By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star
---- — COOPERSTOWN — The largest union for Otsego County’s government employees has informed the Board of Representatives that it has prepared a lawsuit that seeks to nullify the panel’s recent decision to privatize the Otsego Manor nursing home based on alleged violations of the state Open Meeting Law.
Board members were scolded this week by Karen Carpenter, a representative for the Civil Service Employees Association — the union that represents more than 250 workers at the 174-bed nursing home — for allegedly attempting to shut the public out of its deliberations regarding the plan to sell the Manor to the highest “responsible” bidder.
A CSEA spokesman confirmed Thursday that the lawsuit has been prepared by the union’s in-house lawyers and will be filed as early as today in state Supreme Court in Cooperstown.
“The resolution to sell the Manor clearly came out of thin air after they came out of executive session,” spokesman Mark Kotzin said.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are local CSEA President John Imperato Sr. and Vice President Crystal Davidson-Miller, he said.
In a statement provided to The Daily Star, Imperato said: “This was a back-room deal, done behind closed doors, with the purpose of trying to fly under the radar of public review and not to allow public comment. The actions of the Otsego County board go completely against the principles of transparency and representative government. We will demand that the courts strike down this resolution and force them to open this shady deal to the light of public scrutiny.”
Rep. Kathleen Clark, R-Otego, the chairwoman of the board, defended her board, saying members held “an open discussion” in public on the resolution before voting on it. She also said that it is not uncommon for late resolutions to emerge in the course of board meetings. Additionally, Clark said that the board had earlier public discussions about the Manor, including one in August, when it voted to authorize her to seek a consultant to advise the county on its options regarding the nursing home.
As for the lawsuit, however, Clark said that she could not comment on it because she has not seen it.
“Nothing surreptitious happened there,” she said in response to the CSEA allegations. She called the union “a little confused.”
Board members have said they reluctantly decided to seek a private buyer for the Manor only because the facility has become financially unsustainable to operate. County officials have said the current annual taxpayer subsidy to the Manor will grow from $3.2 million to an estimated $6 million by 2014.
This week, at the board’s regular monthly meeting, several county residents implored the representatives to reverse their decision and keep the facility with the county. They cited the scheduled Oct. 12 closure of where the quality of care reportedly deteriorated after it went from being a publicly operated nursing home to a private facility in 2006.
“It’s hard to understand why (the Manor) can’t be saved from privatization,” said Carol Kirkey of Oneonta, whose husband is an Alzheimer’s patient at the Manor.
Kotzin said, “We want to prevent what happened in Delaware County from happening in Otsego County.”