Responding to the negative attacks

I am writing to respond to the negative attacks against me during the village election campaign. I had chosen not to respond during the campaign based on my pledge to remain positive and because of my hope that the mayor would ask supporters of his preferred candidates to refrain from such political attacks. What unfortunately occurred was an orchestrated, one-sided political attack, both in letters to the editor to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and on Facebook, that culminated in a paid advertisement in the Enterprise the day before the election. I respect the choice of the voters but owe to my family, supporters and critics to now respond to these negative attacks.

¯ For anyone wondering if I am a “quitter,” I left the village board in 2019 after seven-and-a-half years of hard work and accomplishment at the same time I retired from New York state with 30 years of public service in order to accept a great job with the Albany law firm I still work with. For my new job, I had to spend the first several months in Albany and was told that I could not attend village board meetings remotely, so I resigned after Tom Catillaz agreed to finish my term.

¯ During a village board workshop on STRs in early 2023, the mayor called the police to remove me from the meeting. The mayor did not want me to participate in the discussion, but the trustees did. According to the story in the Enterprise, the “rest of the village board either outright opposed Williams’ removal of Van Cott from the meeting, or did not want him to go that far.” I left the meeting and waited for the police on the street to let them know it was only me. Afterwards, I apologized to the board for speaking out of turn, even though the situation was confusing. The mayor overreacted in a way that I have never seen from a municipal leader. To me, he was threatened by the idea of my participating in the STR discussions and the preference of the trustees that I be allowed to participate.

¯ In 2009, while at Adirondack Park Agency, I called a member of the public a “sociopath” in an email. The person involved had been the subject of an APA enforcement action and was meddling in another enforcement action that he had no connection to. He sent me many harassing emails and even threatened me and my family. My mistake was in taking the bait and responding to his emails in frustration, which I apologized to the APA Chair for having done. After my email, the person continued his relentless attack on APA and me. To diffuse the situation, the agency sped up a planned transition for me to a new role managing APA’s attorneys and leading the agency’s hearing team in the Adirondack Club and Resort project in Tupper Lake. I enjoyed that role until I retired from APA in 2019 with 30 years of public service.

When I decided to run for trustee earlier this year, I never expected to be the target of negative campaigning. Anyone who knows me knows that my offer to serve was entirely out of love for the village and not at the behest of anyone or with any agenda beyond serving in a way that would make my family proud. Having just turned 65, with 40-plus years of combined, exemplary government service for the village and New York state, I simply thought that I could add value to the next village board in ways that no other candidate could. I even reached out to the mayor, who did not respond, and I publicly said repeatedly that the first thing I would do if elected would be to sit down with him and talk about how we could work together to help the village board govern constructively and positively for the betterment of our community.

For the future, I encourage Saranac Lakers to avoid negative political attacks during campaigns. We are neighbors and if there are questions about a candidate, we owe it to each other to talk and to try to work through any questions or differences. I repeatedly invited anyone with concerns or questions about my candidacy to contact me. Negative campaigning is hurtful and can damage people’s reputations, especially when, like here, only one side of the facts is provided and no opportunity is possible for a response to a one-sided negative campaign ad on the day before the election. We should be better than that and should work together to keep the negative, divisive politics that fuels some of our national leaders out of Saranac Lake. Negative campaigning among neighbors has no place in Saranac Lake, particularly from and towards those of us who act out of love for our village.

Lastly, these are my parting thoughts for the mayor and the next village board on how to govern positively and constructively for the betterment of the village. For the past two years, the village board has been consumed by an apparent power struggle between the mayor and the four trustees. As the chair of the board, the mayor has more responsibility for addressing this dysfunction than anyone else.

Going forward, my recommendation is for the mayor to treat the trustees as equal partners in figuring out how best to govern as a team. Each member of the board has an equal vote and equal responsibility to village residents, and that needs to be respected by the mayor. I am hopeful that the mayor will learn from the conflicts of the past two years and truly work with Aurora, Sean, Kelly and Matt to ensure that the village board is not just about power politics and controlling three votes to “win” on specific issues. Instead, the mayor should lead by making sure there is always open and constructive dialogue between board members, based on mutual respect, shared information and responsibility, and compromise where needed. In addition, there needs to be greater transparency among board members and for the public. A village board that hits these marks for good government will have the best chance of working together to make well-reasoned, common-sense decisions for the village we love.

Thank you for considering my thoughts.

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Paul Van Cott is an attorney with 40-plus years of experience and has served in various capacities over the years such as Saranac Lake village trustee, Saranac Lake village attorney and New York state government manager/attorney. He is a resident of Saranac Lake.


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