North East organizes for the new year
NORTH EAST — “It’s been many years since there’s been this much of a changeover [on the Town Board], and you have our commitment we will do the utmost to make sure everything is done the way it should be,” newly elected town Supervisor John Merwin told those crowded into the Town Hall for the Town Board’s inaugural meeting on Monday, Jan. 2.
Reorganization topped the agenda. Merwin led the meeting adeptly and with good humor. Along with the requisite meeting agenda, he had copies of the adopted budget for 2012 for the audience to peruse, as well as copies of the rules and procedures for Town Board meetings.
Former town Supervisor Dave Sherman lost in November as did former Councilman Dave McGhee; former Councilman Carl Stahovec chose not to seek another term in office. Voters instead elected Merwin as supervisor and George Kaye and Ralph Fedele as councilmen.
Organizational meetings are held by municipalities at the start of the new year to take care of housekeeping items such as appointing department heads, consultants, various administrative positions, municipal salaries and wages, official depositories and newspapers, committee members, etc. Such was the case with the Jan. 2 North East meeting.
Along with the newly-elected board members, veteran Councilman Tim Shaffer was also present; Councilman Steve Merwin was not.
Appointments and compensation
At the start of the meeting Merwin appointed Shaffer as his deputy supervisor, a position that usually commands additional pay. In this instance the position will not be compensated for over and beyond what Shaffer earns as a councilman, as part of Merwin’s plan to save taxpayers money. Merwin, too, reduced his salary, from $24,890 (the currently approved supervisor’s pay) to $22,400. The formal resolution was approved unanimously by the board.
Attorney to the Town Warren Replansky was reappointed. Bookkeeper Lorna Sherman was also reappointed, at the wage of $19 an hour. Sherman was furthermore appointed budget officer for the town of North East, which pays an additional $6,345. That title and salary used to go to the town supervisor when the position was held by Sherman, but it was decided the bookkeeper should take on that role for the upcoming year.
The board voted to keep Town Board meetings to a length of no more than two hours (a stipulation that currently exists); to extend that time period a majority vote will be needed. It also voted that a quorum is necessary to go into executive session (a closed-door private session the public is not privy to). A quorum of the five-member board is three.
The supervisor also introduced a motion to create two public comment sessions at Town Board meetings — one at the start of the meeting and one at the end. Comments will be limited to five minutes per speaker and must be addressed to the board as a body, not to individuals. Later in the meeting this idea was challenged by concerned residents.
Supervisor Merwin said the town of Amenia has been holding two public comment sessions at its board meetings for years, and now North East “wants to see how this works.”
Only matters listed on the agenda may be addressed during the first public comment portion of the meeting; comments made during the second public comment session may address any topic.
After apprehension was expressed regarding the format, Merwin responded that it was “not carved in granite” and the board will experiment with the two sessions to see if they work.
“If it raises more problems than it solves we can change it,” the supervisor said.
Some members in the audience raised questions.
“If somebody has an issue, can they be put on the agenda?” asked resident Cathy Fenn. “Say someone has a problem with roads. Can they be put on the agenda?”
Before Fenn’s question could be answered, Councilman Shaffer expressed his own concerns.
“If we go up to executive session, then everybody has to wait until we come down [to remark on any given topic during the last public comment session],” he pointed out.
“Well, on the one hand we want everybody to have a chance to comment,” Merwin said, indicating the Town Board also needs to attend to town business first and foremost, before getting diverted with an open comment session. “But we also want to proceed with town business.”
“For instance, if NECC [North East Community Center] or the library or Townscape has an issue, can they be put on the agenda?” asked Fenn, returning to her earlier concern.
“Yes,” replied Merwin, closing out the discussion.
The board also settled on Thursday, Jan. 19, as the date for its next business meeting, as new members will be in training on its usually scheduled meeting night this month. The board meeting will be held in Town Hall, at 7 p.m.; the public is welcome to attend.
In February, the Town Board will return to holding its business meetings on the second Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. That schedule will continue throughout the year unless otherwise noted.