Berne creates Recreation and Parks Advisory Board

Children sled

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Children sled at the 2019 Winter Fest, held at Switzkill Farm, in Berne. 

BERNE — More than a year after disbanding the Switzkill Farm Board, the Berne town board has created an all-purpose Recreation and Parks Advisory Board, which critics say diminishes the ability of the town to develop the controversial 350-acre Switzkill Farm property. 

The motion to adopt Local Law #1 of 2021, which converts the Switzkill Farm Board into the more general Recreation and Parks Advisory Board, was passed, 3 to 2, at the town board’s Jan. 20 meeting, with Joel Willsey, the town board’s lone Democrat, and Bonnie Conklin, a Conservative backed by the GOP, voting “nay.”

At Berne’s Jan. 1, 202o reorganizational meeting, members of the Switzkill Farm Board were not reappointed and Supervisor Sean Lyons told The Enterprise afterwards that was because the new, GOP-backed board may decide three different groups — the conservation board, the Switzkill Farm Board, and the youth council — should be merged.

Before his vote at the Jan. 20 meeting, Willsey requested discussion but Lyons had made the motion already and wouldn’t accept anything from Willsey except his vote. Conklin, who developed the law with Harris’s help, said before she voted that it needed to be discussed further. 

“I’m excited about the law and in favor of it,” Conklin told The Enterprise in an email. “I voted nay because we did not allow discussion. We were elected to represent the town, they need to hear us and we need to hear them. We have to agree to disagree. I'm afraid it’s giving out the wrong message to the residents. 

“I have to say,” she continued, “being on Zoom last night gives you a different perspective during a meeting. Communicating person to person is key. This pandemic certainly doesn’t help with this matter.”

Conklin and Willsey both participated in the meeting remotely, along with the general public, who are restricted from attending meetings in person because of COVID-19. 

The dissolution of a board dedicated specifically to Switzkill Farm is unpopular with residents who have spoken out, with many saying that the massive property needs so much work and attention that a board designed to oversee all the town’s parks — which include a town park and a pocket park — won’t have adequate time to care for the property.

 The board will continue to be made up of nine members — the same number appointed to the former Switzkill Farm Board — five of whom will serve three-year terms and four of whom will serve two-year terms. 

Overall, few changes were made to the board’s operation beyond expanding its scope, though the town board now expects to see a comprehensive plan developed annually, instead of every three years, and reports will be submitted quarterly and annually instead of just annually. 

The GOP-backed town board, which came to power after the 2019 elections, has been accused of neglecting Switzkill Farm and vying for its sale. Last year, town attorney Javid Afzali announced that the purchase of the property was likely illegal because the town board of the time didn’t notify residents of their right to petition for a permissive referendum, a claim with which former Supervisor Kevin Crosier, who oversaw the purchase of the property, disagrees.

Crosier told The Enterprise last year that the authorization was not subject to permissive referendum because it was not purchased with borrowed money; rather, the town paid in cash the $130,200 required to close the deal.

Berne residents Thomas Spargo, Ian Connors, and Philip Stevens filed a lawsuit against the town late last year that seeks to nullify the purchase on the grounds that citizens were not given the appropriate information.



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