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New majority in Germantown makes changes


GERMANTOWN–The January 4 annual reorganization meeting began amicably with the welcoming of two new councilmen, Michael Mortenson and Donald Westmore. But the session soon turned politely acrimonious, as the new councilmen along with Councilman Joel Craig (D), voted down the supervisor’s choice for town law firm and permitted the longtime accountant to remain in position only as an interim.

Town Board member Joan Snyder (R) was absent from the meeting due to illness.

Resolution 5 resolved to “accept the recommendation of the town supervisor in designating accountants, bookkeepers, supervisors, administrative assistants and clerk-typists” according to Section 29 of town law, as necessary for the proper conduct of the town’s affairs and within the limits of 2012 budgeted funds.

Mr. Mortenson asked that this resolution be tabled for 60 days so that he could have more time to learn the duties of those staff and understand what he was approving. Mr. Mortenson and Mr. Westmore were cross-endorsed by the town Democratic and Republican committees in last fall’s election.

Supervisor Roy Brown (R) replied that it was impractical for the town not to have an accountant or bookkeeper for 60 days. “If the board wishes to do something different with any appointment, normally we would have sent out RFPs in the fall,” he added, referring to formal requests for proposals. The supervisor said the figures for the changes could then have been put into the 2012 budget “so that we know what we’re doing in January.”

Mr. Brown suggested that the current accountant/bookkeeper, Brian Fitzgerald, be appointed on an interim basis. Mr. Mortenson agreed to that, and all voted aye to continue with Mr. Fitzgerald on a month-to-month basis.

The meeting went smoothly again until Resolution 14, which would have appointed the firm of Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna of Albany to represent the town on legal issues. Jason Shaw, a partner in that firm, has served as town attorney for several years.

Mr. Craig asked that the resolution be amended, to appoint Tal G. Rappleyea Esq. as town attorney instead. Mr. Rappleyea has a solo practice in Valatie and is an assistant county attorney.

“Why not do an RFP,” asked Mr. Brown, “as we started to discuss the other day?”

“I and the new members want to take a different direction,” said Mr. Craig.

He then referred to the state Open Meetings Law, saying that any discussions he had had with both Mr. Mortenson and Mr. Westmore about changes in town government were held “prior to their coming on the board.”

The distinction about the status of the newly elected board members is crucial because if all three men had been sworn-in councilmen, they would have constituted a quorum of the five-member Town Board and their private discussions about appointing professional staff might have violated the Open Meetings Law. The law requires that Town Board members discuss most types of town business in public.

“But if you open the bag, it still stinks,” said Mr. Brown, implying that while the three may have obeyed the letter of the Open Meetings Law, they did not obey its spirit.

Both men praised Mr. Rappleyea, though Mr. Brown added that he was “very disappointed to go in this direction.” Mr. Rappleyea was appointed town attorney–for a one-year term–on a vote of three to one, with Mr. Brown uttering a firm “nay.”

Mr. Craig told The Columbia Paper after the meeting that it was clear since the endorsements were made last summer that Mr. Nortenson and Mr. Westmore would become members of the board. “It seemed prudent” to involve them immediately in the research for a new attorney and accountant/bookkeeper, said Mr. Craig. The goals for the changes, he said, were greater transparency and less expense.

Mr. Brown said after the meeting that he would have a comment at the board’s next meeting next, January 23. “I was disappointed that two members-elect and a sitting councilman were doing town business–researching and interviewing professional staff–without the knowledge of the sitting board. This business should have been discussed in a public session,” said the supervisor.

In other reorganization business, the board:

*Accepted the following annual salaries as stated in the 2012 budget: supervisor $7,200, deputy supervisor $2,200, justice $6,000, Town Board members $2,500 each, town clerk $6,600, tax collector $3,600, assessor $17,900, highway superintendent $50,706, town historian $3,500, building and zoning enforcement officer $10,000. The Police Department has an annual budget of approximately $30,000

*Established a rate of 55.5 cents per mile for official town travel

*Named the Register Star as official newspaper and First Niagara Bank and The Bank of Greene County as town banks for deposits.

The board made the following appointments:

*Paid town police: Brian DuBois, officer in charge; Benjamin Doty, sergeant; and David Pulcher, Ryan Scalera and Justin Kutski, officers

*William Muirhead chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Steven Savoris to the ZBA and Stephen Reynolds to the Planning Board as chairman

*Marguerite Riter historian, Anthony Cidras dog control officer and John Fieser building and zoning enforcement officer

*Ethics Committee: Robert Beaury, Roger Proper, Faythe Smith.

The supervisor made the following appointments:

*Police commissioners: Roger Rekow, Roy Brown, John Rustici

*Deputy supervisor: Austin Sullivan. Mr. Craig abstained from voting on this part of this resolution, noting his belief that the deputy supervisor should be chosen from elected town officials

*Committees: communications, Mortenson, Westmore; public works and highway, Mortenson, Snyder; buildings and facilities, Brown, Mortenson; zoning, legal, police, emergency preparedness, Craig, Snyder; parks and recreation, Craig, Westmore; planning and history, Brown, Westmore; budget and salary, Brown, Snyder.

Some two-dozen people attended the meeting, which was videotaped for the community channel on Gtel cable TV.

The board’s next regular meeting is Monday, January 23 at 7 p.m.–postponed a week due to the Martin Luther King holiday. A public hearing on a new, comprehensive parking law begins at 6:30 p.m.

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