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Progressives push Saranac Lake board to act on racism and more

Social distancing is practiced at Monday night’s meeting of the Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees. (Enterprise photo — Amy Scattergood)

SARANAC LAKE — On Monday evening, the Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees held its first in-person meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down gatherings in March.

Over 40 people convened at the Harrietstown Town Hall auditorium — masks in place, chairs separated, a hand sanitizer station at the door — as the board met to take up the business that had been conducted via Zoom in the intervening weeks.

With Mayor Clyde Rabideau presiding over the five-member board, the meeting began quietly. The conversation was often muffled by masks, even as the audience grew almost to its 50-person state-mandated capacity, filled with a noticeably younger crowd that included some small children.

Papers rustled — what would turn out to be the printed-out, impassioned speeches and comments from members of High Peaks DSA, the new, local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, and Sunrise Adirondack, the local chapter of the Sunrise Movement climate change advocacy group.

But first, business. Among the various bills approved was one authorizing diversity training for village employees. Elaine Taylor-Wilde was appointed and Shaun Kittle and Emilie Allen were reappointed to the Arts and Culture Advisory Board; trustees Melinda Little and Patrick Murphy were appointed as liaisons for Groups Utilizing Village Property for Expression.

A sand screening bid (the only one) was awarded to T&T Leasing of Plattsburgh Inc.; Scooters Cleaning Service was authorized to clean the village police department; and the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton Board of Cooperative Educational Services has been contracted to do a silviculture analysis of plots in Mount Pisgah Park.

After some discussion about sidewalk chalk art, which was eventually tabled, the floor was opened to public comment, and over a dozen people lined up to take the mic.

One after another, residents of Saranac Lake and surrounding communities urged the Board of Trustees to take action against racism that has taken center stage nationally, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, and locally, after racist graffiti was found spray-painted on a local bridge. Nicky Hylton-Patterson, director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, decided to move out of Saranac Lake as a result, although she will continue her job based here.

“We must stand up. Not to say that we care, but to actually do something about it,” said Sarah Curtis of Saranac Lake, the first to take the floor.

As the speeches continued, the issues spread out to encompass four recommendations that High Peaks DSA and Sunrise Adirondack had come to the meeting to present: addressing the use of a commons as a space to express free speech; a statement from the board demanding clemency for inmates at Adirondack Correctional Facility in nearby Ray Brook, which the state recently converted from a teenage prison to one for men 55 and older; an immediate stop to the development of the Adirondack Pregnancy Center in Saranac Lake; and the creation of a community health worker program staffed by two “municipally funded and culturally competent” community health workers.

“We’ve been organizing around these issues for the last five months,” said High Peaks DSA co-chair Erin Cass the next day by phone. High Peaks DSA organized a Black Lives Matter protest in Saranac Lake.

“When we saw the signs,” Cass said of “Racism is a public health crisis” banners that are now up around town, “we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t an empty gesture. There’s a real lack of public resources in our area, and we wanted to offer the village board some real tangible solutions not just generalized ideas.”

Stepping up to the podium, Danielle Delaini, also of Saranac Lake, said: “This is an urgent crisis that needs to be treated as such.” She had brought her two young children to the meeting. “Please act as though you might when a sewer main has broken.”

The next meeting of the Board of Trustees will be held on July 27. Cass says members of her group will attend — especially as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order on police reform will also be on the village board’s agenda — and plans to contact board members in the interim.

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