After one year

Laub booted off Westerlo Planning Board

WESTERLO — Leonard Laub, the chairman of the town’s planning board, was removed from office Tuesday night.  After holding a public hearing, the town board’s vote was unanimous. 

Laub, who was appointed as the planning-board chairman just a year ago, has not filled out a Civil Service application, a requirement that town officials have said has long been in place. 

After the town board dissolved the planning board 15 years ago because developers complained about delays, it set up a planning board last year with Laub as its chair.  Under Laub, the board has started a process to create Westerlo’s first comprehensive land-use plan. 

A January letter from Laub to the town board says he consulted the state’s Office of the State Comptroller and Department of State; in his discussions with both, he said, it is his understanding that, when not taking compensation, the only document needed for his position is the oath of office, which he took one year ago. 

In February, as Westerlo did not have a written policy for the application, the town board passed a resolution for all hired and appointed employees to fill out the form. 

“This matter came up right at the end of December, before the next fiscal year came about, which was Jan. 1,” said the town’s attorney, Aline Galgay.  “This all started the beginning of December, to get this all squared away, so it was in place for the next fiscal year.”

At its re-organizational meeting, on Jan. 1, the town board appointed members to the town’s various boards and set the chairman of the planning board’s salary at $4,500.

Laub declined the pay. 

Since appointing Laub to the planning board last year, the town has issued him a Civil Service application many times.  The town also issued him checks, which he returned. 

Officials have insisted employees fill out the form for financial and auditing purposes.  Laub has insisted that he doesn’t want to be an employee of the town or be compensated with pay or pension and that two state agencies he contacted have said a form isn’t necessary. 

Councilman Ed Rash said Tuesday that the form is needed for the county to recognize Laub should he go before any of its boards.  Rash said employees must be covered under the town’s insurance in case they do something wrong, and that the town’s insurance goes “skyrocketing” each year. 

“We got chastised for not being quick on getting the things back and issuing the checks,” Rash said.  “Trying to be the nice guy in a small town — you can’t do it anymore.  The state rides you…They’re right on you.”

In February, Laub had still not filled out the form.  The town board then acted on the advice of its audit consultant, Bob Fischer, and passed a resolution to make a Civil Service application a requirement for all appointed and hired employees.

“The only reason it became a resolution that the town board put into effect was because there was a situation where an individual who had been appointed for a paid position did not fill it out and our auditor wanted us to pass it as the town and send a report to the comptroller and we have issues with that, that we as a town have to deal with,” said Galgay.  “It came down to having to fill out that application.  If someone chooses not to fill it out for whatever their personal reasons are, that’s fine, but then they have to forgo being in that paid position.  Whether they accept payment or not, it is a paid position.  It is not a voluntary position.” 

If an employee chooses not to keep his salary, he is permitted, legally, to donate it back to the town, Galgay said.  “Unfortunately, the town is a municipality.  It’s not an employment organization.  We run under State Audit and Control requirements and regulations.”

Laub questioned whether the February resolution was discriminatory.  Laub said letters he had received from the town, most of them from before the town passed a resolution on Feb. 6, were “based on what turned out to be inaccurate statement of the law.” 

 “Laws are not supposed to be made about just one person,” he told The Enterprise in an e-mail message after the hearing. 

On Tuesday, Laub told the board he took the oath and signed in and didn’t hear a response to his letter to the board.  He and his wife, Bonnie Laub, disagreed sharply with officials over understandings from an interview a year ago; both said he told the board when he was interviewed that he didn’t want to be an employee of the town or be compensated.  Rash and Councilman R. Gregory Zeh Jr. said Tuesday that Laub said he wanted to donate the money back to the town. 

“Mr. Laub didn’t want to take the money, but the money was appropriated for the position,” said Rash, “so we have to hold that money through the end of the year should he change his mind at some point and want to get reimbursed.”

Richard Rapp, Westerlo’s supervisor, asked Laub at the beginning of the hearing whether he had any intention to fill out an application.  He said he did not.  Rash suggested that Laub instead serve as an advisor and a consultant to the planning board. 

Public Forum

Throughout Tuesday’s hearing, Galgay told the board that it was required to abide by the public notice it had issued and only discuss the issue that was posted. 

Before any members of the audience had spoken, Rapp said, “He leaves us no choice.  Do I hear a motion?”

“Is there going to be a public hearing?” Laub asked. 

“This is a public hearing,” Rapp responded. 

Laub asked if the public will get to address the board at any point.  “I thought that was the point of the public hearing,” he said. 

Galgay said the public is always permitted, based on the board’s decision of addressing the board.  The board has the right to determine how long any one person can speak and the subject matters on which people can speak, she said. 

“It would appear that the board, in holding a public hearing, would want to hear from the public before it took action,” Laub said. 

“While I agree with you that a public hearing is for public comment, those public comments are strictly related to the issue at hand,” said Galgay.

“You aren’t having a public hearing on whether or not enough money has been appropriated for the comp. plan,” she said.  “If you choose to ignore what I’m saying, that’s your business, but, under a public hearing notice, it’s really very important that you stick with the subject in the public hearing notice.”

Otherwise, she said, the board would be at fault for discussing something it didn’t give the remainder of the constituency an opportunity to discuss. 

Public on Laub

At the hearing, some residents advocated for Laub and questioned the recent requirement passed by the board. 

NancyQuay Milner, the wife of planning-board member, Jack Milner, said, “I have a problem with a motion being passed…I see a gentleman by the name of Leonard Laub that certainly is talented and has the time and wants to serve pro bono, and I don’t know any other organization that would not accept that offer.  It seems to me that this is a gift on a silver platter, and it’s not being accepted, and I just don’t quite understand that.”

Jack Milner said, “I think it would be a very bad mistake getting him off the planning board.  He’s got the time and he’s got the knowledge.”  Milner asked why the town board “made up the law” in February.  He demanded an answer.

“I guess nobody ever didn’t fill it out before,” said Rash.  “We were never presented with a problem before.  We’re getting checks back that we issue and we have an account and a line item in our budget that we answer to.”

Another resident said, in his 32 years as a school teacher, he has learned about peace-keeping and compromise. 

“You have a talented person here,” he said, and cited Rash’s early point of including Laub in the proceedings of the comprehensive plan in an advisory capacity and recommended constructing a resolution that would bring him on board so the community doesn’t lose his services. 

Some residents spoke in favor of officials complying with the town’s requirement. 

“If somebody is going to have a vote on something that goes on in the town, I think they should fill out the application,” said resident Edwin Stevens.  “If you’re going to sit on a board and be able to control my future, you should have to abide by what the town says.”

Another resident asked, “If the person on the planning board doesn’t have any respect for town law, why should the people in the town have any respect for the planning board’s laws?  Once they come up with the plan, we have to live with it.  We live in the town.”

Before the town board closed the hearing, Laub said he would like the town board to recognize the planning board and its role in the comprehensive plan and to “stop a limbo situation that demoralizes the planning board.” 

“I’d like to follow the laws, just as surely as you’d like to see the laws followed,” he said.  

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