New board, new changes
Saranac Lake’s new mayor and trustees were officially sworn in at the village’s annual organizational meeting this past Monday. They wasted no time in making some changes.
Faced with nine positions to fill, Mayor Jimmy Williams offered up a list of names that includes a mix of newcomers and people who’ve already served the village for many years. He picked Saranac Lake native Erik Stender, a Navy veteran and local businessowner, to serve as the village’s new manager; Trustee Tom Catillaz as his deputy mayor; Allie Pelletieri as the chair of the Development Board and this year’s Winter Carnival king, Dan Reilly, as an alternate board member; Lidia O’Kelly as treasurer and Patrick Murphy as deputy clerk and deputy treasurer; and Fisher, Bessette, Muldowney and McArdle as village attorney. He also decided to reappoint longtime village Clerk Kareen Tyler and the village’s health officer, Ray Scollin, who has served the village throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
The village board took an interesting step with three of these appointments. The village’s manager, treasurer and deputy treasurer were brought in on an interim basis, in an effort to make the hiring process more “transparent and fair.” With positions as important as these, that makes sense — but we think if the village board is taking this step now, it shouldn’t be a one-off. The village should strive to make the hiring process for these jobs more “transparent and fair” every time.
Williams also chose not to adopt Robert’s Rules of Order, a set of procedural guidelines that date back to 1876 — they’re essentially the set structure of every board meeting. Trustee Rich Shapiro raised some concerns over this, saying that “there have to be rules to a meeting,” and we think his concerns are understandable. Public meetings could become unnecessarily confusing and unproductive without a set of guidelines in place.
Williams suggested that he and Shapiro work on a less complex set of rules together. As they work on new rules, we hope that the ultimate outcome is a system that allows trustees to openly discuss ideas and share their opinions during board meetings, whether in response to residents or about a resolution on the docket. The public deserves to hear the back-and-forth between board members — they deserve to have the opportunity to see not just that the board has come to a consensus, but how the board comes to a consensus. Too often, we see boards vote on things without much public discussion at all, which is sometimes evidence that they’ve hashed things out elsewhere, out of the public eye. Lawmakers may think that projects an image of solidarity among the board, but we would argue that what it really projects is an image of a system where the public is shut out, where decisions are made without much discussion, and disagreement is discouraged, even if that may not be the reality.
In proposing a new set of rules, a new “Help Desk” task force to find answers to resident questions more quickly, and by doubling the number of public comment periods in village board meetings and extending the time limit on public comment from three minutes to five all in his first meeting, it’s clear that Williams is eager to effect change quickly and wants residents to feel that their voices are being heard.
Abrupt change can be comforting to some and jarring to others. There’s no way to make everyone happy. Time will show what works and what doesn’t. Our hope is the new administration takes advice from those with expertise, keeps in mind what was promised to voters, and always keeps the channels of communication open, even to its critics.