Town officials in the Herkimer County town of German Flatts need to get a grip. They’re embarrassing themselves and the community they serve.
The first thing they need to grip is the fact that Peter Rovazzi is the new town supervisor. Rovazzi beat former Supervisor Frank Spatto — twice — for the top town post in two hotly contested elections. Spatto was defeated first in last September’s primary and again in November’s general election. He had served in the position for 21 years.
Spatto’s defeat may not sit well with some people in town, but that’s too bad. It’s how democracy works. Life — and government — goes on.
The elections were contentious since Spatto and the town board have been involved in a legal dispute with Rovazzi’s parents, William and Virginia Jaquish, owners of the now-closed Creekside Mobile Home Park, related to controversial flooding concerns involving the park property. A court order last year mandated the park be shut down by Oct. 31.
A court brief detailing the appeal, obtained in November by the Observer-Dispatch, argues that town officials did not follow certain procedures when they denied the Jaquishes a floodplain development permit. An appeals court in Rochester is expected to hear the case later this month.
This apparently has raised the hackles of some town leaders, who became a bit feisty last week and decided to postpone their organizational meeting following a fuss over whether there had been enough cooperation among current and former officials and Rovazzi as he prepared to take over the supervisor role.
First, there was a motion by Councilman Denny Mowers to require members of the public to submit questions to the board seven to 10 days ahead of a scheduled meeting so they have time to review them. Mowers said his motion was in response to a Dec. 27 board meeting where a board member needed time to read material on an issue. He said the board gets "questions we can’t answer and we want to make sure they are correct."
The motion passed 4-1 with Rovazzi objecting. He argued that the board is there to represent the public, "and if they have a question it should be answered."
Yes, it should. But Mowers’ motion was not unreasonable. Fact is, while public bodies are required under the Open Meetings Law to allow the public to attend meetings, they are not required to let people speak. Most do, as a courtesy, and they can establish reasonable rules for doing so, said Kristin O’Neill, assistant director of the state’s Committee on Open Government.
Asking for time to digest questions and prepare fair, accurate responses is certainly reasonable.
The board met again Monday and again fell into a snit over the seating arrangement. Who said what really doesn’t matter. If such behavior continues, they might have to bring in a first-grade teacher to monitor meetings.
The whole thing is pretty juvenile and should concern town taxpayers. These are the people running the town.
Taxpayers also should be concerned over an executive session that apparently did not comply with the law when the board went behind closed doors to discuss the 2018 budget. Bob Freeman, director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, said that the issue - talking about positions and salaries, not an actual employee - did not meet any of the requirements needed for an executive session.
Board members need to brush up on the Open Meetings Law. They also need to brush up on civility toward one another. Taxpayers deserve better.