Vincent’s removal was illegal, arbitrary, and capricious

To the Editor:

This is our letter to Berne Supervisor Sean Lyons.

In January 2020, the Berne Town Board, without a public hearing or opportunity to be heard, terminated Emily Vincent’s voting position on the town’s planning board. Ms.Vincent was appointed to fill out the term of office of a planning board member who had resigned before the expiration of his term. Her term of office has not expired.

Respectfully, we call your attention to New York State Town Law 271 (9) which states: “9. Removal of members. The town board shall have the power to remove, after public hearing, any member of the planning board for cause (emphasis added). 

Ms. Vincent, as you are well aware, represents an important segment of our community — namely the farming community. Witness the town’s recent celebration of Farm Day, an event in which Ms. Vincent played a significant role. Also, she has represented our community at large admirably and has been very active in the advancement of our town. 

Her removal, before the expiration of her term, was not for cause. Indeed, there was no mention of cause at the January 2020 organizational meeting; there was no public hearing to discuss any cause for her removal; and, significantly, no opportunity for Ms. Vincent to be publicly heard on this matter.

At the very least, this removal of a voting member of the planning board violates the most basic of due process rights of Ms. Vincent. Ms. Vincent does not deserve to be treated in this manner. 

Some town-generated documents may suggest that planning board members serve at the “discretion” of the town board. However, such uninformed and likely benign documents cannot be used to circumvent the plain requirements of Town Law 271 (9).

Therefore, the conclusion is inescapable that her removal was illegal, arbitrary, and capricious. We are concerned with what precedent this sets for other board members whose appointed terms have not expired. 

Consider this probable scenario: The planning board is presented with a controversial development proposal. The proposal passes or fails by one vote. Anyone who is in disagreement with the planning board’s action will, perforce, challenge the legality of that one vote. The town board will then be forced to undo the illegality of Ms. Vincent’s removal from voting office. An embarrassment to the community and, in particular, the town board.

We, therefore, call upon you to take immediate action to restore Ms. Vincent to her rightful place as a voting member of the planning board. 

We appreciate your immediate attention to this matter. 

Todd Schwendeman 

Mark Sengenberger 

Mike Vincent 

Lawrence Zimmerman 

Current members

Berne Planning Board

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