Mattituck Cutchogue School District

Update: Diffley poised to be re-elected as Mattituck BOE president

The Mattituck school board failed to elect a president at Thursday's reorganizational meeting. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)
The Mattituck school board failed to elect a president at Thursday’s reorganizational meeting. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

Update: Mattituck school board member Sarah Hassildine told The Suffolk Times on Friday that she supports current school board president Jerry Diffley and would have voted for him Thursday if she had been allowed to cast a vote.

She is expected to cast the deciding vote to re-elect him at the next meeting.

Original story: After a heated argument between board members over accusations of breaking the state’s open meetings law, the Mattituck Board of Education failed to elect a president at its annual reorganizational meeting Thursday night. 

School board member Laura Jens-Smith objected to fellow board member Sarah Hassildine participating from Rochester via Skype, because the public notice for the meeting failed to include Ms. Hassildine’s location. Ms. Jens-Smith said she believes a district must notify the public 72 hours in advance if a member is going to participate from another location.

“So if they wish to attend where she is they can,” Ms. Jens-Smith said.

School board member Jeff Smith talking with Sarah Hassildine via Skype. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)
School board member Jeff Smith listening to Sarah Hassildine via Skype. (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson)

Board member Jerry Diffley, who has been serving as president of the board, said he doubted anyone from the district was in Rochester to join Ms. Hassildine, and he suggested Ms. Jens-Smith file a complaint with the state.

Ms. Hassildine said she wouldn’t vote on agenda items if the board didn’t feel comfortable allowing her to do so via Skype.

The board then voted on a walk-on resolution to allow her to participate, but it failed 2-4 with only Mr. Diffley and fellow board member Doug Cooper voting in favor.

“I think you’re making a mountain out of an ant hill,” Mr. Cooper said before casting his vote. “I think it’s going by the spirit of the law.”

Board member Jeff Smith disagreed.

“You can’t go by the spirit of the law,” he said.  “The law states it specifically and that’s what you have to follow.”

The New York State Open Meetings Law says “a public body that uses videoconferencing to conduct its meetings shall provide an opportunity to attend, listen and observe at any site at which a member participates. If videoconferencing is used to conduct a meeting, the public notice for the meeting shall inform the public that videoconferencing will be used, identify the locations for the meeting, and state that the public has the right to attend the meeting at any of the locations.”

The board also disagreed on who should be its new president Thursday night.  Mr. Cooper nominated to re-elect Mr. Diffley, and Ms. Jens-Smith nominated Mr. Smith. Board member Bill Gatz nominated Charles Anderson, who has been serving as vice president, but Mr. Anderson declined the nomination.

Mr. Diffley and Mr. Smith each received three yes votes after the two swing votes split, with Mr. Anderson  supporting Mr. Diffley and Mr. Gatz voting for Mr. Smith. Mr. Gatz had previously voted along with Ms. Jens-Smith and Mr. Smith against a resolution Jan. 16 to enter into contract negotiations with new superintendent Anne Smith, who was eventually hired unanimously during a special meeting last month.

Mr. Diffley suggested during Thursday’s meeting that Ms. Jens-Smith intentionally blocked Ms. Hassildine from voting in an attempt to prevent him from being re-elected president over Mr. Smith.

“Now I see the motivation,” he said.

She responded, “Yes, we do see the motivation.”

Ms. Jens-Smith said after the meeting that she believes it’s “time for a change.”

“I think Jeff Smith can bring a different perspective to the board,” she said.

Ms. Hassildine said Friday she would have voted for Mr. Diffley had she been able to cast a vote.

“He’s done a great job for a very long time and I think he’ll do another great job for another year,” she said.

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