Village Board Controversy
Mayor & Trustee Clash over PB Appointment
Story by John Thomas
The usual decorum of the Village Board of Trustees was broken on Monday night at the annual Organizational Meeting of the board. The meeting sets the official appointment, titles, and functions of the Village for the year. In general, this is usually a pro forma duty with little disagreement, but this meeting was marked by some strong disputes.
The meeting began with the Mayor submitting the list of appointments he was making for various village positions. The first appointment was for Deputy Mayor, currently held by Greg Cappelli. Mr. Cappelli threatened to take “unspecified actions” if the Mayor continued with a nomination they had discussed earlier in the day. Instead of offering the slate of appointments as a whole; Mayor Burrell then went down the list of nominees one at a time. Most of the appointments were for incumbents except for Deputy Clerk, and Deputy Treasurer. There is no one currently serving in those positions and they will remain unfilled. The contract for Village Planner will expire at the end of the fiscal year, when a new contract will be negotiated. Mayor Burrell said if the Town and Village create a joint Public Works Director, it may not be necessary to retain a Village Engineer. The title of Village Engineer was changed to Acting Village Engineer until the new position is created. Nick Dobmeier will continue in that position for the present time. The Mayor had put Village Attorney Kathleen Moriarty’s name in for Acting Village Justice, however Ms. Moriarty declined the post, citing conflict of interest since she is the Village Attorney. Since the Village has been using the new accounting software it has less need for accounting services. But, the Village will still have to have an audit performed annually. R.A. Mercer PC was retained as accountant, but will not be needed as much.
The positions on the Village Planning Board are held for a period of five years. Shelia Burrell’s term on the board expired as of March 31st of this year. The Mayor placed her name in nomination to return to her position. At this time, Trustee Greg Cappelli spoke up saying he had an ethical problem with the Mayor placing his wife’s name in nomination to the board. Mr. Cappelli again threatened “unspecified actions if the nomination goes forward.” The Trustee said it would be a problem if the Mayor’s wife is on a board that reports to the Village Board. He said at the budget meeting in March the Mayor had tried to “double the income for the Planning Board.” The proposal had been voted down during that meeting. Cappelli said the Mayor had just handed out a code of ethics for the Board to consider, and added he felt the Board must submit to a “higher level of scrutiny.” He added it was important not to raise suspicion or cause distrust about the board.
When asked for her opinion, Village Attorney Kathleen Moriarty said it was important to have the discussion regarding Burrell’s appointment. Mayor Burrell responded that he had spoken to someone at NYCOM (New York Conference of Mayors), who said there is an exception to nepotism rules in a small community because of a low population. Burrell asserted the State Attorney General has opined it is “OK” to have a family member sit on a board. He said he would recuse himself from decisions regarding the Planning Board. He let on that he has two other possible candidates for the board. The Mayor said his wife has been on the Planning Board for an excess of 30 years, and said the Historical Overlay District was her project. If not nominated to the board and no one is chosen to relieve her, Mrs. Burrell would be a hold over on the board and would continue to serve. It became evident the Mayor was not going to allow a vote on his wife’s nomination.
This was about as much as Mr. Cappelli could take, he angrily resigned as Deputy Mayor and resigned as Commissioner of Parking. He said the Mayor had run on a promise of change, and this was the second year in a row with no changes. Going on, Cappelli said the Mayor has two viable candidates for the position but was choosing to “go forward with his candidate and not allow a vote.”
The Board then went on with other business. The official depositories for Village business will be Five Star Bank, M&T Bank, and Cattaraugus Bank. The official newspapers are The Villager and The Ellicottville Times.
When it came time to fill out commissions, there was not exactly a rush of volunteers. John Burrell will remain as Budget Officer. For Planning and Zoning, Patra Lowes volunteered but there was no motion to support her. Greg Cappelli nominated Joe DiPasquale to be Parks Commissioner, but he declined. Later, Patra Lowes volunteered to head up Parks and was confirmed. DiPasquale also passed on being Beautification Commissioner again. Water, Streets and Sewer commissions went unfilled. Ms. Lowes also passed on heading Refuse, but was confirmed for Sidewalks. Special Events and Parking are unfilled. Mayor Burrell tried to get the newest trustee Spencer Murry to head up the new commission of Noise. Burrell said he would be a good choice since he works in a downtown bar. Mr. Murry asked to have some time to think about it. The Alley Cats will continue as the Beautification Committee.
The Board set starting salaries for Village employees at $15.54 per hour, up from $15.23. The increase represents a 2% increase to align with the raise management staff received. The holiday schedule remained the same except for some of the dates that move on the calendar. Christmas Eve will not be a half day this year, because Christmas falls on a Sunday. Employees will receive Monday December 26th off. The meeting was adjourned in recognition of the many years Sherman Wilkens served on the Board.