COPAKE—Marcia Becker wants to be reappointed to two committees she resigned from in May.
But her request for reinstatement went nowhere at the July 10 Town Board meeting, when a vote on the matter ended in a tie.
Mrs. Becker, former town Planning Board chair and a former member of both the town’s Land Use Review Committee (LURC) and the Agriculture and Farmland Protection Committee (AFPC), wrote a letter of resignation from all three positions to the Town Board dated May 7. She has served on the Planning Board for 11 years and was the chair for 7.
Mrs. Becker wrote that the town assessor had significantly reduced the number of acres that qualify for an agricultural exemption at Sky Farm, the horse farm she owns jointly with her husband, Robert Becker. The exempt acreage went from 145.7acres to 7.5 acres.
The assessor’s decision on behalf of the town “forces me and my family into an adversarial relationship with the town. Therefore, I am resigning as Chair of the Copake Planning Board effective immediately.” She additionally quit the LURC and the AFPC in the same letter.
But when the letter was discussed at the May meeting, it generated some confusion, because while Mrs. Becker’s letter said she was resigning only as Planning Board chair. Several people who asked her to reconsider said it was clear to them that she meant to resign from the Planning Board altogether, not just as chair.
Supervisor Jeff Nayer said in May that the letter did not make it clear to him whether she was also resigning as a Planning Board member and therefore he would entertain a motion to accept Mrs. Becker’s resignation only as Planning Board chair and as a member of the two committees. Mrs. Becker was not present at the May meeting.
Councilperson Jeanne Mettler said she understood the letter to mean Mrs. Becker was resigning from the Planning Board and the other two committees, but noted that the resignation was “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
Ms. Mettler noted that the town needs all the “expertise and talent it can muster” in its consideration of the complicated Catamount resort hotel application currently before the Planning Board.
Councilwoman Susan Winchell-Sweeney agreed that she believed Mrs. Becker intended to “resign from the Planning Board, period.” Both Ms. Mettler and Ms. Winchell-Sweeney said that they thought a leave of absence would be a better solution for Mrs. Becker rather than resignation.
A motion to accept Mrs. Becker’s resignation as Planning Board chair and from the committees, passed at that May meeting, with Supervisor Nayer, council members Kelly Miller-Simmons and David Paciencia voting in favor and Ms. Mettler and Ms. Winchell-Sweeney opposed.
Since then the issue that caused Mrs. Becker to resign has been resolved. And in a letter dated July 4 Mrs. Becker wrote to the Town Board requesting reinstatement to the LURC and the AFPC. She wrote that her family’s assessment dispute with the town “was officially settled in our favor WITHOUT having to go to court.” With the dispute settled, “I would like to return to the work of both committees,” which she noted were “near completion of their tasks before public review begins.”
At this month’s meeting the Town Board also received a letter from AFPC co-chairs George Beneke and Edgar Masters requesting that Mrs. Becker be reinstated to their committee saying her participation on the issues they were dealing with would be “very helpful.”
In addressing the reinstatement letter at the July 10 Town Board meeting, Ms. Mettler asked LURC Chair Bob Haight if his committee had any position on Mrs. Becker’s reinstatement to that committee.
Mr. Haight said no formal vote had been taken because, “We knew it was not up to us, it is up to you guys, the board, to decide.”
Ms. Mettler said a request or recommendation by a committee is appropriate and that each committee serves as its own nominating committee. And while the Town Board is not bound by a committee’s suggestion, she said the request from the farmland committee should be honored.
Ms. Miller-Simmons said that though she recognized Mrs. Becker as “knowledgeable and a great asset to both committees,” to reinstate her would be “making an exception. It’s never been done before.” She said if someone resigns from a committee “they are off the committee, they can interview to come back.”
“I think we should have a policy that tells us what to do when someone is temporarily unavailable,” said Ms. Mettler.
Not in favor of another policy, Supervisor Nayer said the town policy manual says nothing about reinstatement, but does say that if an opening arises that needs to be filled, the board posts a notice about it and solicits letters of interest. “You can’t just say I want somebody back,” he said.
When he called Mrs. Becker to get her to reconsider her abrupt resignation, Mr. Nayer said she was “adamant.” He said “repercussions” go with a decision to resign, adding that “a bad precedent” would be set if Mrs. Becker is reinstated.
Ms. Mettler said the underlying reason for the conflict of interest that made it necessary for Mrs. Becker to resign was precipitated by the town and now that it’s resolved she should be reinstated.
When the motion to reappoint Mrs. Becker to the two committees came to the floor, Ms. Mettler and Ms. Winchell-Sweeney voted in favor and Mr. Nayer and Ms. Miller-Simmons voted no. With the resignation of Mr. Paciencia last month, the board has no fifth member to break a tie vote, so the motion failed.
Later in the meeting Mrs. Becker, who was in the audience, defended her decision to resign, noting she had been threatened with legal action and wanted to protect both the town and her family.
When asked by a couple of residents why she had not taken a leave absence instead of resigning, Mrs. Becker said she was not aware she had that option. “It was never offered,” she said.
Supervisor Nayer said openings on the LURC and AFPC would not be advertised because the committees were already far along in their work and it would be hard to bring a new person up to speed.
In other business the board decided not to appoint anyone to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Councilman Paciencia, who left the board effective July 1 to move out-of-town. A special election was ruled out as too costly. The position, with three years remaining in the term, will be filled at the November election.
To contact Diane Valden email .