Déjà vu: Knox board still divided, 4 to 1, on key New Year’s appointments

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Making it official: Daniel Hanley holds his pen poised to sign in as a Knox councilmen while town Clerk Tara Murphy looks on. Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis is in the background.

KNOX — The new year did not bring new attitudes to either side — the supervisor on the one side, the four board members, one of them newly elected, on the other — of the embattled Knox Town Board.

At Tuesday’s annual re-organizational meeting the vote was 4 to 1 on key appointments, the supervisor being the lone dissenter in each case. The board had met for an hour-and-a-half in closed session but was unable to compromise to reach accord on the appointments.

After the meeting, Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis told The Enterprise, “They’re clinging to an agenda the voters rejected in 2015.”

In November 2015, Lefkaditis, a Democrat who couldn’t secure the Democratic nomination, ran on the Conservative line and ousted the 42-year Democratic incumbent, Michael Hammond.

Tuesday’s 45-minute public session began cordially enough as Daniel Hanley was sworn in as councilman. A Democrat, Hanley narrowly won a race this past November against write-in candidate Ken Saddlemire. Hanley received 630 votes and Saddlemire garnered 586, according to official results from the Albany County Board of Elections.

Lefkaditis had backed Saddlemire who had at first secured the Republican line. But, after a successful court challenge by the Democrats, Saddlemire lost the GOP line and launched a write-in campaign.

Hanley’s family looked on as the oath was administered by Knox town Justice Jean Gagnon who said she’d been to an Albany swearing-in ceremony catered by Mazone’s; she quipped that she expected the same in Knox. Gagnon also swore in the new deputy clerk, Amy Pulliam.

The board readily agreed to raise the threshold, from $1,500 to $2,500, under which Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury can make purchases without board approval. Lefkaditis said that “down the road” Salisbury would be able to use a credit card for purchases. “We’re going to save a fortune,” he said. “He doesn’t have to buy local.”


The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Councilman Daniel Hanley accepts a welcoming handshake from Knox Justice Jean Gagnon after she administered his oath of office at the start of Tuesday’s re-organizational meeting.


No deputy super

The first contentious appointment was Lefkaditis’s nomination of Salisbury to serve as deputy supervisor, an unpaid post held last year by Councilwoman Amy Pokorny.

Since the state’s Town Law leaves the choice of a deputy supervisor, to fill in if the supervisor is absent, up to the supervisor, Councilman Earl Barcomb recommended abolishing the optional post.

“It should be a town councilman…I don’t really care which one,” said Barcomb. “Gary has enough on his plate,” he said of Salisbury.

“He’s the only person up here,” countered Lefkaditis, gesturing to those seated at the dais, “that went here with eyes wide open, without bias…He has more experience…and has been to more town board meetings than all of us put together.”

Salisbury is a Knox native and Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School graduate.  He worked for the Knox Highway Department for 16 years before being elected its superintendent, a post he’s held for 14 years.

When he last ran for re-election, in 2015, he had backing from five parties — Democrats, Republicans, and the Reform, Conservative, and Independence parties.

He said at the time, “I don’t get involved in politics. I don’t treat people differently because of what party they’re in. I just do what has to be done.”

Democrat Alexander Gordon, a former county legislator and Knox Town Board member, spoke from the gallery about the separation of power, necessary for checks and balances, between the three branches of government — legislative, executive, and judicial. A highway superintendent is part of the executive branch, Gordon said, and, by serving on the board in the superintendent’s absence, the highway superintendent would become part of the legislative branch.

“We have separation of powers,” said Gordon. “You would be blending executive and legislative bodies…There’s a tradition in our country of 200 years.”

“How’s he going to vote for his own budget?” asked Hanley.

“When is the last time a deputy superintendent did anything in this town?” asked Lefkaditis.

“I ran a special meeting,” answered Pokorny.

“It should be a town board member,” said Councilman Dennis Barber.

