GOP’s Vane appointed in party-line vote to Berne Town Board

— Photo from Leo Vane Jr.

Leo Vane Jr., a Republican, is the newest member of the Berne Town Board, serving in an interim capacity until the seat is filled by election this November. Vane told The Enterprise that he has “every intention” of running.

BERNE — The Berne Town Board is whole again, after voting to appoint Republican Leo Vane Jr., 65, to fill a vacancy left by former Councilman Mathew Harris, an Independence Party member backed by the GOP, when he resigned on Feb. 1

Vane’s appointment was made by a vote of 3 to 0, with the board’s lone Democrat, Joel Willsey, who often complains of being iced out of discussions among the GOP-backed majority, abstaining because he said he “didn’t know the fellow.”  

Supervisor Sean Lyons told The Enterprise after the meeting that Vane “has similar ideas and philosophies as myself and has been a valued supporter. He has a long history in Berne, a veteran and a very skilled career in aviation. I am confident he will work hard for the people of Berne, like [councilmembers] Dennis [Palow], Bonnie [Conklin] and I do.”

Vane is a retired airline pilot from the Latham area who moved to Berne 26 years ago, and, while he’s never formally held a position in local government before, he told The Enterprise that “with the political climate in the country right now, I thought this was an ideal time to get on the town board and maybe make a difference. And I guess you might say I’m apolitical. My biggest concern is for the residents that live in this community.”

Before his retirement from American Airlines, Vane was a union president for nine years, and he said that he was responsible for a “multi-million dollar budget.” He also said he holds a master’s degree, but declined to specify its subject. 

Locally, Vane says he has been a frequent volunteer for different events in town.

“[There was] nothing that I’d personally chaired but I’ve always volunteered for various things,” Vane said, “whether it was Berne Day down in the town park, taking aerial photographs of different parts of Berne. 

“Usually in the fall, when they have their Halloween thing there, I took my tractor and hay wagon and did a haunted hayride down through the cemetery ... Things like that, you know what I mean? I’ve always been somewhat involved. I’ve attended a plethora of town board meetings, [and] didn’t always like the outcome of the meetings.”

Vane said that he has “every intention” of running for election to the town board this November, when three seats are up for grabs. 

 

Public comment

Not long after Vane was sworn in at the March 10 meeting, he voted with Lyons and Palow to reject a motion made by Willsey that would allow public comment at the Berne meetings. The motion had been seconded by Conklin, who voted in favor. 

Residents have been complaining since last year about the lack of opportunity for the public to comment at every meeting, as residents of the other three Hilltowns can during their town board meetings.

In January, the New York Coalition for Open Government, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for government transparency, issued a report that criticized that lack of opportunity, among other things.

After the vote, Vane told The Enterprise that he supports the opportunity for residents to address their board in an open meeting, but wants to see stricter limitations.

Since the start of 2020, when GOP-backed board members assumed the majority, the board allowed residents to speak at every other board meeting for three minutes at a time, with no limit to how many times a resident could return to the stand.

“If it were something where it were just limited to a specific period of time, one time, and not to exceed that time limitation, then naturally I wouldn’t have a problem,” Vane said. “But I’ve been to enough town board meetings to see how people act. They get on their high horse and … they continue and continue and continue. At this juncture, because I am the newest member of the board, I’m just going to say no. I’m going to decline having an open forum until I get my feet a little more wet in the matters as they pertain to the board.”

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