It was a relatively routine Town Board meeting on Friday, June 18, until near the end of the session, when members heard from three residents challenging the way the members were conducting business.
It started with Community Preservation Fund Advisory Committee Chairman Gordon Gooding. After learning of proposed plans by the Town Board to reorder committees in terms of membership and mandates, Mr. Gooding said that amounted to a “gag order.”
He told the Town Board he had his resignation in his pocket and was prepared to submit it because he perceived the Board was communicating through the media and failing to pick up the phone and speaking directly with its volunteer committee members. Mr. Siller denied communicating only through the media and said he thought an email had gone out to committee chairman informing them that he wanted to get together to talk.
Mr. Gooding said he had received no email. Mr. Siller said he thought the emails had been sent.
“Pick up the phone and communicate,” Mr. Gooding said, telling the supervisor he found it “offensive” to have to read about potential changes to committees. “It is uncalled for. It’s disrespectful,” he said.
He didn’t submit his resignation and on Monday, when he met with his CPF Advisory Committee, he withdrew an item from that agenda that had been a discussion of committee rules.
“I think there’s been enough spoken about it,” Mr. Gooding told his colleagues. Then he added that the process of sitting, not knowing what issues or statements might be “coming at you” from the Town Board, is difficult.
Pam Demarest, whose family lives adjacent to property owned by Katie Ford at 10 South Ram Island Drive also spoke out at the meeting. Ms. Demarest has several times raised issues involving the placement of an accessory building on the Ford property. While some aspects of the application were no longer in question, the Town Board had originally agreed to be bound by a Zoning Board of Appeals opinion about whether a room in the accessory structure constituted a third bedroom, when only two bedrooms are allowed in an accessory structure.
But with no formal application pending with the ZBA, those members refused to render a decision. Town Board members had promised to let Ms. Demarest know about that decision, but failed to do so, she said. Instead, they approved the application Friday, “usurping power” and failing to respect her family’s rights, she charged.
“The process has been so flawed from the beginning,” Ms. Demarest said.
Mr. Siller said the advice about how they could act came from Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. who, he said, speaks for the Board.
“You work for me too,” Ms. Demarest said to Mr. DeStefano.
Then came the third complaint from Bob Kohn, a new member on the Community Housing Board, who first raised an issue of his inability to add an item to the agenda of that committee. That led him to discover that the former chairman of the CHB, Mike Bebon, had by committee procedures no right to serve on or chair that particular group. Mr. Siller had acknowledged knowing of the violation, resulting in Mr. Kohn calling for both men to resign from the Town Board for violating the Town Code.
At the June 18 meeting, Mr. Kohn accused the Town Board of trying to “crush” dissenting opinions on committees by considering a change in a procedure that has allowed any member to add an agenda item even at the meeting. Instead, the Town Board is considering a change that would prohibit an item being added to the agenda by a member unless submitted at least 24 hours in advance and approved by the committee chairman.
“Listen to what people are telling you,” Mr. Kohn challenged.
As for the 24-hour rule, he noted that the Town Board frequently adds to its agendas just before or even during a meeting.
Sometimes something happens at the last minute and it’s necessary to add it, Mr. Siller said. Nothing is done secretly, he said.
By then, tempers were flaring and Mr. Siller put an end to the discussion, adjourning the meeting.