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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, January 8, 2009
On New Year’s Day
By Jo E. Prout
NEW SCOTLAND The town board voted three times on New Year’s Day each time by a vote of 3 to 2 to reappoint current planning board Chairman Robert Stapf to both the planning board and the chair seat. After the third vote, residents in the town’s full meeting hall booed the town board and walked out.
The citizenry was aroused in 2008 about planning issues after a mega mall was proposed and many residents felt the town was poorly prepared with outdated zoning and unresponsive government.
In nearly all the votes on New Year’s Day, Republican Councilman Douglas LaGrange and Democratic Supervisor Thomas Dolin’s votes were defeated by those of Democratic councilmembers Margaret Neri, Richard Reilly, and Deborah Baron.
Before Stapf was first voted in last Thursday, Dolin, who had been critical of Stapf’s reappointment because of his 16-year-long tenure, asked the board to “elevate” alternate member Jo Ann Davies to the planning board. LaGrange supported the motion, but the other three board members voted it down.
Reilly said that he had seen an e-mail from Davies that indicated she preferred to be an alternate or board member, but not the chairwoman.
Reilly then moved to appoint Stapf to a third seven-year term.
Dolin said that he appreciated Stapf’s 16 years of work, but said that he thought terms should be limited to two.
LaGrange echoed Dolin, saying that it is “time to move on.” Both men received applause from the audience.
Reilly said that he did not know of a “more active, more engaged [member] than Bob Stapf. I don’t agree with every [stand] he takes, but I don’t feel replacing the chairman of the board is appropriate,” he said.
Reilly said that he had polled those involved with the town’s planning processes.
“They have said, ‘He’s the leadership we need. He’s the reason New Scotland is what New Scotland is. We don’t just rubber stamp.’ ” Reilly said.
The board re-appointed Stapf to the planning board for seven years, although the printed motion was in error and stated five years, instead. The town board voted, 3 to 2, to name him the chairman for a one-year term, which expires Dec. 31, 2009.
“Thank you so much for reappointing Bob Stapf and Jo Ann Davies,” said planning board member Cynthia Elliott. She noted that the town board had voted Stapf into a five-year term ending in 2013, rather than the seven-year term it voted on.
“Perhaps seven years is too long. I am personally in favor of five years,” Elliott said.
The board then voted to amend the resolution naming Stapf to the planning board, stating that his term would end in 2015. Again, the board voted 3 to 2, with LaGrange and Dolin voting against the motion.
Audience members expressed dismay about the planning board appointments.
“His service and competency are not the issue,” said Jeffrey S. Baker about Stapf. “This board made no effort to interview” applicants for the planning board, he said. Baker had applied to be the lawyer for the zoning and planning boards, a job that again went to Councilwoman Margaret Neri’s husband, Louis Neri by a 4-to-0 vote with Margaret Neri abstaining.
“Your failure to do that is indicative of arrogance,” Baker said.
Local resident and attorney Dean Sommer asked the board about its review process. Sommer and Baker work at the same law firm and are active in New Scotlanders 4 Sound Economic Development, a citizens’ group that rallied support for a commercial building moratorium after Sphere Development proposed a mega mall in town. Stapf and a majority of the planning board voted against the moratorium.
LaGrange said that he “fully supported Jo Ann Davies,” and that the alternate position in the past allowed the town to “groom” people for positions on the planning board a board that had been harder to fill.
Baron enraged residents when she said that, because her e-mail service was slow, she had not received any résumés from applicants. At least eight résumés were submitted before the Jan. 1 re-organizational meeting, according to board and audience members.
Resident Bryan Richmond asked Baron if she would like to withdraw or change her vote until she could review them, but Baron said she would not.
“In ’09, we can change some of our procedures,” Baron said. “It kind of is what it is. Maybe term limits need to be discussed. We struggled to find people to serve, at all.”
Dolin said that he came forward supporting Davies.
“Yesterday,” Baron said.
