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February 21, 2013

Judge voids vote to sell Otsego Manor

Ruling that the Otsego County Board of Representatives violated the Public Officers Law when it held a secret meeting dealing with the Otsego Manor, a state judge has voided the vote taken after that session to sell the nursing home to the highest bidder.

The decision, handed down by Acting Otsego County State Supreme Court Justice Donald Cerio, means that the board will have to again address the controversial proposal to privatize the 174-bed nursing home.

The board’s action that was nullified was its Sept. 5 vote in support of a resolution that argued the Manor has become financially unsustainable for the county and authorized its sale. Since then, more than 1,800 people have signed a petition, organized by Manor volunteer Maureen Culbert of Springfield, urging that the Manor remain a publicly operated nursing care facility.

Cerio, acting in a lawsuit brought against the board by the Civil Service Employees Association, said the board’s decision to go into a a secret “executive session” shortly before that vote was based on “statutorily insufficient” reasons.

The conversation that did take place in the closed door meeting, the judge said, “exceeded” the reasons that had been given publicly by board members before they met in private — “contracts” and “negotiations.”

“The public was thus not ‘fully aware’ of that which the board intended to discuss behind closed doors,” Cerio wrote in the 9-page decision.

The board provided no advance public notice that a proposal to sell the Manor would come before it that day, and the proposal did not appear on the agenda issued prior to the meeting.

Mark Kotzin, a spokesman for CSEA, the union that represents more than 200 Manor workers, called Cerio’s decision “a victory for the people of Otsego County and for good government.”

“We held them to the standards they’re supposed to abide by — and we’re proud of that,” Kotzin said. “Hopefully, it’s the way they will operate in in the future. We hope this will give them pause to reconsider the scheduled sale of the nursing home. If not, we hope this will give the public time to have more input into the process.”

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