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Donnelly seeks to revive Conservation Advisory Council

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Town Supervisor Stephen Donnelly, center, proposed the revival of the Coeymans Conservation Council and the creation of a Community Liaison Council, but received pushback on the proposal. Courtesy of Vimeo

COEYMANS — New Town Supervisor Stephen Donnelly proposed reviving the Coeymans Conservation Advisory Council, which was disbanded when former supervisor George McHugh took office in 2020.

The group would serve in an advisory capacity to the town board on issues related to protecting the local environment. The group has existed in the past but was dissolved in January 2020 immediately after McHugh, Zachary Collins and Brandon LeFevre were elected and joined the board.

Donnelly also proposed a new advisory group — a Community Liaison Council.

“These are two ideas I wanted to talk to the board about to see where everybody stands on bringing the community into local government via public councils, not necessarily governmental councils,” Donnelly told the board at the Jan. 25 meeting.

“The Community Liaison Council, for instance, would take community leaders from each part of the town, whether the hamlet or North Coeymans or Coeymans Hollow or the village, since Coeymans varies in different neighborhoods in the issues that they are having,” Donnelly said. “They would be boots on the ground talking to their neighbors about the issues that are in their specific neighborhoods.”

The Conservation Advisory Council, in particular, would add a new voice to the mix, Donnelly said.

“We have a lot of voices for local business and industry,” he said. “I thought that could balance it out a bit if there was a Conservation Advisory Council. Both of these would be strictly advisory.”

Town Councilman Ronald Hotaling asked for clarification on how the councils would be formed.

“As a council, would these members be vetted through this board and appointed by this board, just like we pick the zoning and planning board members?” Hotaling asked. “I feel that with each individual council that you list here, there does run the risk of not necessarily being neutral members from each community ending up on the board. I think that if members are going to be selected for this committee, they really should be vetted to make sure it’s a balanced committee, that the community as a whole is kept in mind, and that it’s not an individual interest that wants a person to be on the council.”

Town Councilwoman Linda Bruno pushed back on the idea.

“Aren’t we the community liaison for the people?” Bruno asked. “We were voted in to do that.”

Donnelly said it would be a way to get people involved and interested in local government.

“It’s just a starting point to reach out to citizens and residents of the town of Coeymans and the village of Ravena,” the town supervisor said.

Bruno asked for a more detailed and formal proposal outlining the idea.

Deputy Town Supervisor Stephen Schmitt agreed the councils would need oversight from the town board. Donnelly stressed the groups would not have any authority over the town council.

Schmitt also said people can already bring their ideas and concerns to the board at any meeting.

“Anyone can do that already — anyone can come here and discuss, during public comment, whatever they want,” Schmitt said. “So, my thought is, if this is something that we will consider, then there has to be a game plan — how many people will be on this committee? How are we going to select these individuals? What is the oversight from the town board going to be? Before I even consider this I would have to know the answers to those questions.”

He also wanted to know if other nearby villages and towns have similar councils and if so, how they are structured.

“If this at all interests you, then by all means research it,” Donnelly said, adding that there were only two residents in the audience at the town board meeting.

“As your initiative, in my opinion, that’s what you should do,” Schmitt said, referring to research on the proposal. “You asked me to do it.”

Bruno said that if there are very few people attending the town meetings, that usually means “they’re not upset with us. If you get a room full of people, it’s usually because there’s some issue going on.”

Donnelly responded that he is looking to get people involved in a more positive fashion.

“Controversy fills the seats but it’s my idea to bring them out for positive reasons, to give them some understanding of civic duty,” he said.

The town supervisor said he would do more research and flesh out the idea before bringing it back to the board.

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