to file an Article 78 complaint since I, like every other citizen in Oneida County, was not actually deprived of anything other than notice.
At some point, Steve DiMeo called Common Council President Galime and invited him to the meeting. At this time, Mr. Galime asked Mr. DiMeo who was going. Mr. DiMeo responded, “Everybody”. Mr. Galime supposedly said, “Ok, that’s interesting” or words to that effect.
Obviously, I have garnered this answer in a “hearsay” fashion. If I remember my Army JAG Paralegal training on the issue correctly, statements against interest are exceptions to the Hearsay Rule right up there with “excited utterances” and “dying declarations”.
At that point, under our Charter, the Common Council President is supposed to instruct the Utica Clerk, Pat Lindsey, to notify the media and the other Common Council members even if they had already been invited. He did not do so.
It should be noted that immediately following his election victory, Mr. Galime gave copies of Robert’s Rules of Order to all the Common Council members. He often bangs his gavel when the Chamber is not even in disorder. He has several times allowed motions to send the Common Council into Executive Session demanding one of the exemptions being specified as the reason for the Executive Session. He tells everyone he is a stickler for the rules. However, on this day, and on all the days leading up to the meeting, he forgets about the Charter.
To be sure I had my facts right, I talked to the City Clerk and members of her staff yesterday before writing this complaint. I could have called it an interview but I was in shorts and a t-shirt at the time, trying to be inconspicuous, so it was more of just a chat. If need be, I could FOIL the Clerk asking if the Common Council President had told her about the meeting or asked her to do anything regarding the meeting. Her answer, as well as that of her staff members, was a simple “No. We found out the meeting happened when we read about it in the media. That is not the standard Committee meeting process. It would have been nice if they did what they usually do.”
On the day of the meeting, 8 Common Council members filed into the room. The guidance in case law is clear – regardless if they talk about anything they are going to vote on or not, a quorum is present. The public and the media should have been notified. Again, the public and the press would have been asked to leave immediately upon the Executive Session vote that should have taken place, but the Common Council President skipped that step.
When the 8 Common Council members were in the room along with 5 members of the County Legislature, hospital representatives, and Steve DiMeo from EDGE, there was another opportunity for the Common Council President, i.e. the stickler for the rules, to enforce the law. According to local law, minutes have to be taken of a Committee Meeting even if it goes into Executive Session. Who is responsible for making sure that happens?? It would be the Committee Chairperson. However, the Common Council President was in the room. Therefore, the Common Council President becomes responsible. He made no such request.
The “negotiations” began. Even if no one shows up, you can take a vote to enter into Executive Session just in case someone does. I am fully aware, and was informed by Counsel in the Utica Corporation Counsel’s Office, that a vote into Executive Session is “permissive”. My complaint here is not so much that such a vote was not taken but that not taking the vote fits a particular pattern of behavior being exhibited by the Common Council President aligned with achieving a particular preset motive.
During the meeting, the Common Council President cautioned members of the Common Council several times against “participation”. Please notice that under the statute, which the Common Council President is familiar with, participation is not necessary in order to cause a problem. At no point did the Common Council President suggest that the members leave or that he leave himself.
After the meeting, some people involved talked about the tenor of the meeting. The NoHospital Downtown people got a copy of the document handed out at the meeting. They were the only group to do so. How did that happen??
I was not going to ask everyone who attended since that is insulting. By process of elimination, I came to the conclusion it was the Council President. After the story of the “illegal meeting” broke in the media, I wanted to confirm my suspicion. I did some fishing on social media suggesting I knew that the leaker was Mike Galime. Within minutes of some of my posts, the Downtown Hospital Twitter account posted that one of their “sources” had been compromised and they had to do a “better job protecting them.” Yes, it was Mike Galime.
When the story first hit the media, Mr. Galime kept saying that the meeting was illegal. If it was, why did he stay?? Why did he fail at every single decision point to reverse course and protect the Common Council as the Common Council President is supposed to??
At first, I was going to file this as an Article 78, even though I thought the remedy was just a “Motion into Executive Session” revote, just to be a pain in the hind quarters. However, over the last two days, the Downtown Hospital crew started saying things like, “Well, everything done at that meeting is tainted. If the Common Council votes to move forward on the Parking Garage, we can sue and rescind the vote.”
Forgetting that this point of view is almost fantasy since the meeting was about a negotiation; that is when it dawned on me. The Common Council President has been meeting with the No Downtown Hospital group for months. He had promised several times to stop the downtown hospital process. His promises were always seen as delusional because he only votes in case of a tie. At present, almost two years in, he has not cast an actual vote yet.
The way the Utica Common Council is set up on the issue, 5 Councilors would have to be “absent” to set up a 2-2 tie. At that point there is no longer a quorum. Therefore, the only way the Common Council President, stickler for the rules that he is, could affect the process in the direction he promised would be to create a “grave procedural error” which in turn would give the No Hospital Downtown group a “cause for action.”
It is my belief the Common Council President intentionally ignored the rules and subverted Democracy, not to mention defrauding all citizens in Utica by removing the right to decide from the Ward and At-Large Councilors who represent said citizens, with the goal of killing the hospital proposal in mind.
We must believe one of two things: 1. The Common council President made all these promises and nobody was smart enough to figure out that he does not have a vote or 2. He was questioned about it. If he was questioned, he would have had to answer 1 of 2 ways: 1. He was bluffing and just trying to look cool or 2. He had another plan in mind. I am actively searching his family, his business associates, and his political allies for someone who will sign a statement attesting to the “another plan” option. You have subpoena power; I do not. What I ask you to investigate is simple. Can we actually believe that a stickler for the rules suddenly forgot every single one of them or is it the case that this was the plan all along??
Thank you in advance for your time and consideration in this matter.
Robert T. Oliveira
763 Mary Street
Utica, NY 13501