“That is true,” Dolin replied. He said that there had been no point to interview for the alternate position until he knew if Davies would be elevated to a full seven-year term.
“I want to see balance on the boards,” Reilly said to Sommer. “Bob’s not somebody we should replace. I don’t want a board full of Bobs,” Reilly said, adding that he was not “open to replacing him this year.”
Resident Katy O’Rourke said that Reilly’s choosing to balance boards left him choosing people with personal qualities, such as loyalty to him. O’Rourke said that he gave the impression that personal philosophies are more important than résumés.
“It’s about background,” Reilly said. He said that, before LaGrange was elected to the town board, because he is a farmer. Reilly said that he does not want a board of “farmers or Bobs.”
“I don’t agree with [zoning board of appeals member Adam] Greenberg on every issue, but he does his homework and shows up prepared. He does a good job and that’s what I’m looking for,” Reilly said.
“I think 21 years is almost like a dynasty or an inheritance,” Dolin said. “No one person is that critical that they need to serve 21 years.”
“That’s stagnation,” he added. “That’s a generation.”
The final vote
“You all should read every single résumé. You don’t have to appoint [today],” said Heather Dolin, of Clipp Road. “You sit there and talk about open government and change.”
Heather Dolin is Supervisor Thomas Dolin’s daughter.
“I’m open to discussing who should be chairman a year from now,” Reilly said. “With this particular appointment and this individual, he was the one.”
Supervisor Dolin said that he did not call for interviews. He thought the board would leave the alternate position open and interview for it, he said. He thought that appointing someone else over Davies to the full term would be like “telling her to quit” or that the town did not want her to serve.
One audience member asked the board to confirm that it had not interviewed anyone for the planning board positions.
“That’s correct,” Dolin said. “Information flows two ways. The five of us are equal members of the board,” he said, adding that he does bookkeeping and management.
“I am not chairman or secretary of the town board,” Dolin said.
A resident said that the board should have had the discussion about interviews before it voted for the position.
“Otherwise, this is just therapy,” he said.
Resident Joyce Schreiber said that, as the board had already amended the vote once, it could do so, again. Town Board Attorney L. Michael Mackey said that the board could amend votes until it closed the session.
Dolin made a motion that the board reconsider its appointments to the planning board, and LaGrange supported the motion. Both men voted to review applications, while Neri, Reilly, and Baron voted against the motion.
Residents left en masse, booing, vowing to elect others in November, and scolding the board.
“This is shameful,” said one resident.
Stapf, who is retired but still an independent licensed surveyor, was unfazed by the public reaction to his reappointment.
“I had no problems if the board chose to reappoint me,” Stapf told The Enterprise. “Everybody’s got their own opinion. That’s what the country’s all about.”
Resident Saul Abrams said that the town solicited multiple bids and printed newspaper legal notices to buy a bus for the town’s senior citizens, but that no interviews had been done for positions that are open every year. He suggested that the board give formal notices each year, circulate résumés by September, and interview before January.
Dolin named former Voorheesville school board president Joseph Pofit as his deputy supervisor, in case Dolin is “disabled, for any reason,” Dolin said.
Pofit is the husband of former town supervisor Martha Pofit.
Reilly was the deputy supervisor last year. Since Dolin was sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2008, he and Reilly have not often voted together.
Dolin said this week that Pofit’s appointment over other board members was not politically motivated.
“Mr. Reilly and his wife are about to have their fifth child,” Dolin said. “They all have full-time jobs, daytime jobs,” Dolin said of the board members.
“Mr. Pofit has a more flexible schedule. It was a judgment I made, having been here for a year. The operation couldn’t go on for a month unsupervised, unmanaged. I’m the chief fiscal officer,” Dolin said.
Pofit has “executive management experience, in case I become disabled,” Dolin said.
Asked if he were expecting to deal with health issues, Dolin said, “I hope not. I feel very healthy.”
“I know Tom and I regard him very highly,” Pofit told The Enterprise. “He thought I could do it, and I know I could do it. I’m more than happy to assist him.”