Wal-Mart: An Open and Shut Meeting

Despite reports that a Monday-meeting between Wawarsing Town Supervisor Ed Jennings and representatives from Wal-Mart — which is rumored to be closing in on a purchase of the Napanoch Valley Mall property on Route 209 — would be open to the public, the meeting was, in fact, not. The source of the confusion? The open meeting law.

In short, the open meeting law dictates that any time there are at least three members of the town or village boards in one place, the meeting must be advertised and open to the public. In this case, Supervisor Jennings had invited members of the town and planning boards to the meeting, which, had they all gone into the meeting room, would have made it public. When it was realized that this would have been the case, the supervisor and only one town councilman — first Deputy Supervisor Terry Houck, who then swapped places with Councilman John Gavaris — attended the meeting.

When asked the next day why he acquiesced to the Wal-Mart reps' request that the meeting be closed, Supervisor Jennings explained that he simply wanted to hear what they had to say, and didn't want the meeting to be called off because of a miscommunication.

"I invited all the board members — in fact I told everybody we're having a meeting, because nothing was said to me not to," said the supervisor.

"Maybe they would've walked out then [if the meeting were public], and I didn't want that to happen," he continued. "It was their meeting, they called the meeting, I didn't call it, and I wanted to hear what they had to say…now I've learned. Next meeting, if we want to have an open meeting, we'll ask for it. But I wanted to hear what they had to say."

As to why Wal-Mart's representatives wanted the meeting private in the first place, Supervisor Jennings's answer is simple: "They just didn't want it that way. I can't explain it, I can't tell you why they felt the way they did."

The supervisor also reported what he learned of Wal-Marts plans, which are currently in their preliminary stages.

"The meeting went well, but there's very little I can tell you, because very little came out of it," he said.

"They are suggesting a building that is a little bit larger than the present mall, but it will be smaller than some of our neighboring Wal-Marts, like Monticello, for example. This will be about half the size of that one. Although it will be a super-center, it will sell groceries as well as the dry goods.

"They claim that they will hire probably in the neighborhood of 150 to 400 people, depending on the season," he continued. "It has to go before the planning board, which will probably take six months, I would think, and once that process is completed, and the first shovel goes in the ground, it'll be just about a year, perhaps a little short of a year, before it opens its doors…probably in the spring of 2010.

"They claim that the minimum pay and starting salary is $10.50 an hour. I questioned them about health insurance…all I read is that employees don't have it. He said that 92% of their employees had health insurance. He didn't elaborate on it."

Jeff Kaplan, attorney for Joe Tso, the current owner of the Napanoch Valley Mall property, said that the company hopes to go before the town's planning board by August, but will more likely do so in September or October.

"It's a step," said Jennings of Wal-Mart's potential arrival.

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