Usually Town Board reorganization meetings are pretty routine affairs that establishes salaries of employees, the banking institutions the town uses, the days of the month for certain town meetings, approving the official town newspapers, the employee pay periods and holidays, to name just a few.
This year, however, when it came to naming the law firm of Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna as special counsel to the Town of Lloyd, the vote split down party lines, with Democrats Mike Guerriero and Joe Mazzetti voting no and Republicans Dave Plavchak, Lenny Auchmoody and John Fraino voting to reappoint the firm. The board, however, agreed to continue a month to month arrangement with the firm and the right to terminate the relationship with a 30 day notice.
Mazzetti said, “I’d rather see them as a month to month. There were a lot of mistakes made, for example the $70,000 or $80,000 we spent on the PRRD [planned residential retirement development] zoning that is a lot of wasted money and I really don’t think we want to lock in for a year.”
In a subsequent interview Mazzetti elaborated on his opposition to keeping this firm, something he has voiced publicly many times.
“What bothers me about the firm is that they have given us misinformation. At various board meetings you’ve seen me and the attorney Paul Van Cott have discussions about legal advice that he’s given us and it is actually inaccurate,” Mazzetti said. “When we finally came up with the moratorium, he told us we could just vote no and then when we find out what the process is, he can’t really explain to us what the process is for anything that he claims we can do.”
Mazzetti explained that when developers come to the town with projects that do not conform to the town code, Van Cott tells the board that they can reject them by just saying no, “and that would be the end of it but the reality is that’s not been the case at all; they’re still going to the Planning Board, still going to the Zoning Board. Basically, what we did is we wasted all this money going to a moratorium [a few years ago] because we got nothing out of it.”
Mazzetti pointed out that the Villages Assisted Living Facility project should have been required to do a more thorough environmental review, however the Planning Board, after meeting with Van Cott, voted for a Negative Declaration that allowed the developer to avoid doing a deeper environmental review, even after the Planning Board in their initial review, cited a number of significant environmental impacts from the project.
Mazzetti also noted that the facility’s design plans for parking in front was shown to be in violation of code provisions relating to setbacks.
“Next thing you know is that he [Van Cott] then back-peddles that conversation and changes his tune and says that [Building Department Director] Dave Barton can write a rationale. Where in our code does it say it?”
“He tells us that there’s these laws and when we ask him for proof, he can’t produce the law.”
Mazzetti said all of this leads to the larger question of who this firm actually works for, “do they work for the town or do they work for the developer? I’m not sure.” He said the town pays extra for this attorney to travel down from the Adirondack region, while there are competent land use attorneys in the immediate area. He added that when developers come to Lloyd, “they come right for these variances and then we’re told by our attorney that if we don’t give them, we’re going to be sued. So if this is the case, what is the reason of having laws when other towns can uphold theirs but our town can’t.”
Councilman Mike Guerriero, who was also a no vote on this law firm, believes the town did not get anything out of the moratorium after spending a significant amount of money with this firm.
“All we got was a few setbacks and they made a lot of money off of us. I think it’s time for a change,” he said. “All these high professionals we hire for the town, we become like a cash cow for them and I think every once in awhile we have to clean house and put some new organizations in and keep everybody on a straight path.”
Guerriero also favors hiring a local firm to meet the town’s land use needs.
Supervisor Dave Plavchak said if Mazzetti and Guerriero have issues with this firm they are going to have to show him specifically what their objections are.
“I would agree to do stuff but not just because somebody doesn’t like somebody. I know Joe said they have made errors but he is going to have to articulate and account for what the errors are and be specific...I have heard nothing on that, so right now I personally am OK with this legal firm,” he said.
When asked if he is aware that after the Planning Board met with their attorney concerning the Assisted Living Facility, they then voted for the Negative Declaration, Plavchak said, “I don’t have details that as of right now there’s an issue with this firm.”
Plavchak stressed that the two Councilmen are going to have to show him where the firm violated their contract or where they’re not capable of performing it correctly.
Plavchak said the entire Town Board will have to spend time reviewing any pertinent data concerning the law firm and come to an agreement on this matter.
On another resolution that broke along party lines, the board re-appointed Scott McCarthy as the Chairman of the Planning Board for 2022 by a vote of 3-2.