Supervisor votes with Knox board to censure himself for lying

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Councilman Kenneth Saddlemire, left, and Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis review plans for a proposed community center at the town park.

KNOX — Last Tuesday, the Knox Town Board unanimously voted on a resolution to censure the supervisor for lying about the completion of past years’ annual reports. Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis voted with the rest of the board to censure himself.

A vote of censure is an official reprimand or condemnation for improper conduct.

The resolution was introduced by Councilman Earl Barcomb, a Democrat, at the April town board meeting, stating that Lefkaditis, a Democrat elected on the Republican ticket, had said multiple times last year that the 2016 and 2017 annual reports — the first ones he would have filed in his first term as supervisor — had been submitted when actually they had not been filed. The resolution also states that Lefkaditis violated state law in not submitting them on time.

“What’s it mean?” asked Councilman Karl Pritchard, one of Lefkaditis’s GOP running mates.

“It means Earl is running in November,” said Lefkaditis.

The supervisor, Barcomb, and Councilman Dennis Barber are all running for reelection this year.

Barcomb said at the meeting that he felt strongly the board needs to know the truth, and said that the censure would put the issue of the annual reports to rest and also show the board does not condone what had been done.

“CliffNotes version: campaigning,” said the supervisor.

Lefkaditis ultimately voted in favor of the resolution, saying he was not afraid to apologize.

Pritchard said on Wednesday that he didn’t really understand the resolution, but said that it seemed like the right thing to do.

“People make mistakes,” he said, when asked about Lefkaditis’s actions involving the annual reports. “No one is perfect.”

Barcomb said on Wednesday that he tried to make the resolution’s message clear.

“We couldn’t just let it slide,” he said, of the supervisor’s lying about the reports.

The town — of which Lefkaditis is the chief financial officer — had submitted its 2016 annual financial report to the New York State Comptroller’s Office on Feb. 13, 2019. Knox is now scheduled to be audited by the comptroller’s office because neither the 2016 or 2017 reports were submitted by October of last year.

Lefkaditis had said at past meetings that the 2016 report was filed in 2017 and that the 2017 report was given an extension to be filed in 2018. The 2016 report was actually filed hours before the town board’s Feb. 13, 2019 meeting.

On Wednesday, Lefkaditis said in an email to The Enterprise that the resolution served as a reminder that he needed to be careful of what he said in public meetings, later adding that he had been under the impression that the 2016 report had been submitted by the town’s bookkeeper.

“I’m actually grateful to Mr. Barcomb for presenting it and the board for supporting it … ,” he wrote. “The accusations of lying however are upsetting and unfortunately in my opinion politically calculated.”

When asked in a phone conversation about the May 2018 minutes, in which it is reported that he said the 2016 report was filed in 2017, Lefkaditis told The Enterprise that he was referring to filing an extension for the 2016 report in 2017.

The Office of the New York State Comptroller requires that a town like Knox — with a population of less than 5,000 — file within 60 days after the end of the fiscal year on Dec. 31, meaning that an annual report would be due by March 1. A town may file for a 60-day extension during that time via a written request during the original filing period, extending that deadline to May 1.

Knox resident Bridget McAuliffe, a Republican, told The Enterprise on April 24 that, while Lefkaditis had filed an extension for the 2016 report in 2017, she said the comptroller’s office told her a year ago that no extension had been filed for the annual report.

McAuliffe also said that Lefkaditis’s statement that he was referring to the extension for the 2016 report was not accurate, because in April 2018 he had said to her at a town board meeting that the reports were on file.

Brian M. Butry of the New York State Comptroller’s Office said in an email answering Enterprise questions that the town of Knox filed for and received extensions for the 2016, 2017, and 2018 reports. The town has filed the 2016 and 2017 annual reports this year, and has a deadline of May 1 to file the 2018 annual report.

“We don’t track the exact dates for when the extensions were requested, only if they were granted,” Butry said.

The comptroller’s audit of Knox, triggered by the lack of annual reports, has not yet been initiated, Butry said. Typically, these reviews can take up to nine months to be completed.

At the February meeting, Jean Gagnon — a Democrat and former town justice — submitted a letter written by McAuliffe documenting nine months of inquiries McAuliffe had made to Lefkaditis about the annual reports. McAuliffe had included a statement from Lefkaditis in April 2018 saying that the town’s annual reports were on file and reiterating this the following month. Gagnon noted in her own statement that the meeting minutes from May of last year confirm this.

The letter from McAuliffe became a subject of debate when it was not included in the February meeting minutes. At the board’s March meeting, the board had approved a policy that the town clerk would not include letters submitted for the record as an addendum to the minutes, but rather have them accessible in a separate section on the town’s website.

