Knox residents file complaint with attorney general's office over proposed district

Enterprise file photo — H. Rose Schneider

Brigitte McAuliffe, with her hand raised, expresses concern about a proposed business district in the town of Knox at a town board meeting in June. This month, she and Shawn McAuliffe filed a complaint over the town board’s decision to forward a plan to the town and county planning boards to create a multi-use district in place of the proposed business district without a map or public comment.

KNOX — Two Knox residents, Brigitte and Shawn McAuliffe, have filed public integrity complaints with the New York State Attorney General’s Office against the town board over its vote to move forward on a multi-use recreational district.

The McAuliffes emailed the town board members last Thursday, stating the complaint is based on the motion Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis made at the Aug. 14 town board meeting to forward to the town and county planning boards his “latest proposed MRD district somewhere near the intersection of Routes 156 and 157, despite the lack of a map being made available to the public and allowing the public to comment on said map before such a vote took place.”

The board passed the motion, 4 to 1, with Councilman Earl Barcomb casting the sole dissenting vote.

In the past, Barcomb told The Enterprise this week, proposed districts were generated by the planning board and were drawn from the comprehensive plan.

“Ideally you’d think the comprehensive plan would be driving the future of this town,” he said.

A process to update the quarter-century-old Knox comprehensive plan stalled when the longtime supervisor was ousted by Lefkaditis three years ago.

The attorney general’s office did not respond to calls and emails for confirmation of the complaint before press time.

Town attorney Javid Afzali said he had not confirmed anything with the attorney general’s office, and declined to comment on whether the complaint is valid or if the board’s decision violated any laws. He said that the town board would be discussing the complaint at the next town board meeting, on Sept. 12.

“The board can’t take action without it being in a public meeting,” Afzali said.

According to the attorney general’s website, the office’s public integrity bureau investigates government corruption, fraud, and abuse of authority, in order to “restore the public’s interest in honest government and the integrity of government officials at the state and local level.” Complaints are reviewed by the bureau to either be investigated or referred to another office.

Lefkaditis had introduced the proposed multi-use district at the board’s June meeting, after moving to withdraw a prior application for a business district that he had been pushed for years — it had been voted against twice by both the town board and the planning board.

At public hearings for the proposed business district in the months prior, Brigitte McAuliffe was one of several people living in the district, to be near the intersection of routes 156 and 157, who was critical of it. Lefkaditis had said his introduction of a multi-use district was to appease concerns about what businesses would be allowed there, such as gas stations and dry-cleaners, which are not allowed in a multi-use district.

Lefkaditis did not respond to a phone call and an email before press time.

At the June town board meeting, Afzali had said the proposed district would need to be applied for with a completely new application, followed by going before the town board before being forwarded to the town and county planning boards.

“All we’ve done now is preliminary stuff,” Councilman Dennis Barber told The Enterprise this week. He said he has “mixed opinions” about the proposed district, but said he voted in favor of forwarding it to the two planning boards in order to “move things along” in the decision-making process.

Barber said that the board had provided a map of the proposed business district, which he said was very similar to the multi-use district.

Barcomb, on the other hand, said this week that he didn’t see the reason to rush through the process of deciding on the proposed district, which was why he said he voted against forwarding it to the planning boards. Barcomb had previously served on the Knox Planning Board.

“I’m not sure of the legality of it,” he said, of the McAuliffes’ complaint. “But I certainly think there is more that we can involve and keep the public informed.”

While Barcomb said that a public hearing is not necessary, he said the McAuliffes’ criticism of a lack of transparency seems valid. Barcomb was critical of the lack of a map of the newly proposed district on the town’s website.

He also said that the difference between the proposed multi-use recreational district and a business district was discussed at the town board’s July meeting, but that there was no discussion of the boundaries for the MRD. Town board members received lot numbers in the proposed district just days before the vote was made, Barcomb said.

Both Barber and Barcomb had voted against introducing the multi-use district in June.

Karl Pritchard, another town board member, declined to comment until he had heard back from the town’s attorney. Councilman Kenneth Saddlemire could not be reached for comment.

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