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updated: 6/6/2017 4:56 PM

Sleepy Hollow trustee calls for resignation of mayor, attorney

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  • Stephan Pickett

    Stephan Pickett

  • Sleepy Hollow Trustee Thomas Merkel, sitting beside Village Clerk Norine Olson, questioned the transparency and credibility of the village's attorney and top elected official during Monday's meeting.

      Sleepy Hollow Trustee Thomas Merkel, sitting beside Village Clerk Norine Olson, questioned the transparency and credibility of the village's attorney and top elected official during Monday's meeting.
    Lauren Rohr | Staff Photographer

 
 

After being denied access to certain records pertaining to a controversial cellphone tower, Sleepy Hollow Trustee Thomas Merkel has called for the village's attorney and top elected official to resign.

Merkel on Monday questioned the transparency and credibility of Village President Stephan Pickett and Attorney Mark Schuster, pointing to the 681 pages of public records and executive session tapes withheld from him.

"You cannot have a village attorney or president deny you access to public records to which you are entitled and which are necessary to perform your duties," Merkel said. "Such action impedes the business of the village and seeks to silence open discussion where parties may disagree."

Neither Pickett nor Schuster responded to Merkel's statements during Monday's meeting, and both later declined to comment.

"I'll respond if the board asks me to respond," Schuster said.

Merkel, elected as a write-in candidate in April, has long opposed the 125-foot-tall cell tower planned to be built on village-owned property. The village board this year approved leasing land to National Wireless Ventures LLC in a deal expected to put more than $20,000 in village coffers each year.

"I think it's the biggest mistake our village has ever made," Merkel said. "It is not consistent with the rural nature of our village. It will forever scar the beauty of our quaint village."

On March 24, before he was a trustee, Merkel filed a Freedom of Information request for all records related to the tower. The village provided him with 2,298 pages of public records but denied him access to documents containing communications between public officials and their attorney, documents show.

In May, after being sworn in as a trustee, Merkel said he asked again to view the withheld records and listen to tapes of executive sessions that included discussions of the cell tower deal. Village Clerk Norine Olson denied his request per advice from Schuster.

"What is in those records?" Merkel said. "Why wouldn't you want a trustee of the village to have access to them?"

He also argued Schuster has a responsibility to represent not only Pickett but the entire village board.

Earlier this year, Merkel filed a request for review by a public access counselor. He claimed village officials failed to comply with the Open Meetings Act during closed-session conversations about the cell tower.

The village responded with a statement saying those discussions were about the leasing price or factors that may affect those terms, which are permitted in closed sessions.

Pickett also provided all minutes and verbatim recordings of those discussions to the attorney general's office, which will assess whether the village board's executive sessions were "fully authorized," records show.

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