September 30, 1999
M E M O R A N D U M
TO: G. Robert Witmer, Esq.
Hon. Ralph Eannace, Oneida County Executive
Hon. Larry Carpenter, Chairman, Madison County Board of Supervisors
John Campanie, Madison County Attorney
Michelle Breidenbach, Syracuse Newspapers
FROM: Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director
SUBJECT: Indian Land Claims Settlement Negotiations
Earlier this week, I offered statements to Michelle Breidenbach of the Syracuse
Newspapers concerning the status of settlement negotiations under the New York Open
Meetings Law. At that time, I was unaware of an order issued by Judge McCurn of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York that includes the following directive:
"The settlement process is a confidential process. That
process, including any documents submitted to or prepared by
the Settlement Master, and any statements made during that
process are for settlement purposes only, are confidential, and shall be treated as compromise negotiations under Rule 408 of the Federal Rules of Evidence."
Based upon the foregoing, I ask that you consider my statements to Ms. Breidenbach to have been retracted. In view of the court order, in my opinion, the negotiating process must be confidential, and I note that §108(3) of the Open Meetings Law exempts from its coverage "matters made confidential by state or federal law."
In addition, it is my understanding that the subcommittees representing Madison and
Oneida Counties were designated at the direction of the Special Master pursuant to the court
order; those subcommittees are not standing committees of either the Oneida County
Legislature or the Madison County Board of Supervisors. It is also my understanding that
the members of the subcommittees were not chosen by legislative bodies, but rather, pursuant
to the order of the Special Master, by County Executive Eannace and Chairman Carpenter.
If that is so, those subcommittees would not constitute "public bodies" subject to the Open
Meetings Law [see Poughkeepsie Newspaper v. Mayor's Intergovernmental Task Force on
new York City Water Supply Needs, 145 AD2d 65 (1989); American Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Board of Trustees of SUNY, 79 NY2d 927 (1992)].
I hope that the foregoing serves to clarify the matter.