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Horicon officials close door on open-government advocate's Town Hall visit

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Editor's Note: Christine Hayes' title was corrected at 9:30 a.m.

HORICON -- The Horicon Town Board held what appeared to be an illegal meeting Wednesday to ban an event from Town Hall that was to feature the state's expert on the Freedom of Information and open meetings laws.

The "emergency" meeting was held by the board to rescind permission for local residents to host Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, for an open government discussion at Town Hall on Feb. 9.

The event has instead been moved to the Horicon fire station and will be held on the same date.

The controversy does not focus on Freeman, but rather on June Maxam, a Chester resident who helped organize the event. Maxam is publisher of the North Country Gazette, a website that is frequently critical of local government.

Maxam and Christine Hayes, the town of Horicon's zoning clerk, got permission from Horicon Supervisor Ralph Bentley to use Town Hall for Freeman's presentation.

Bentley said he did not call the "emergency" meeting this week, and he questioned the need for it when the event wasn't to be held until Feb. 9 and the Town Board's next regular meeting is set for Jan. 20.

Bentley said it was his understanding that councilmen Ken Higgins and Robert Olson called for the meeting. Higgins did not return a phone call for comment Thursday.

Olson said he did not organize it, but he agreed that the majority of Town Board members did not want the town affiliated with an event that involved Maxam.

There was concern that a flier for the event indicated it was being hosted by the town when the board did not sanction it, and that an e-mail address for Maxam was listed on the flier along with the e-mail address Hayes uses for town business, he said.

"We felt this had to be corrected immediately," Olson said. "This shouldn't have happened. It was a bad situation."

Freeman seemed taken aback Thursday at the developments, saying, "So what, who cares?" when told that Maxam's involvement was what prompted the Town Board to taken action.

"I have no idea why there is a controversy. June is not speaking. I am," Freeman said.

Freeman said discussion of a building use issue such as the one the Horicon Town Board met about would not qualify for an emergency meeting.

The board would also have had to give two days of written notice for the meeting, Freeman said.

No notice was sent to The Post-Star about the meeting. Instead, fliers were posted at the Town Hall and at the post offices in the hamlets of Brant Lake and Adirondack.

Freeman said those fliers would not have met the legal requirement, and he spoke with a representative of the town clerk's office Thursday about the issue.

Hayes was sent a tersely worded letter signed by all Town Board members except for Bentley telling her to remove references to the town of Horicon from the flier, and threatening her with termination for "any repetition of this nature."

"No matter how worthwhile the planned forum might be, you did not have the right to say the town of Horicon is sponsoring this without prior approval," the letter reads.

Olson said the town does not have a policy for seeking permission to use Town Hall, but one will likely be put in place in light of the situation.

Hayes quipped, "No good deed goes unpunished" and said she has gotten permission from the Horicon fire chief to move the meeting to the fire station, though there was concern about whether the building was big enough for the event.

Maxam and Hayes decided to host Freeman after they clashed with the Chestertown Fire Department over the department's refusal to turn over documents they sought in a Freedom of Information request.

They have sued the Fire Department, and won a $2,000 grant from the National Freedom of Information Coalition to help with their effort.


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