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Attorney’s resignation sets off firestorm

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Town Councilman Stephen Schmitt, far right, voices his opposition to the resignation of planning/zoning board of appeals attorney Andrew Brick at Thursday’s town board meeting. Courtesy of Vimeo

COEYMANS — The resignation of planning/zoning board of appeals attorney Andrew Brick set off a firestorm of controversy at Thursday’s meeting of the town council.

Brick, who has worked as the planning/zoning board of appeals’ attorney for two years, submitted a letter of resignation Feb. 27, effective immediately.

Deputy Town Supervisor Brandon Lefevre presented the resolution accepting Brick’s resignation, and the motion was seconded by Town Supervisor George McHugh.

Town Councilman Stephen Schmitt said he wanted to read the letter into the town’s official record.

In the letter, which was addressed to McHugh, Brick said he had a conversation with the town supervisor on Feb. 24 and McHugh asked him to resign.

“You informed me that the town had received correspondence from a law firm retained by the Nolan Propane Company alleging a bias in my representation of the planning board/zoning board of appeals,” Brick wrote to McHugh. “Not having been afforded a copy of such correspondence, I cannot comment upon any specific allegations contained therein, but I can state this — I stand behind each and every statement made, position taken, opinion offered, recommendation suggested and piece of legal advice provided to the planning board/zoning board of appeals during my tenure as their attorney. Each and every one. Clearly, I cannot continue to effectively represent a board when its own chairman has chosen to hire legal counsel to publicly attack my integrity and professionalism. Nor am I comfortable representing any town entity without the support and confidence of the town board, which you informed me I no longer possess.”

Schmitt, who worked with Brick when he was chairman of the planning/zoning board of appeals prior to joining the town council, said he disagreed with the premise that Brick does not have the support of the town board because Schmitt was not consulted about the issue.

“Mr. Brick came to the town of Coeymans’ planning board/zoning board of appeals in 2020,” Schmitt said. “I had the pleasure of working with him for two years as the chairman of that board. When I received this letter, I was extremely disheartened to know that things were represented to Mr. Brick that I don’t know about. When he writes that he doesn’t have the support of the town board, it brothers me because I didn’t share that opinion. I think he was an exceptional attorney and I don’t think he should be the one resigning.”

Town Councilwoman Marisa Tutay, who also served on the planning/zoning board of appeals prior to joining the town council, agreed Brick was good to work with.

“I do want to say that I did work with Andy [Brick] and he was great to work with,” Tutay said.

McHugh said he worked with the attorney for 25 years “and he is very good.”

Schmitt then asked McHugh for an explanation as to why Brick was asked to resign.

McHugh cut him off. “I’m not going to explain anything. Is there any other discussion?”

The comment led to grumbling from the audience. Schmitt continued to question the decision.

“I think the discussion from the board should be, where did this lack of confidence come into play?” the town councilman asked, adding that he was never asked for his opinion.

McHugh responded that he would not speak on the issue outside of executive session. Executive sessions are meetings of the board that are closed to the public and designed to address sensitive issues, such as personnel or legal matters.

McHugh added that Schmitt was absent from the meeting when the discussion took place.

Town Councilwoman Linda Bruno agreed.

“We did go into executive session and you weren’t here, so you couldn’t take part,” Bruno told Schmitt. “We didn’t exclude you.”

The resolution accepting Brick’s resignation was approved by all members of the board with the exception of Schmitt, who voted against it.

In the next resolution, the town board voted unanimously to hire the Albany-based law firm Tabner, Ryan & Keniry at an annual retainer rate of $12,000, with additional compensation for special projects at $375 an hour. McHugh said the rate is the same as what Brick’s firm received.

Several planning/zoning board of appeals members and local residents spoke on the issue during the meeting’s public comment period.

Planning/zoning board of appeals member Tricia Grogan said Brick had her full support and never acted in a biased manner. She asked about litigation she said was brought against Brick by the planning/zoning board of appeals’ chairman, Robert Nolan, a claim McHugh disputed, claiming there is no such litigation.

“[Brick] guided the planning board and zoning board in a manner that protected us from getting involved in possible litigations — litigations brought against our own chair. How ironic is that?” Grogan said.

She said members of the planning/zoning board of appeals were not aware of any accusations of bias against Brick.

“What bothers me even more is that the entire planning board, other than Mr. Nolan himself, was blindsided. We had no idea that there were any accusations, any anything against him,” Grogan said. “We still have not seen this letter that is accusing him of acting biasely. We are in the dark on this. We were on the brink of having a litigation brought against us and he guided us and advised us how to proceed, not to proceed, to protect the town and to protect us.”

Losing Brick as the board’s attorney is “a disservice for us and for this town,” she added.

Planning/zoning board of appeals member Nathan Boomer said he agreed with Grogan.

“No one on the board was talked to, notified, told about any of this stuff going on with Mr. Brick. We didn’t find out until we saw the letter of resignation. Had we known, we would have surely opposed him being asked to step down,” Boomer said. “The only thing Mr. Brick is really guilty of, in my opinion, is trying to do the right thing and trying to keep us all out of trouble and I think it’s really a big loss.”

Planning/zoning board of appeals member Melissa Stanton said she also supports Brick as the board’s attorney, saying he gave her sound legal advice as a member of the board.

“It was really disheartening to hear that he had resigned,” Stanton said. “I liked working with him. I never felt that he was biased. It’s just really sad to hear and I feel like it is a mess — and it’s very embarrassing. We should be united, not divided, and I feel like there is a lot of division in our town.”

McHugh disputed some of the facts stated in Brick’s letter of resignation, but said he was constrained by legalities and could not be more specific.

“These are going to be measured words because of certain restrictions, but Mr. Brick’s letter of resignation has several inaccuracies in it. I’ll just leave it at that,” McHugh said. “I’ll also say that he resigned voluntarily, he was not asked to resign. The law firm that we hired tonight is a highly regarded law firm, some of the best attorneys in Albany.”

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