The first meeting of the year after an election can signal what the months ahead might hold. It’s the reorganizational meeting, when board members go through a series of somewhat routine motions, declaring everything from the official bank and newspaper to the salary of the dog catcher, but it can also be a time for appointments, or the withholding of same. At the January 3 Lloyd Town Board meeting, the three Democrat members voted against reappointing Dave Plavchak to the town planning board in a move that many in the audience said was political. Plavchak ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the board last November, and is a Republican. In response to the move, two other full members of the planning board, together with one alternate, submitted their resignation letters within a day.
Lloyd’s governing body is now majority Democrat. Town Supervisor Paul Hansut appointed the only other Republican, newcomer Lenny Auchmoody, as his deputy supervisor, but several times they were outvoted by Mike Guerriero and Joseph Mazzetti, who together with newcomer Claire Winslow now hold three of five votes.
Motions to give Plavchak a new seven-year term, and to reappointment him chairman for a second year, were on the agenda, but such was not to be. His new term was voted down three to two along party lines, and then Scott McCarthy was put in that seat by the same margin. Plavchak, several other planning board members and a number of former town council members and unsuccessful candidates were watching from the audience, and it didn’t go well. Democrat board members were accused of making a political decision, one which appeared to trouble residents in either party. Hansut, who later confirmed he expected the result, nevertheless advised that the wishes of the majority of his colleagues would hold sway.
That left the chairman position open, and current vice-chair Bill Ogden was proposed. However, he advised from the floor that he was resigning from the board, and was followed by two of his colleagues, all of whom submitted formal letters to that effect.
“After the senseless partisan politics exhibited at this evening’s town board meeting,” wrote Nicki Anzivina, “I can no longer, in good conscience, participate on a board that does not have the respect or consideration of our elected town officials.”
Alternate member Debra Dooley agreed. “As a Democrat, and someone who has supported the Democratic town board members in the past, I was disgusted to see each of them vote to remove Dave Plavchak from the [planning] board to settle a ‘debt’ with the Republicans,” she wrote in her resignation letter.
Part of the purpose for alternate members is to allow volunteers to get up to speed on the complex planning process, effectively allowing a deeper bench from which to appoint permanent members. Selecting McCarthy bypassed that practice, frustrating Dooley and others.
“The introduction of partisan politics into a neutral town board is, in my view, very ill advised and produces a situation where I am unwilling to continue my participation,” wrote Ogden in his letter. “Some town board members apparently assume the planning board can arbitrarily reject proposals which are consistent with current zoning, ignoring an owner’s general right to develop his property. I hope this thinking does not impact the reinvigoration of Lloyd that multiple organizations have worked hard to bring about.”
Planning boards are, by law, insulated from political pressure in part by the fact that only one term expiring each year, which slows the rate of change unless there are resignations. With three seats vacated in short order (the fourth resignation coming from an alternate member), Democrats will now have the opportunity to significantly reshape the planning board, with or without their Republican colleagues.
The ethics board will also have changes ahead, but this was the result of inaction. When Mazzetti moved to reappoint member and chairman Jill Indelicato, no one spoke up to even second the measure, which also left some residents in the audience stunned. She had been a member for nine years.
Other than appointments, there’s a plan in the works to move meetings to Monday nights which was tabled for further study. Under Hansut’s proposal, board members would meet the first and third Mondays at 7 p.m. This not only changes the day, but also moves workshops to the latest hour they’ve been held in town clerk Rosaria Peplow’s memory, which stretches back at least 40 years.
Joseph Mazzetti had asked about later workshop times last year, but was told they were held earlier to avoid paying department heads overtime for staying to report. The new proposal would allow for written reports, instead.
According to Hansut, the move would accommodate a scheduling conflict for Auchmoody. Mazzetti moved to table the measure, because Monday holidays and other scheduling conflicts have left him with unanswered questions. Hansut expressed surprise, saying, “I thought we were okay with Mondays,” but agreed to hold off on voting.
Democrats flatly rejected an idea to set town hall hours at 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and instead voted to start and end them half an hour later. Hansut said the earlier hours would accommodate “lines in the morning,” while acknowledging that few people come in near 4:30. Peplow said that when someone calls because they can’t make it by closing time, she stays later.