Joan Adriance, a former school board president whose husband works at the Knox transfer station, said it is “not appropriate” to have a highway superintendent also overseeing the town board.

Ultimately, the vote was 4 to 1. Lefkaditis stated his reason for voting against the measure: “I believe it’s wrong to abolish the deputy superintendent.”

After the meeting, The Enterprise asked Salisbury what his view had been of serving as deputy superintendent. “Very neutral,” he said. “It wouldn’t matter to me either way.”

Asked, if the supervisor were unable to perform his duties, who would step in, Lori Mithen-DeMasi, counsel for the Association of Towns of the State of New York, replied, “In towns that have not established the position of deputy supervisor, the town board may adopt a local law authorizing a town officer to perform the administrative functions of the office when the supervisor is unable to act.” She was citing a 1982 opinion from the State Comptroller.


The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Looking at a lawyer’s salary, Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis, left, was under fire by the other town board members Tuesday night for his recommendation to hire a different town attorney for less money. Daniel Hanley, newly sworn in as a town board member, looks on.


Dorfman continues as town attorney

Next up was a contentious discussion on the appointment of a town attorney, which echoed the split at the 2016 re-organizational meeting. Both years, the vote to keep longtime town attorney John Dorfman was 4 to 1.

Last year, Lefkaditis hadn’t lined up a new lawyer but stressed that he had campaigned on opening up town government.

This year, Lefkaditis put forward the name of Peter M. Damin with whom he said he had negotiated an annual salary of $14,00, as opposed to the $18,094 Dorfman was paid last year.

“Do we have a second?” asked Lefkaditis after making a motion to appoint Damin. His question was answered with silence.

Citing Damin’s law firm, Lenery Greisler, Lefkaditis said Knox would have “a very deep bench versus a one-man show.”

Barcomb countered with a motion to appoint Dorfman at an annual salary of $18,094.

When Lefkaditis asked why Dorfman should be paid more, Barcomb answered, “You just sprung it on us right now.”

“For $4,000 less, we get a better service for the taxpayer,” said Lefkaditis.

“You sprung it on us; you did it on purpose,” said Barcomb of the board’s having no warning about the proposal.

“Why not tell us the salary in the meeting we just had?” asked Hanley. “Why bring it in front of the public first?”

Lefkaditis said that the wrong salary on the agenda before the board, “$18,000 versus $14,000, was an honest oversight.” He said he had prepared the agenda in a hurry just before the meeting.

Lefkaditis also noted that the board members, at an earlier meeting, had turned him down on his plan to ask for requests for proposals for a town attorney.

“John Dorfman has been in our town over the years,” said Barber. “He knows all about the town.”

Lefkaditis asked him for an example of Dorfman’s “institutional memory” that had “proved crucial.” The board did not answer.

“We didn’t interview,” said Hanley, indicating that Damin was unknown to the board.

“They rejected it,” said Lefkaditis, referring to the board’s not supporting his RFP proposal at an earlier meeting. “I went out on my own like I did all year…Our legal representation this year was shaky at best,” said Lefkaditis.

“That’s because you don’t get along,” said Barber. “All you want to do is pick a fight every single meeting; it’s getting old.”

“I would be OK with John if he accepted the $14,000,” said Lefkaditis.

“We haven’t seen anything,” said Pokorny. “It makes it difficult to make a decision.”

Ultimately, the vote was 4 to 1 to keep Dorfman as town attorney at a salary of $18,094.

Board appointments, Price still planning chair

Lefkaditis proposed Doug Roether and Ken Saddlemire to fill vacancies on the zoning board. Barcomb proposed Roether and Erik Marzak, which was approved, 4 to 1. Roether will serve until 2018 and Marzak until 2013.

The vote was also split, 4 to 1, on appointments to the Conservation Advisory Council. Lefkaditis did not vote for the appointment of Kevin Sherman and Eric Kuck. Sherman will serve until 2023 and Kuck until 2021. Kuck had been appointed to the Knox Town Board, where he frequently disagreed with Lefkaditis, but he did not seek re-election.

