Vote split on new DPW commish

The Enterprise — Tyler Murphy

At his desk: Wayne LaChappelle has met with Town Hall staff to define the work he’ll do in the newly created post of commissioner of public works for New Scotland.

NEW SCOTLAND — To help manage the town’s expanding infrastructure, New Scotland has hired a commissioner of public works, Wayne LaChappelle, to oversee sewer and water developments.

The board approved the hiring in an Aug. 14 vote where four council members, Supervisor Thomas Dolin, William Hennessy, Douglas LaGrange, and Patricia Snyder, voted in favor, with one member, Daniel Mackay, opposed. (All of the board members, except LaGrange, are Democrats, as is LaChappelle.)

The board reported it had received five applications for the position and interviewed each candidate before narrowing a final selection to three remaining contenders.

“I would prefer an alternate in this position,” Mackay told the board.

Speaking after the meeting, Mackay said the other two applicants included a resident of New Scotland and one who lived out of town but in Albany County.

“Both with very different experiences relative to the position but they had long established backgrounds in public project management and sewer and water issues and water quality standards,” he said.

Mackay said LaChappelle had “hands-on construction management and equipment experience,” and “certainly had the potential qualifications for the position,” but added that he preferred a candidate with more experience in getting a newly created municipal organization off the ground.

LaChappelle is a retired town of Bethlehem police officer who worked in law enforcement for 26 years. In 2003, he made an unsuccessful run for town supervisor on the Democratic line. Earlier that same year, he was appointed to the zoning board of appeals, after having been on the town’s water committee. For the last 10 years, he has also been a contractor operating the Wayne Site Development Service.

After New Scotland implemented a new attendance policy last year that limited absences for town officials, LaChappelle resigned from his zoning board post earlier this year before the town board could review his reported lack of attendance, which could have led to his removal.

He cited personal medical reason for the absences and told The Enterprise earlier this month he also left the zoning board so he could seek the position of public works commissioner.

Mackay said the past attendance issues were “a concern” that had not been discussed during the Aug. 14 public meeting but were talked about behind closed doors in a prior executive session.

Residents at the public meeting, such as Anne Carson, Timothy Stanton, and Sharon Boehlke, asked if LaChappelle were receiving disability benefits and wondered if his physical status would impact his new duties.

Dolin confirmed LaChappelle was on disability, but noted he ran a construction business. He also said the commissioner’s job did not involve a lot of physical labor but was a lot of paperwork.

After a series of related questions about disability, board members shied away from the subject with LaGrange saying, “Legally, I don’t know if that’s a question we can ask; personally, I don’t think it’s one we should be asking.”

The town attorney, Michael Naughton, agreed and interrupted further discussions, noting New York State law forbids such discriminations and recommended the board not discuss that personnel matter in public.

“I’m not sure this is something the board can really address here,” Naughton advised.

LaGrange assured residents though, by saying, “He serves at the pleasure of the board. If there are any conflicts, we can address it then.”

During the public comment period, Stanton, who had run for town board on the Republican line, also questioned the wisdom of creating any new municipal jobs.

“I find it really disturbing to see yet another position in town government get created that’s growth is basically stagnant,” he said.

For more than a year, the town has been discussing the possibility of creating a new position to absorb some of the highway superintendent’s duties, particularly relating to expanding sewer and water developments.

Discussions began in earnest after the former highway superintendent of 18 years, Darrell Duncan, left the town for a job as head of Albany County Public Works in March 2012.

Dolin said Duncan had filled a burgeoning niche as the town’s highway superintendent during his near two decades on the job.

Dolin enumerated the highway superintendent’s responsibilities, which included managing the town’s parks, buildings, roads, transfer station, vehicles, buses, sewer and water, trash collection, animal control, and disaster relief.

“He probably spent as much time outside of being superintendent of highways as he did inside. Mr. Duncan was the kind of guy who worked 24-7,” said Dolin. “We came to the conclusion this job was really too big for any one person.”

At the start of the year, the town budgeted for the new part-time position, which requires about 20 hours a week. The salary is $23,490.

Dolin said it was likely the town would have a large part of the annual salary left over at the end of the year since LaChappelle was hired in August.

LaGrange indicated the job’s responsibilities may demand more time than the board had allotted for.

“I personally think it’s going to take over 20 hours,” he said.  He suggested the remaining salary funds might give the town leeway in expanding the hours.

Mackay said he would be opposed to expanding any compensation or duties until it becomes clear how the new department functions under the current duties.

“I’m not willing to allocate any more funds to the position, or should the board, until we evaluate the workload and insert the public commissioner into the sewer and water responsibilities,” said Mackay, adding, “Even if the funds were available.”

LaChappelle, who was at the meeting, shrugged off any tension over Mackay’s concerns, saying he looked forward to working with the board and respected the process.

“Checks and balances, that’s what it’s about. Dan has been a real professional — respectful. I’m happy as a resident that he’s on the board,” he told The Enterprise.

“I enjoy the small-town atmosphere,” he said. “I will never have a closed-door policy.”

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