Johnsburg Town Hall
Although members of the Johnsburg Town Board approved cutting two positions from the Johnsburg Planning Board at their Sept. 3 meeting, the downsizing won’t take effect until early 2014.
Local Law No. 1 of 2013 — changing the number of Planning Board members from seven to five — was unanimously approved on Sept. 3 by the Town Board: Supervisor Ron Vanselow and councilors Gene Arsenault, Arnold Stevens, Pete Olesheski and Kate Nightingale. Yet the decision was not made without a healthy discussion during the Sept. 3 public hearing, held prior to the regular meeting.
“That wasn’t uncontroversial,” Vanselow said in a Sept. 19 phone interview. “There are some that thought ‘the more, the better,’ that you’re limiting input with only five members and maybe we should pay a stipend to the members.”
One of those dissenters, according to the public hearing minutes, was resident Bob Nessle, who suggested that Town Board members not pass the local law and asserted that a stipend for Planning Board members would motivate them to attend more meetings. Nessle is challenging Nightingale and Stevens for a seat on the Town Board during this fall’s election.
Jill Broderick also said at the public hearing that she preferred a larger Planning Board.
Current board member Curt Richards, in favor of the downsizing, said the Planning Board “needs to be able to act to allow applicants to proceed with their projects” — his words being paraphrased in the minutes — and there have been occasions recently when there was no quorum at meetings.
Supervisor Vanselow said the goal of the downsizing was to make sure the board has a better chance of reaching a quorum — a majority of members. Without the quorum, a board has no voting power and therefore cannot make decisions.
“I contended, not having enough members to get a quorum does not serve the public,” Vanselow said. “And we’ve had a couple of instances like that in the past several months. Meetings have had to be canceled because there weren’t enough board members. So you have attorneys there, engineers being paid by people, including the Planning Board, ready to have a meeting and then you don’t get enough members to hold the meeting.”
The current quorum is four members, and the new quorum will be three.
Although there are only five members currently on the Johnsburg Planning Board, technically it is still a seven-member board since there are two vacancies. And the board can only be downsized, now that the law has been passed, through attrition.
“You can’t just say, ‘we don’t like so-and-so on the Planning Board, so we’re going to downsize it by two members and kick them out,’” Vanselow said. “It has to have a process to it ... It’s by expiration of term.”
The active members are Cork Nester (chair), Roger Smith, Tim Record, Curt Richards and Bill Moos.
Despite numerous attempts to advertise the open position, the town has had a problem attracting people to fill the Planning Board seats.
The board currently has one expired-term vacancy — the seat formerly occupied by Dottie Osterhout, who had served on the Planning Board for more than 22 years before retiring this past winter.
“Her term ran out in February,” Vanselow said. “We did not appoint. We didn’t have anybody who wanted to do it, actually.”
One unexpired-term position was left vacant prior to the May meeting when Janet Konis resigned due to health reasons, according to the May meeting minutes. So when Smith’s term expires in February, Vanselow expects Town Board members to appoint him to Konis’s unexpired term. At that time, the two expired-term vacancies — held by Smith and Osterhout — would be eliminated.
All Planning Board terms are for seven years. There is one alternate position, currently unfilled, and that term is for three years.