By Bill Petzold
MAYVILLE — A dispute about taped Mayville village council sessions and a Freedom of Information Act request by a Mayville resident are the latest source of contention between council members and the council president.
Village president Clare Fryers began recording village council meetings earlier this year because, according to village clerk Wendy McKenney, Fryers was unhappy with the way she presented the minutes.
“The reasoning behind the recording from my standpoint, from what I understood … he did not like the way that I presented minutes at the council meeting,” village clerk Wendy McKenney said. “And so at the following council meeting he said he had brought a tape recorder and decided he was going to tape the minutes … so (to paraphrase what he said at a council meeting) he had an ‘accurate account’ because my minutes were the worst minutes he’d ever seen.”
Fryers would not comment on whether he has an issue with McKenney’s minutes.
Mayville resident Barbara Valentine made a FOIA request with the village to obtain copies of the tapes Fryers had made at the March, April and May council meetings. Fryer initially refused to hand over the recordings he had made on the grounds that they were his personal notes.
He alleged that Valentine was in violation of the law because her FOIA request was paid for by village tax dollars. But McKenney said that any cost involved in FOIA requests are the responsibility of the individual making the request. Valentine confirmed that she was told the cost to her for fulfilling the FOIA request would be approximately $50 and that she is expecting to receive a bill from the village.
McKenney confirmed that there were conversations with the village attorney about Valentine’s FOIA request after Fryers refused to comply, and council member Bruce McGhee said the village attorney advised council members to fulfill Valentine’s request.
“Ms. Valentine … had made a FOIA request to the village,” McGhee said. “The president ignored the FOIA request. We went to the attorney, and the attorney advised us to turn those tapes over. The president ignored that.
“We went ahead and made a motion to have the president turn those recordings over within the advice of the attorney. We made another motion to have those tapes turned over within 24 hours. He refused that one too.”
Even though he had fulfilled Valentine’s FOIA request and submitted the tapes, Fryers publicly denied having made the tapes during discussion at the June 19 council meeting.
But Valentine alleges she received tapes that had been edited.
“A month and a half after I made the FOIA request, he submitted the tapes and they made copies of them, but they’re not the tapes,” Valentine said. “He’s played music over some of them, he’s cut parts out, you can hear the tape recording go on and off, so he violated FOIA. Their own attorney says he violated FOIA, and (Fryer’s) response to me was ‘Sue me.’ …
“Very significant items of conversation were not included on those tapes. When you’re sitting in the meeting … there’s no music playing. There should be no issues with long periods of silence, and there are long periods of silence on the tape.”
Fryers denied having edited the tapes before submitting them for the FOIA request.
“I don’t know what she’s talking about,” Fryers said. “She got the tapes I gave to her. If she says they were edited, it was something that she probably did.”
McGhee said he asked Fryers to resign at the June 19 meeting.
“After I asked him for his resignation and he refused, Mrs. Valentine again got to speak for public comment and brought up the fact that one of the council members, when elected, was in default of their taxes,” McGhee said. “When a person is in default of their taxes, they cannot serve on the council. There is evidence, and there will be a vote to remove that person from the council.
“There are witnesses that state the president knew about this during the election. Mrs. Valentine forwarded the tax records that support this person (was in default) when she was on the ballot and after. There are other documents that are being put together to confirm or deny whether the president knew about this.
“We’re kind of in crisis down there. We’re trying to keep our heads above water, do right by the village and work within the law. We’re having a very difficult time with it.”