The procedure agreed upon in March was overturned at the April meeting in a 3-to-2 vote, with the three GOP running mates — Lefkaditis, Pritchard, and Kenneth Saddlemire — voting against the two Democratic board members: Barcomb and Barber.

Instead, the original policy submitted by the town clerk — who also ran on the GOP ticket in 2017 — was enacted: Submitted letters will be kept on file by the clerk and be made available upon request.

During the discussion, Lefkaditis referred to Barcomb’s mention last month of a letter written two years ago by Josh VonHaugg, who was out of town attending college, which Lefkaditis had read out loud at a town board meeting although board members already had copies of the letter. The crowd applauded and cheered as Lefkaditis read the letter with some calling out derisive comments about then-Councilwoman Amy Pokorny.

The letter was critical of Pokorny’s initiative in securing a grant for a Knox charging station for electric vehicles. The station would have been the fourth and final action item to qualify for a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority $100,000 grant. Pokorny had spearheaded Knox’s actions to get the grants, which was essentially a race against other similar-sized towns across the state.

While the board did not initiate the grant for the EV charging station — Pokorny couldn’t even get a second on her motion —  she oversaw submission of the NYSERDA grant, with another action item, in time for Knox to be one of four municipalities to qualify for the competitive $100,000 grant. At the April 9 meeting, Saddlemire said that an energy audit to receive the grant, which has since been increased to $130,000, has been completed.

Lefkaditis asked, on April 9, that Barcomb apologize to his family for calling him a hypocrite last month when referring to his reading the letter from VonHaugg. Lefkaditis said that, while he read VonHaugg’s letter out loud, he had asked that it not be included in the minutes, referencing an email in which he wrote to the town clerk at the time, saying, “... The nature of the letter was such that no one (especially the town) will be served by memorializing it in the minutes.”

Barcomb said he was referencing the minutes that stated Lefkaditis submitted the letter for the record. Lefkaditis then displayed an email sent by Barcomb following the meeting two years ago, suggesting that some letters not be read out loud.

“My position is that 2017 Barcomb is correct; 2019 Barcomb, for whatever reason, was not correct,” said the supervisor, who then proceeded to make the motion to rescind last month’s resolution on meeting minutes. However, last month’s resolution wasn’t about reading letters out loud; it was about making letters accessible online.

After the March letters policy was rescinded, Barcomb introduced two resolutions that would add McAuliffe’s letter as well as a letter from Joan Adriance from the February meeting to the meeting minutes. Adriance — who is running for town clerk and whose husband was fired by the town board from his transfer station job — submitted a letter asking when the town clerk would take training in order to issue hunting licenses and about the pay rate of park laborers.

A motion to table Barcomb’s resolutions passed, 3 to 2, with the vote again split along party lines. Saddlemire said he would have to review the letters before making a decision on whether to add the statements to the minutes. Barcomb told The Enterprise on Wednesday that he hopes, even if it does not pass at the next meeting, that the resolution — which includes each of the letters in its text — will be a part of the minutes.

McAuliffe later asked that Lefkaditis apologize to her for his dismissal of her concerns. He said he would apologize, to applause from residents in the gallery.

Other business

In addition, the board also:

— Heard from Doug Roether, the town’s zoning board chairman and a committee member for the town’s playground project, that the committee was now considering building a community center at the town park using grant money;

— Discussed interviewing applicants for the role of town assessor. The current assessor, Russell Pokorny, is stepping down at the end of his term in September and is running for supervisor;

— Heard from Saddlemire about initiatives that the town’s Agricultural Advisory Committee is exploring, such as Annie’s Project, which provides support to women in agriculture. Saddlemire is the board’s liaison to the committee. The board also appointed Joshua Rockwood, Jonathan Lane, Jay Francis, Jessica Gaige, and Brian Wilson to the committee;

— Heard from Pritchard, the board’s liaison for the town’s transfer station, that dumping fees at the Rapp Road Landfill increased to $62 with no cap. On Wednesday he added that they’ve continued to climb. Town Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury, who also oversees the transfer station, later said that he hopes to save money on recycling electronics by having town workers break down the discarded items themselves, although this would have to be added to the standard operating procedures;

— Heard from Lefkaditis that potential litigation related to efforts to expand broadband in town would need to be discussed in executive session. Lefkaditis also said that the recently issued opinion by the county’s Department of Civil Service on whether former transfer station workers should have been fired would be discussed then as well; and

— Heard from Knox resident Ed Ackroyd that entries for banners for the town’s Hometown Heroes Committee need to be submitted by the end of the month.

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