After 18 years as a planning board member, some of them as its chair, Paul Shultis Jr. has tendered his resignation.
“I’m done,” he said. “I’m burned out.”
Shultis is a well-known local contractor, one of the key creators behind Levon Helm’s legendary barn off Plochmann Lane among many other special spaces around the area. He’s the son of Woodstock’s longstanding building inspector and code enforcement officer, the late Paul Shultis Sr., and a member of a family whose name goes back two centuries in Woodstock (Henry Shultis served as town supervisor from 1827-1829.)
In addition to his work on the planning board, Shultis was also a key member of committees that designed the town’s comprehensive plan, as well as its short term rental policies, in recent years.
This week, Shultis explained that his decision was prompted by an incident at the planning board’s June 20 meeting, during discussion of a lot line controversy involving Yankeetown Pond. The planning board’s secretary, Nadine Slowak, “filed a complaint alleging verbal assault,” according to Shultis, who admitted to telling her to desist raising issues involving the use of a board escrow account during a public meeting.
The issue, Shultis later explained, was related to requests from town supervisor Bill McKenna regarding planning board expenses that the planning board objected to, and had asked Slowak to resist.
Slowak declined to comment.
The Yankeetown Pond meeting was also described by all who attended it as particularly boisterous, with raised passions and concerns.
Shultis said that what bothered him more than Slowak’s complaint was the way he found out about it from others, noting that such “violations of the handbook” are supposed to remain confidential until investigated. He called what occurred an example of the McKenna’s “micromanaging.”
“When Nadine spoke up about whether we could hire our attorney to look into matters I expressed dissatisfaction,” he added. “I said ‘that’s not your job or Bill’s.’”
A few days after the meeting Shultis says he got a call from town offices saying McKenna wanted to review his actions, alongside the town clerk and bookkeeper. Shultis called back to say he would instead be resigning.
He later said he didn’t feel he could get a fair review from the supervisor, who had already questioned whether the planning board could independently bring its own lawyer into cases without McKenna’s approval. He added that he’d also been planning to leave for several months anyway, by year’s end, when his latest term is up.
McKenna declined to comment regarding ‘personnel matters,’ but did say “I wish Paul the best. I thank him for his many, many years of service…he’s stepped up to the plate numerous times.”
Bigger, more complex projects
Shultis spoke at length about his years on the planning board. For the first decade, the board had its own planning consultant. Before McKenna, he said, the board’s wishes to hire engineers, attorneys or other consultants were never questioned.
He added that Slowak had been appointed by McKenna and the town board without any planning board input, and added how things started to shift when Jeff Moran was supervisor at the start of the Great Recession years, as well as the inauguration of the state’s two percent tax cap.
“Between 2001 and 2008, most of what we did were three to six lot subdivisions, although the KTD monastery was my first case,” Shultis recalled. “From ’09 to now, things have changed: Cucina, A&P Bar, Sunflower, the wine bar, Woodstock Way, The Lodge. Lots of restaurants and bigger business ideas. And now Airbnbs. The planning board’s role has changed.”
He said the biggest issues often had to do with the enforcement of whatever the planning process decided after considerable review. He pointed out how everyone worked well with a noise ordinance for years; then the town’s current code enforcement officer, and then the town board, said such legislation was unenforceable.
Planning board chairman John Lavalle noted, following Shultis’ resignation, that “after 18 years of incredible service to this town he will be very missed.”
Others whispered about the possibility of further resignations “if things don’t improve” in terms of some of the planning and permit issues that have been prevalent in recent years.
Shultis said he was honored that Lavalle and others on the planning board had asked him to reconsider his resignation. Yet it wasn’t enough to change his resolve.
“I did my civic duty,” he said. “I’m not hiding anything from anyone.”
Asked how he thought the planning process would be going moving forward, Shultis said he thinks the town will again have to hire a planner to look over all proposals earlier, given the complexity of the town’s zoning ordinance, and the bigger projects coming Woodstock’s way.
“As far as I’ve seen, there’s been a breakdown in processes,” he said. “Everything’s supposed to be referred to the planning board and zoning board of appeals. But oversight’s missing. And it’s not a good time for any part of the process to be missing.”