COPAKE–Valentine’s Day was just around the corner, but no trace of love was in the air at the February 9 Town Board meeting.
By the end of the three-hour meeting, political battle lines on the new Town Board were clearly drawn, with the Democratic majority voting to pull the plug on the Zoning Review Committee and send its 11 volunteer members packing.
Supervisor Jeff Nayer, an Independence Party member, opened a discussion about a resolution proposed by Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia, a Democrat, which declared that the Zoning Review Committee (ZRC) was not formed using proper procedure and should therefore be abolished.
Mr. Nayer said he had heard from Ms. Gabaccia that several people had applied to serve on the committee, but were not granted interviews. When Mr. Nayer asked for the names of the people and documentation of their complaints, Ms. Gabaccia said she would not divulge that information.
Mr. Nayer objected and read from the minutes of the October 27, 2011 meeting at which the committee was created by resolution presented by then Supervisor Reggie Crowley.
The resolution said the Town Board had determined that the ZRC should be created “to review the present zoning regulations to insure their compliance with the newly adopted Comprehensive Plan.” It also said that the Town Board believed the ZRC “should be free from any political influences.”
Earlier at that October meeting, Supervisor Crowley, Councilmen Daniel Tompkins and Walter Kiernan, all Republicans, had conducted the third of three interview sessions, and after the resolution to create the committee was adopted, they appointed Jack Schultz, David Goldman, Joe LaPorta, Angle Marvin, Mac Simms, Michael DiPeri, Robert Haight, Marcia Becker, Cathy Reinard, Frank Peteroy and Chris Grant, corresponding to the number of members recommended by the Comprehensive Plan Committee.
Councilwoman Gabaccia and Councilman Bob Sacks, both Democrats, were absent from that meeting.
Supervisor Nayer said that the committee has already started meeting and may have gotten “off to a rocky start” but, he added, “diversity is a good thing.”
Ms. Gabaccia agreed, but she said the issue now is making sure the committee includes people who she said were discouraged by a board member from attending their interviews.
Mr. Nayer demanded to know why this allegation was being brought up four months after the fact. Ms. Gabaccia said the board had, up until now, been “pretty heavily occupied with getting the government up and running again.”
Supervisor Nayer then read from an email he received from ZRC member Jack Schultz, who was initially appointed chair of the committee until the group decided on co-chairs Chris Grant and Cathy Reinard.
Mr. Schultz said he was disturbed by “The thought of dissolving a committee of 11 people who volunteered to work on a very important and difficult process such as the integration of the Comprehensive Plan and the existing Zoning and Land Use laws of our town.”
The town has advertised twice for people to serve on the committee. Those who expressed an interest were contacted, sometimes several times and they were properly interviewed, he said, noting the committee’s members come from all walks of life with varying levels of experience in the zoning process. “There is a balance of experience and philosophies,” he said. “We do not all totally agree with each other but are willing to listen to each member’s side of the issues.
“I would submit that unless there was some extreme breach of law committed by the Town Board during the formation of this committee the dissolving of the Zoning Review Committee is an inappropriate action.”
Noting she felt upset, angry and mad, ZRC Committee Co-chair Cathy Reinard said she had never volunteered before and wanted to do something to help the town become a vibrant place. She wanted to know who claimed they were denied the right to be interviewed, calling it “political maneuvering.” She said she had enjoyed serving and wanted to continue to serve, but that if the committee was dissolved, she would never volunteer to serve again.
Harvey Weber, who was interviewed but not chosen for the committee, said the ZRC had become a “political football” and the move to dissolve the committee was “a terrible way to begin 2012.”
Fran Miller wanted the claim of impropriety validated and did not see why the information was confidential. Another ZRC member, Mac Simms, said the committee has “a spirit of devotion to the welfare of Copake.”
Carol Gansowski said the matter seems to be more of an ethics question. “If someone felt slighted, shouldn’t the Ethics Board be called in?”
Mr. Crowley read from a statement that appears in this newspaper as a letter to the editor, disputing an editorial written by Councilman Sacks that appeared in his Copake Chronicle. Mr. Crowley called Mr. Sack’s allegations that people were “persuaded” to withdraw their names a “fabrication” and went on to detail the application process.
In a phone interview Wednesday, former Town Clerk Vana Hotaling said that 28 letters of interest were received. Two people called to say they had changed their minds before their interviews where scheduled, two said they had changed their minds when she called to set up their interviews and two more never responded to messages she left in an attempt to set up interviews. Everyone else was successfully contacted and interviewed; some who could not appear were interviewed over the phone, she said.
After Councilwoman Kelly Miller-Simmons questioned the make-up of a new committee, now called a Land Use Committee, that would replace the ZRC, Ms. Gabaccia agreed to modify her resolution to remove the requirement that one member of the new 11-person committee be a Town Board member.
Supervisor Nayer said he preferred to find a way around dissolving the ZRC, but in the roll call vote that followed Mr. Sacks, Ms. Gabaccia and Councilwoman Susan Winchell-Sweeney voted to abolish the ZRC.
A mass exodus of meeting attendees occurred with many calling the board’s actions “disgusting” and “disgraceful.”
During the final public comment session that followed the vote, former Comprehensive Plan Committee member Rus Davis called the board’s action “despicable,” noting the board had essentially “tried and convicted on hearsay.” He said the board “told the volunteers they were useless” and that “half of them would never volunteer again.” Mr. Davis said it was the board that chose the committee, the board that made the mistakes and the board that should be punished, not the volunteers.
An advertisement for 11 members of the new Land Use Review Committee appears in this issue.