New town of Hurley supervisor seeks greater civic participation

Melinda McKnight made history last Saturday as she took the oath of office to become the first woman supervisor in the Town of Hurley. She stressed teamwork rather than being a single leader. “The situation in Hurley is such that I really don’t think this is going to be my agenda driving the bus,” McKnight said. “There’s a boatload of stuff to deal with, some of which hasn’t been dealt with for decades. So it really is quite a mess.”

In tackling that alleged mess, McKnight said she is grateful for “a smart, dedicated group of town-board members who are going to help.”

McKnight may be a new supervisor, but she is no rookie to town government, having served on the town board.

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One of those major items is the highway garage, which was built on top of the former town landfill. Methane gas is escaping into the building. McKnight said the town will work with an engineering firm contracted to do mapping, design and site location.

Hurley is also in the midst of an update of its comprehensive plan, a process McKnight said could be better. “Unfortunately, the public engagement has not been incredibly robust,” she said. “So you know, it’ll be interesting to get a status update as to where that is, because we, as board members were not receiving updates regularly.” 

McKnight wants to see better-qualified consultants because some have exposed the town to litigation and caused issues on the planning and zoning boards. “I just feel like they haven’t had the best, most competent professionals giving them advice, which has … created legal ramifications,” McKnight said. “For instance, the land use attorney that the town engaged is, he’s kind of real-estate law, but his background is not firmly planted in land use in the municipal setting.”

McKnight said she wants more of a team approach with other boards. She wants process to be consistent for every applicant. “Because that’s been another challenge. When the process is inconsistent, even if there isn’t any kind of favoritism, it can appear that there is if a solid process is not followed,” McKnight said.

More open, accessible

“My whole approach is to just be a lot more open, and to have office hours,” McKnight said. “Now with a pandemic, that may need to be adjusted a bit, but I’m certainly happy to make appointments with folks and be as open and accessible during this time as we possibly can be. “I think the thing that I really do plan to focus on is just having a really big focus on good government, following proper protocols, running a good meeting — which that’s not always easy to do, but you can start to try — and hopefully to have a lot more community engagement.”

Geography creates a divide

“I come at leadership from a servant-leadership way of approaching it, where I’m serving the people of the town,” she said. “It’s hard with the pandemic, but we’re going to be thinking hard about ways to have that happen. And also to build a stronger sense of community among the town because it’s geographically speaking, currently is split physically in half by a reservoir. “So it has created a real division almost in the past, kind of an us-versus-them approach, and that’s another thing I really want too away with.”

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