Thank you, Saranac Lake

Thank you, people of Saranac Lake, for allowing me to serve as your trustee on the Saranac Lake Village Board for the past eight years. I will always appreciate having worked for you, doing my very best day-in and day-out. Fall down a few times? Yes, I did. I am human. I am sorry for those moments, but I was always honest. Please also know that I gave it my all, staying true to an open, transparent government, and doing the right thing.

When I was first elected to the board in 2016, the mayor and other trustees worked in unity, as a team. Trustees were informed and included in the decision and policy making process. Our opinions were sought, and we formed a consensus under real leadership. The village manager (VM) then carried out the board’s policies. That is how our village was meant to be governed as Saranac Lake voted for a village manager form of government in 1929. The VM was and is the chief executive officer, not the mayor. The village board, comprising the mayor and four trustees, was the guiding force. We did not have a mayor who tried to re-invent the village management chart so he could rule without board oversight and direction. We were all equals, and we all contributed our experience and skills to the issues.

We did well for Saranac Lake. We kept our tax rate under the tax cap every year. We added acreage to the village, including AMA, the landfill area and parts west of our village. We secured the $10 million DRI, we paved street after street, established a sidewalk rebuild bond program, we created special events such the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and we boosted affordable housing by helping to broker the deal to build 67 new units behind Adirondack Tire. We hosted the World Snowshoe Championships. We gained more citizen input by establishing the Downtown Advisory Board, the Parks and Trails Advisory Board and the Arts and Culture Board. We helped with the resurrection of the Hotel Saranac and the building of the Waterfront Lodge. We brought two biotech companies to our downtown — both still maintaining a presence in our area through their successors. We also left the current board with a huge fund balance that could be used to reduce taxes, with millions of dollars allocated for a new public safety facility and a new fire ladder truck. Good things happened each day because it was a team effort, and our input was always part of the process.

The last two years of my tenure were not this way. The board was labeled dysfunctional, and we were. We did not have the leadership to bring everyone together, respecting our opinions and abiding by the village manager form of government. Very little information was shared with the board, and when it was, it was usually at the last moment.

Instead, we have a mayor ignoring board input or counsel, living outside the village, nearly two miles away, receiving tax exemptions attributable to this, his “primary home.” He is also the subject of a potentially expensive Notice of Claim where the claimant, our former VM, alleges he was grabbed by the throat by this mayor in the village office hallway. He also announced to the board that reviewing the budget line-by-line was a “waste of time.” These facts are not good and emphasize the dire need we have for transparency in our village government that is so lacking now.

I leave knowing I did my best. I made some mistakes along the way for which I am sorry. I also leave hoping the incoming board can right our listing ship, restore board participation in village government, rein in the proposed runaway budget, and set the tone for making Saranac Lake the best it can be. I wish the two new incoming board members success in this quest.

Thank you again, Saranac Lake. As I say goodbye from the board, I stand ready to help our village in any way I can.

— — —

Rich Shapiro is a former member of the Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees. He lives in Saranac Lake. This commentary was submitted on March 31, the final day of Shapiro’s term.


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