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Closed meeting stirs anger, mistrust in Chatham

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CHATHAM — Two village trustees aired their grievances about a recently formed Public Works Committee at the regular meeting last week, although the target of their concern was less the committee than an advisor to the mayor, who recently spoke to members of the committee.

The committee was created by Mayor Tom Curran and approved by the board earlier this year. But at the August 11 Village Board meeting, Trustee George Grant, who also serves as the water and sewer commissioner, used his report to present a long list of issues he had with the committee. In particular, Mr. Grant and Trustee David Chapman, the Department of Public Works commissioner, took issue with the role of Michael Richardson, an advisor to the mayor on financial matters.

Their concerns about Mr. Richardson were shared by Trustee Lael Locke, who said of the advisor, “He’s everywhere, his words are putting fear into everybody.”

Neither Mr. Richardson nor Trustee Joanne DelRossi attended last Thursday’s board meeting.

The trustees were angry about a closed-door meeting of the Public Works Committee on July 28 at which Mr. Richardson gave a report. Edgar Acevedo, the co-chair of the Public Works Committee, told the Village Board he closed the meeting because he didn’t feel confident enough about his knowledge of the issues surrounding the Public Works Department to open it up to public comment.

He also said that the board members who suggested Mr. Richardson had been running the public works meeting that they were crediting the mayor’s advisor with “more power than he has.”

Mr. Richardson, who was out of the country at the time of last week’s meeting, said in a phone interview this week that he was “a guest” at the Public Works Committee meeting and left after giving his report. He said he was there to talk about needs assessments. Mr. Richardson, a labor consultant for local municipalities, said he spoke to the committee about how many hours of work are required for DPW tasks and about other options for getting that work done.

Shortly after taking office this spring the mayor created the Public Works Committee as well as committees for public safety and village beautification. The Public Works Committee has had only that one meeting so far, but trustees received copies of an email from Mr. Richardson to committee members in which he suggested considering whether to outsource the work done by village DPW employees.

Mr. Richardson said this week that the village already outsources many maintenance jobs to the county and the towns of Chatham and Ghent.

“Morale at our department has been low of late,” Mr. Grant said in his report to the board last week. He said DPW and water and sewer employees who saw the email worried they would lose their jobs. That sentiment was echoed by a two village workers and a village police officer at the meeting.

“I’m asking the mayor to dismiss the Public Works Committee,” said Mr. Chapman, who also said he and Mr. Grant were not told about the meeting. He worried that Mr. Richardson was trying to do away with the DPW. “I have no idea why Mr. Richardson is trying to destroy the village,” he said.

Mr. Acevedo reacted to Mr. Chapman’s suggestion that the committee be disbanded, telling the trustee, “As a taxpayer, as a resident, I wanted to step up to the plate, and you’re telling me not to.”

Mayor Curran stressed that the role of the committees is to advise the board.

The other issue discussed at last week’s board meeting was the proposal for a new Price Chopper supermarket on Route 66. The state has said that the company may connect pending village approval the new store to the village sewer system. And while all but a tiny portion of the property where the store will be built lies outside village boundaries in the Town of Ghent, and Price Chopper representatives have said the company would build a sewage system on the property for its new, larger store. The company is currently waiting for approval of its plans from the Village of Chatham and Town of Ghent planning boards.

Price Chopper plans to vacate its store in the existing shopping plaza when it builds the new market next door.

The three village trustees at the meeting last week said they would oppose allowing Price Chopper to use the village sewer system, though they do not oppose the company’s request to hook up to the village water system. Mr. Grant said approval of the new Price Chopper might force the village to approve other requests in the future by businesses outside the village. Mr. Grant said of the estimated $2,400 a year the new market would pay in village sewer bills, “That’s not a lot of money we get for using our resources.”

Mayor Curran said he wanted to let the board know about the state’s opinion on the sewer hookup. “It would be a way for us to have a little more income,” he said.

The next village board meeting is Thursday September 8 at 7:30pm in the Tracy Memorial.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com.

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