Knox re-org: Supervisor refuses questions about appointments, seeks new lawyer

Town Clerk Traci Schanz signs her name after being sworn in New Year’s Day while Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis, right, looks on.

The Enterprise — Noah Zweifel
Town Clerk Traci Schanz signs her name after being sworn in New Year’s Day while Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis, right, looks on.

KNOX — At its annual reorganizational meeting, the Town of Knox set up its government for the year, with few new appointments and changes. The Board is now made up entirely of members who ran on the same slate as Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis. The last two of the once-dominant Democrat-backed board members were voted out in November. 

But, in a perplexing moment in an otherwise efficient meeting, Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis refused to answer a question from Joan Adriance regarding the absence of transfer-station appointments on the agenda.

“When I looked at the agenda on the website yesterday, [the transfer station employee] names were on there, but today they weren’t,” Adriance told The Enterprise after the meeting.

When she asked Lefkaditis about the change during the public comment section, Vasilios was defensive.

“Please record that Mrs. Adriance has a concern with —” Lefkaditis said.

“It’s not a concern, it’s just a question,” Adriance interrupted.

“We’ll record it as a concern,” Lefkaditis replied, and motioned to adjourn the meeting.

When approached after the meeting, Lefkaditis reiterated to The Enterprise that Adriance did not ask a question, but aired a concern that did not warrant response.

“It doesn’t really matter,” Adriance told The Enterprise, “because they’re courtesy appointments … It’s a courtesy that they’re appointed at the annual meeting because they’re Civil Service Employees.”

When asked why she thought Lefkaditis was cagey in his responses if the decision “doesn’t really matter,” Adriance responded that she didn’t know.

Adriance is the wife of Joseph Adriance, a transfer station employee who was among the three who were not reappointed last year in a surprise motion that Joseph Adriance and a second worker have since challenged in court.

Because Joseph Adriance and Richard Dexter had been employed at the transfer station for five years or longer, they were protected from removal under Civil Service Law, which mandated that they receive a formal trial that proved incompetency or misconduct. The third worker, Mark Young, who was employed for less than five years, was not protected by the law.

In the absence of a trial, Dexter and Adriance successfully filed an Article 78 against the Town of Knox and had their jobs reinstated in April, although they are still fighting to receive the pay they would have received had they not been fired. The total amounts to $6,800, split evenly.

 

Attorney resigning

Supervisor Lefkaditis acknowledged at the reorganizational meeting that the town’s attorney, Javid Afzali, who said last year that he had nothing to do with the erroneous firing of the three workers, was planning to resign and that he would be appointed as an interim attorney until a replacement is found.

The appointment is contingent upon “proof of appropriate malpractice insurance in an amount no less than $1,000,000” according the organizational meeting’s agenda.

Lefkaditis told The Enterprise that Afzali did not tell him the reasoning behind his planned resignation. Afzali, who was not present at the meeting, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Afzali’s father-in-law, Glenn Walsh, was among those hired to replace Adriance, Dexter, and Young at the transfer station. 

Afzali is also Westerlo’s town attorney, which was caught in a similar controversy this year after its town council voted to not reappoint long-time assessor, Peter Hotaling. 

Hotaling, who served in the position for 19 years, was protected under a different part of the same law that protected Adriance and Dexter, but told The Enterprise in November that, although he was dismayed by the town’s decision, it was unlikely he would file an Article 78 against the town. He is, however, seeking an opinion from the Albany County Department of Civil Service.

 

Swearings-in

At the top of the meeting, Lefkaditis was sworn in as town supervisor along with Traci Schanz as town clerk, Dennis Cyr and June Springer as council members, Matthew Schanz as Deputy Highway Superintendent, Bonnie Donati as town justice, and Betty Walk as tax collector.

Lefkaditis, Traci Schanz, Donati, Cyr, and Springer were all elected, or re-elected, in November as GOP-backed candidates associated with the Lefkaditis slate.

Lefkaditis was first elected as town supervisor in 2015 on the Conservative line, although he is enrolled as a Democrat. In 2017, he was re-elected on the Republican line, and received that backing again in 2019, when he ran against Democrat-endorsed Russell Pokorny. 

Lefkaditis’s primary charge has been making Knox more hospitable to businesses, though he failed to pass a proposal to rezone approximately 80 acres at the intersection of county routes 156 and 157. 

A vote three years in the making, the proposal was rejected, 3-2, last October, with Democrats Earl Barcomb and Dennis Barber voting against. Because the Albany County Planning Board did not approve the proposal, citing inconsistencies with the town’s comprehensive plan and environmental impacts, it required a supermajority approval of at least 4-1.

In his tenure, Lefkaditis has split the town of Knox not necessarily down party lines — though the parties backing the candidates on either side tend to be consistent — but between those who support his often fiery methods and those who don’t. 

Lefkaditis, called a “bully” in letters to the Enterprise editor, has made a habit of dismissing criticisms and concerns of residents made in public forums, as he did with Joan Adriance during the 2020 organizational meeting. 

In April of this year, he voted with the town board to censure himself because he “was not truthful or forthright with the Town Board and residents of Knox” about the late submission of annual reports that are required by state law.

Nonetheless, Lefkaditis and his supporters have made headway in the town of Knox, securing for the first time a majority on the town board with the defeat of incumbents Barcomb and Barber in November. 

 

Appointments

Matthew Schanz was appointed highway superintendent for 2020, after the board approved a motion to authorize his extended unpaid leave of absence from the position of Deputy Highway Superintendent and Equipment Operator II. 

The position was vacated by Gary Salisbury in Aug. 2019, who told The Enterprise at the time that he was resigning because of “nasty politics.” 

Because the resignation came after the ballots for the year were formalized, Schanz would have been able to run for the position only through a write-in campaign, which he told The Enterprise at the time was an effort he would not undertake, explaining, “Historically, there’s not a good outcome.”

Additional to Schanz as the highway superintendent, the following appointments were made, or otherwise addressed:

— For the zoning board of appeals, Ernie Cuppernell was appointed to a 5-year term ending Dece. 31, 2024; and McKenzie Hempstead was appointed to a 6-year term ending Dec. 31, 2026. Councilman Cyr was appointed as the zoning board of appeals liaison;

— An appointment to fill a vacancy on the planning board was tabled to give Cyr and board chairman Thomas Wolfe an opportunity to interview two interested candidates. Lefkaditis said the appointment would be made this month;

— For the board of assessment review, Gerald Erwin was appointed to a term ending Sept. 30, 2024;

— Appointments to the conservation advisory council were tabled so that Lefkaditis can re-advertise the open positions after “not getting much feedback” from the community;

— Councilwoman Springer was appointed to the board of ethics for 2020; and

— A motion was approved to add Brian Wilson to the Agricultural Committee.

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