New Saranac Lake Village Board gets to work
Appointments approved, new public comment and board rules discussed
SARANAC LAKE — The village’s new mayor and trustees were sworn in at an organizational meeting on Monday.
The agenda and town hall auditorium were both full as Saranac Lake’s new Mayor Jimmy Williams, new Trustee Matt Scollin and returning Trustee, Kelly Brunette, who won reelection, were sworn in. Some of their first acts included approving a slate of people Williams appointed to official positions in the village and discussing changes to village operations.
The board approved Williams’ appointments to nine positions — Trustee Tom Catillaz as deputy mayor, Kareen Tyler as village clerk, Erik Stender as village manager, Lidia O’Kelly as treasurer, Patrick Murphy as deputy clerk and deputy treasurer, Allie Pelletieri as the development board chair, Dan Reilly as an alternate on the development board, Ray Scollin as the health officer and Fisher, Bessette, Muldowney and McArdle as village attorney.
Three of the appointments — manager, treasurer and deputy treasurer — were made for a three-month interim period with conditions that the village accept applications for these jobs from May 4 until June 22 to make the process more “transparent and fair.”
“Some of the board members felt like we owed that to Saranac Lake and I agreed,” Williams said.
All the appointments were unanimous — save for Reilly, whose appointment received a “no” vote from Catillaz.
“That was my choice,” Catillaz later said.
Matt Scollin also didn’t vote on the appointment of his father, Ray.
“I think I have to recuse myself from this one,” Matt said.
“Good job,” Tyler said.
“If I get a ‘good job’ from Kareen I’m starting off on the right foot,” Scollin said later.
Ray swore Scollin in as a new trustee, an experience both of them said was special. Matt’s son, who was at the meeting, is 7 years old, the same age Matt was when Ray joined the board of trustees.
Other village discussion
Shapiro said with lots of code revamping coming up in the village, its attorney will be putting in lots of hours. He wondered if there is a cap on the fees the law firm can charge. Williams said there’s not and Shapiro wondered how the village will budget for that. Williams said they’ll look at that in their next budget meeting.
The village’s former legal firm, Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna, ended its engagement with the village last week in an effort to help make the administrative transition smooth.
Williams said he wanted to change the village’s legal representation. He also said he wants to consolidate what the new firm does.
The village previously chose to delegate union negotiation and police disciplinary cases to a different law firm. Because these cases don’t go to the village’s legal firm, it doesn’t get a discounted rate. Williams said he wants “more continuity” in the legal firm representing the village in most of its legal matters.
Stender, who started working as the interim village manager Tuesday morning, said he believes he’s “the right person for this job.” He said his first day was “not unlike any other first day on the job,” filled with meeting people and learning things.
He was born and raised in Saranac Lake, moved away to serve in the Navy, then moved back in 2019. Stender said he never left mentally, though. He said through the sign and contracting businesses he owns, he’s got experience in managing.
The board also approved Williams’ idea for a “Help Desk” task force, which he said will be organized to give prompt responses to village residents’ concerns, requests and questions.
Williams said all the questions coming into the village are too many for he and Stender to handle alone and he doesn’t want any of them to fall through the cracks.
Praise for interim appointees
Before Stender was approved on Monday, Jason Smith vouched for his friend.
“Erik talks about Saranac Lake like it’s his best friend,” Smith said. “He loves the buildings, the stories, the signs, the lakes, the porches, the characters, the bootleggers and the scientists.”
He said Stender genuinely believes in what he does, whether it’s making bee boxes to do his part for the environment or showing up to a friend’s house with organized boxes of all the right tools to repair a heater.
“He doesn’t stop working,” Smith said.
Smith said Stender is resourceful, too.
When he had to remove 100 gallons of heating oil from a tank he was replacing, Smith said Stender bought the oil from his customers, then turned around and gave it to people he knew were low on oil winter, and then gave the tank to someone in need of a new one.
Katie Uhlaender, a five-time Olympic skeleton racer living in Saranac Lake, said she met Stender while working for Smith’s arborist company, Avalon, and was impressed with his work ethic. She said, like the red hearts Gail Brill has distributed around town, he represents the love people have for Saranac Lake.
Village resident Trevor Sussy spoke to support the appointments, especially Murphy. He worked with Murphy on the village’s police interface committee. Sussy said Murphy is well-connected in the village. Sussy also said he’s known Stender since they were young and that the interim village manager is analytical and thorough.
Former Trustee Melinda Little, who lost her bid for mayor against Williams in the March 15 election, spoke to support his appointments, especially Murphy. She’s worked with him before and said he has experience in a time when the board has new members and needs it.
Harrietstown Councilman Howard Riley gave his support for the new board. He said he’s glad Tyler is staying on as village clerk. She’s been there since he was in the village government.
Harrietstown Supervisor Jordanna Mallach, addressing the new members of the board, said the job of public service in government can be “thankless” but “rewarding.”
Williams chose to not adopt Robert’s Rules of Order, the standard list of procedural rules which most municipal governments use to guide their meetings. He feels Robert’s Rules add “unnecessary confusion” for the public attending board meetings.
Shapiro wondered how meetings will be run.
“Just like this,” Williams said, adding that Robert’s Rules are not recommended by the New York Conference of Mayors.
Shapiro said the village needs a system. NYCOM recommends having a set of procedures, he said — to facilitate discussion and order how motions are made and tabled.
“There have to be rules to a meeting,” Shapiro said.
He said he wants concrete rules so board actions are consistent and fair. Williams proposed creating a set of less complex in-house rules.
“Why don’t you and I work on those,” Williams said to Shapiro.
New public comment rules
Williams extended public comment time limits per person from three minutes to five and introduced a second time for public comment at the end of the meeting.
This second session was appreciated by village resident Fred Balzac, who speaks at village meetings often. He said he had hopes for a chance for the public to have dialogue with the board.
Williams, responding to Balzac, said the new public comment rules allow for that. Before, the rules said response by the board should generally be given after the meeting, except in cases of purely factual information. Now, the rules provide more leeway for members of the board to discuss things with someone there and then.
Shapiro also pointed out that people can always talk with trustees after meetings and much of their contact information is public.