Chatham fills board seat but not without flak

CHATHAM–The Town Board has appointed John Wapner to the open seat on the board. The vote was 3-to-1, with Councilman Henry Swartz voting against the appointment of Mr. Wapner, while board members Bob Balcom and Landra Haber, and Supervisor Maria Lull voted in favor of the appointment at the board’s workshop meeting Thursday, January 7.

Mr. Wapner will fill the vacancy created when board member Maria Lull was elected supervisor. He was appointed to a one-year term. If he wants to fill out the remainder of Ms. Lull term, which runs until the end of 2017, he would have to run in November.

The board interviewed three candidates–Mr. Wapner, Julia Veronezi and Wayne Coe–before the meeting and board members had good things to say about all of them. The board members who supported Mr. Wapner talked about his leadership qualities and past board experience.

“John is the person we need,” said Ms. Haber. Mr. Wapner, a clinical psychologist with a PhD, was president Chatham School Board for number years, leaving in 2013. He is the consulting psychologist for the county Sheriff’s Office and has a contract with the health care wing of the state Department of Civil Service. He also has a private practice at his home in Old Chatham.

Recently he was involved in town zoning issues when he and some of his neighbors on Thomas Road came to the board with concerns about a proposed tennis camp on a property on the dirt road. The board eventually adopted a year-long moratorium that prohibited new construction on properties along unpaved roads while the board reviewed the updated zoning laws.

Ms. Lull talked about serving with Mr. Wapner on the town Ethnics Committee 20 years ago. “He’s got a fabulous resume…. He seems like he can work through the issues,” she said.

Ms. Lull also said that Mr. Wapner is not registered in a political party, saying that might be a nice balance for a board made up of two Republicans (herself and Mr. Swartz) and two Democrats (Ms. Haber and Mr. Balcom).

Ms. Lull ran for supervisor on the Democratic Party line against the Republican Party’s candidate, incumbent Jesse DeGroodt, who has no party affiliation.

“I was thrilled that I was chosen,” Mr. Wapner said after the meeting in a phone interview. “I’m going to work hard.”

Mr. Swartz sought to nominate Ms. Veronezi for the seat. Ms. Veronezi ran unsuccessfully for Town Board in November against Mr. Balcom and Ms. Haber. Mr. Swartz did not have a second for his motion on the nomination and when he voted against Mr. Wapner he said he “strongly opposed” the appointment.

He said Dr. Wapner had donated to Ms. Lull’s campaign for supervisor. Mr. Swartz said, “I think it looks really, really bad.”

Mr. Wapner said after the meeting that he did not contribute to any of the candidates’ campaigns. “I was a supporter of Maria and Bob and Landra,” he said in a phone interview but he did not make any financial donations to the campaigns. State records show that he gave $165 to the Chatham Democrats between July to October of 2015. He made no contributions to candidates.

Mr. Wapner was sworn in at the meeting and participated in the last discussion of the workshop meeting, which addressed changes to the zoning laws that were made by the Zoning Implementation Committee (ZIC). Mr. Swartz, who sat on that committee, said he wanted to get the changes to the public as soon as possible so people could review proposed changes to the zoning laws as the board discusses them. “I think we should give the public a chance to see it,” he said of the document with the proposed changes.

“I don’t think we want to rush into it,” said Ms. Lull.

Ms. Haber, who was sworn into her first term on the board on January 1, said she would like some time to review the document, as did Mr. Wapner. But Mr. Wapner said that he agreed with Mr. Swartz about making the proposals available to the public.

The next regular board meeting is Thursday, January 21 at 7 p.m.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

Comments are closed.