Berne farmer to be reinstated as full member of planning board

Emily Vincent

BERNE — More than three months after she was illegally removed from the Berne planning board and installed as an alternate member, Emily Vincent finally has some good news. 

On Friday, March 13, Acting Supreme Court Acting Justice Denise A. Hartman ordered that the resolution removing Vincent as full member of the planning board and appointing a replacement, Thomas Spargo, who had also been appointed chairman, is nullified. 

“It gives me a little hope that the world isn’t as crazy as I think it is,” Vincent told The Enterprise on Friday. 

Her ouster on Jan. 1 had been a surprise to many, both because she was in the middle of her term, which was set to expire Dec. 31 2022, and because Spargo, a former State Supreme Court Justice, had been convicted of bribery and extortion in 2009 and served 27 months in prison. 

The Enterprise editorialized that the new Berne Town Board — dominated by Republicans for the first time in decades — was not above the law.

“Why don’t we just hire a rapist to the youth council?” asked Berne resident Barbara Kennedy — rhetorically — at a town board meeting in January.

In February, all members of the planning board except for Spargo signed a letter that asked the town to reconsider its decision to remove Vincent, and called that removal “illegal, arbitrary, and capricious.”

A GoFundMe campaign on Vincent’s behalf raised over $13,000 to pay for legal and medical fees. Last summer, Vincent was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was surgically removed in January.

In her decision, Hartman stated that the town, represented by its attorney, William Conboy III, had not provided sufficient evidence for its claim that Vincent had not pursued actions allowed by town policy in challenging the Jan. 1 resolution.

She also acknowledged that the claim had not been included in the town’s answer to Vincent’s Article 78 prior to the oral arguments held on March 10. Article 78 is the article of New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules that allows citizens to challenge decisions made by administrative agencies, public bodies, or officers.

“Contrary to counsel’s suggestion at oral argument,” Hartman wrote, “paragraph 13 of the respondents’ answer merely alleges that the petitioner failed to set forth the required statement that she has not previously filed a proceeding or action for the same relief in any other court ….

“This is by no means an assertion that petitioner failed to exhaust her administrative remedies,” Hartman continued. “Moreover, respondents have provided no submissions in support of such defense — not the employee handbook, not an affidavit, not legal argument. The defense, therefore, has been waived.”

Hartman then qualified the town’s central argument that, because Vincent had been installed as an alternate with the same term limit, she was not technically removed from the board.

“Under statute and the local law,” Hartman wrote, “the duties of alternate planning board members are limited; they are not empowered to act on the whole range of matters that come before the planning board.”

“Thus,” Hartman concluded, “the Town Board’s January 2020 resolution appointing petitioner to the position of ‘Planning Board Member, Alternate’ was tantamount to removing her from her position as ‘Full Planning Board Member.’”

Per New York State Town Law, planning board members cannot be vacated from their terms except after a hearing where the town provides sufficient reason.

Neither Conboy, Spargo, nor Supervisor Sean Lyons could be reached for comment. 

“It’s just nice to feel better,” Vincent said, “nice to get through the brain surgery with no effects, nice to get my job back, and nice to have faith in our justice system.”

More Hilltowns News

  • Some of the towns with land on the Helderberg escarpment where large wind turbines were proposed in 2008 drafted laws on wind energy; others haven’t.

  • After her husband’s suicide last year, Berne resident Jennifer Williams’s life has transformed as she signals optimism and strength for her two young children while pregnant with a third. She hopes her story will inspire others to remain strong in the face of devastating adversity. 

  • As coronavirus cases continue to climb in Albany County and vital services are shut down in response, children and seniors in the Hilltowns are vulnerable not only to the virus, but to hunger. To remedy this, the Berne Youth Council, Berne Library, and Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District are working together to deliver meals and groceries to these at-risk populations.

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