Lefkaditis couldn’t get a second on his motion to appoint Nathan Giordano to fill a vacancy on the planning board. The four council members preferred keeping Betty Ketchum in the post; the vote was 4 to 1.

As he had last year, Lefkaditis recommended planning board member Thomas Wolfe to chair the planning board; no one seconded his motion.

Wolfe, 64, is retired from a career with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation; he worked as a forester, he said, and was involved in public land management.

Wolfe had favored designating a second business district on Township Road to accommodate Hitmans Towing, which had opened there despite the area not being zoned for business. This year, Wolfe, unlike other planning board members, supported a business district on Route 156 where there is a closed restaurant, a wood shop, and a nursery. Lefkaditis had campaigned on a pro-business platform, claiming that the former administration had slowed development.

Price, 82, a semi-retired engineer and longtime planning board chairman, regularly attends town board meetings; he has volunteered his services as project engineer for Helderberg Community Energy, a grassroots group advocating for solar, that had once planned to build a cooperative solar array in Knox.

Price will remain as chairman of the planning board. The vote was 4 to 1. Last year, Barber had voted with Lefkaditis for Wolfe to be chairman, saying,  “Bob is kind of outspoken. I don’t always agree with his views and the way he expresses them.”

Last year, Lefkaditis said he did not know why three board members voted against his proposal to make Wolfe the chairman. He told the board it was common practice to rotate chairs “so you create redundancies instead of being reliant on one individual.”

This year, the board had no discussion on the appointment of the planning board chairman.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Lefkaditis said after the meeting.

Other appointments and designations

The board also:

—Named John DeMis as chairman for the zoning board. Pokorny will serve as liaison;

— Named Nathan Giordano as chairman of the Conservation Advisory Council. Barcomb and Barber will share the role of liaison;

— Named seven voting members to the Youth Council — Coordinator Maryellen Gillis, Darcy Cyr, Sandra Pasquini, Maria Evans, Sandra Quay, Tom Payne, and Megan Murphy — as well as honorary members;

—   Named Howard Zimmer to the board of assessment review and kept Tim Frederick as the board’s chairman;

— Named Megan Mason as emergency preparedness coordinator;

— Established a 2017 board of ethics made up of Clark Conklin, John Graves, and Barber;

— Established a one-year broadband committee made up of Ryan Cole, Dwayne Rockenstyre, Robert Traina, and Lefkaditis

— Chose The Altamont Enterprise as the town’s official newspaper and chose the Key Bank and The Bank of Greene county as depositories of town funds; and

— Set its monthly Town Hall meeting at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month but November, which will be held the first Wednesday after Election Day.

The board also set these salaries:

— Supervisor, $16,672 annually;

— Council members, $3,825 each, annually;

— Justices, $10,143 each, annually;

— Court clerk, $17.11 hourly;

— Account clerk, $21.37 hourly;

— Tax collector, $5,000 annually;

— Deputy tax collector, $13.27 hourly;

— Assessor, $12,608 annually;

— Data collector, $14.40 per hour;

— Town clerk, $12,985 annually;

— Deputy town clerk, $13.27 hourly;

— Court bailiff, $2,200 annually;

—  Dog warden, $6,687 annually;

—  Emergency preparedness coordinator, $222 annually;

— Registrar of vital statistics, $1,618 annually;

— Superintendent of Highways, $56,678 annually;

— Senior Services coordinator, $500 annually;

— Youth Services coordinator, $500 annually;

— Town historian, $726 annually;

— Building inspector, $9,522 annually;

— Assistant building inspector, $4,096 annually;

— Landfill attendants, $13.23 hourly;

— Minutes recorder for planning and zoning, $13.27 hourly;

— Highway Department laborer, $15.31 hourly;

— Equipment Operator I, $15.69 hourly;

— Equipment Operator II, $16.10 hourly; and

— Deputy Superintendent of Highways, 60 cents extra hourly.

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