Knox appoints new planning board chairman, town attorney, deputy supervisor

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

New faces: Kenneth Saddlemire signs his name after taking an oath of office as a new councilman in Knox. Overseeing this is Clerk Traci Schanz, who was also sworn in on New Year’s Day in Knox. Both were elected for the first time this past November.

KNOX — Knox’s town board, after two years of long and divisive reorganizational meetings, held a short meeting on New Year’s Day that lasted around 45 minutes and had just one divided vote. The meeting included two new board members — Karl Pritchard and Ken Saddlemire — who, though neither are Republicans, ran with Democrat Lefkaditis on the GOP line this fall. The three voted in unison at the meeting.

Following the swearing in of town officials — some of whom were newcomers to town government — the town board, with two new members, went into executive session for about 20 minutes to discuss job appointments.

When the public meeting resumed, the board accepted the resignation of Louis Saddlemire, the parks maintenance manage and dog control officer, and of Patricia Irwin, a member of the Conservation Advisory Council. Cheryl Baitsholts, who also serves as a dog- and animal-control officer in Berne and Rensselaerville, was appointed to serve temporarily ias Knox’s dog warden.

Saddlemire, who said he has worked for the town for over 40 years, told The Enterprise on Tuesday he could no longer get along with the supervisor.

The board also re-established the position of deputy supervisor. Last year, Lefkaditis had been the only member of the board in support of appointing Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury to the position. Former councilwoman Amy Pokorny had held the spot in 2016; Pokorny left the board after unsuccessfully running against Lefkaditis for supervisor. The four council members last year — all Democrats — had said one of the board members should be the deputy supervisor, so the post was not filled.

At this year’s meeting, as one of the items on a consent agenda item, Salisbury was appointed to the role of Deputy Supervisor. Salisbury chairs the town’s Republican Committee. The board voted unanimously on the consent agenda.

The board also voted to enter into a contract with Javid Afzali of the law firm Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, LLP. Knox’s long-time town attorney, John Dorfman, who had clashed with the supervisor, resigned last month. Dorfman, rather than working for the town on a contractual basis, held an appointed position with a salary of $18,094. Afzali’s contract is for an hourly rate of $180, not to exceed $15,000. The contract also requires the firm to hold malpractice insurance.

Lefkaditis had sought to replace Dorfman during his last two years in office, both times failing to do so without the support of the board.

At the New Year’s Day meeting, Lefkaditis noted the conflicts of interest that were disclosed in the contract. The firm had previously represented the village of Altamont in legal battle with the town to lower the assessed value of a village-owned reservoir located in Knox. The firm had also represented companies that Lefkaditis, who works as a hedge-fund manager, was a member of, and had represented Salisbury in a real-estate case. Lefkaditis noted at the meeting that the law firm had also served as counsel for the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board, which he and Councilman Earl Barcomb had previously been members of; this was not listed in the contract, he said.

A slew of appointments were tabled until the upcoming meeting on Jan. 9. Lefkaditis had said that the board would be reviewing applications that had been submitted for those positions.

Such posts include two seats on the zoning board and the zoning board chairperson, a seat on the planning board, a vacancy on the Board of Assessment Review, and three vacancies on the Conservation Advisory Council and the council chairperson, which Lefkaditis said would need to be approved soon because the council could not meet without at least four members.

Among the appointments that were approved included the members of the Knox Youth Council, the Board of Ethics with Councilman Dennis Barber as a member, the Agricultural Committee, and the Knox Broadband Committee.

The board reappointed Tim Frederick as the chairman of the Board of Assessment Review, and appointed planning board member Tom Wolfe as the chairman of the planning board, replacing the long-time chairman, Robert Price.

Wolfe, who did not return a recent call for comment, told The Enterprise in December that he had not been aware of any plans to appoint him and declined to comment further. Lefkaditis had put Wolfe’s name forward for chairman in both 2016 and 2017, but couldn’t get a majority of the board to support the appointments.

Wolfe had been the sole member to vote in favor of a proposed business district at the intersection of Routes 156 and 157; the rest of the planning board members had recommended the town not go forward with establishing such a district, though the town board ignored the recommendation, bringing it to a public hearing and a failed vote.

Wolfe’s appointment was approved in a 3-to-2 vote, with Lefkaditis, Saddlemire, and Pritchard voting “yes.” Barcomb and Barber voted against the appointment.

Speaking to The Enterprise after the meeting, Price seemed unperturbed.

“I’m still on the [planning] board,” he said. “So they’re stuck with me another two years.” Price’s term ends in 2019.

At the end of the meeting, Lefkaditis recalled how Amy Pokorny had given him an American-flag pin when he began his first term as supervisor; Lefkaditis offered flag pins to his colleagues.

“For your suits,” he said in jest, gesturing to the other board members who, unlike himself, were not dressed up.

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