Listening to government watchdog and critic John Salvador speak during the town of Lake George’s organizational meeting held Tuesday Jan. 3 are (front, right to left): town board members Marisa Muratori, Vinnie Crocitto, town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson and board member Fran Heinrich. The board enacted a controversial shakeup of the planning board — under Muratori’s initiative — and fired all the town’s financial staff members. Both action were decided in split votes.
Emerging from a lengthy closed-door session during its first few minutes in power, the new Lake George Town Board decided in split votes to replace two town Planning Board members and fire the town’s entire financial staff.
The town board voted 3-2 Tuesday, Jan. 3 to replace Planning Board members John Carr and Joe Mastrodomenico, with new appointees Kevin Mulcahy and Patricia Marek.
The board also voted 3-1 to terminate the town Comptroller Kathy Gleason, and replace her with Wendy Baird — as well as eliminate the positions of full-time senior account clerk and part-time account clerk.
The three new board members representing the Lake George Citizens Group Party in the 2011 election voted in favor of the shakeup of the financial staff. The two Republican board members left over from the prior board didn’t vote for the action — Vinnie Crocitto abstained in the vote due to knowing the people being fired, and Heinrich voted No, criticizing the move.
“The board is acting in a hasty manner, and more information is necessary before changes are made,” she said.
During the past year, Lake George Citizens Group members had criticized town budgeting, and had called for greater transparency on expenditures and employee compensation, issues that the former board was busy tackling after a relatively recent prior turnover in the town supervisor post.
Tuesday, being booted off the planning board caught Mastrodomenico and Carr by surprise. Mastrodomenico was the town hall, intending to attend the planning board meeting directly after the town board met, but found out he had been replaced.
John Carr was reached by phone in Tampa Fla. soon after the organizational meeting. Both Carr and Mastrodomenico said they had had expected to continue serving on the Planning Board and weren’t consulted or interviewed for serving the new term.
The changes on the planning board were announced by Marisa Muratori, who was appointed by the supervisor to be the point person on the board for planning and zoning. She asked the board to rename her panel from “board committee” to “commission.”
In early 2009, Muratori had been beaten by Mastrodomenico in a campaign for a seat on the Lake George Village Board. Also, Muratori and Carr had been competitors in November 2009 for a seat on the town board, representing opposing parties.
Both Carr and Mastrodomenico said after the town board meeting they hoped the actions replacing them weren’t prompted by political motives.
“I hoping Marisa’s appointments have nothing to do with me beating her for village trustee,” Mastrodomenico said. “Our boards have to be working together cooperatively in the future.”
Mastrodomenico challenged the method in which the decision was made.
“The new majority on the town board campaigned on a platform of transparency and open government, but there was no transparency here,” he said.
Muratori defended her decision, which was opposed by Town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson as well as Crocitto.
“Change is what the community wanted,” Muratori said. “There were a lot of concerns about planning and zoning.”
Dickinson said he was particularly unhappy to see Carr replaced.
“John Carr was a really good board member, very knowledgeable and thorough in his research of issues, and he provided good input,” Dickinson said.
Crocitto offered similar comments.
“The new appointments shouldn’t have been made at the expense of two very competent long-term planning board members,” Crocitto said. “John Carr was outstanding on the board, which had not one lawsuit filed against it since he was on the board. He was knowledgeable about buildings and construction, and concerned with the environment, and we will truly miss him.”
Carr was known for assuring that proposed developments followed ordinances, met standards, and he often had developers commit to planting more trees and establishing landscaping buffers larger than the minimum, town officials said. His extensive knowledge of the ordinances allowed projects to move to completion faster and with less conflict between developers and the town, they said.
Carr said he hoped the decision to shake up the planning board wouldn’t have negative repercussions for the town.
“I hope this doesn’t discourage or intimidate knowledgeable and qualified people from serving on boards,” he said. “I hope for the sake of the community that the new town board members will not be exercising cronyism.”
Carr added that he seeks to stay involved.
“I’ll be available to do anything I can to help out the new town board members in getting them up to speed on projects now underway,” he said.
New town board member Dan Hurley defended his vote, saying that he believed that people should serve only one term in public office — and he was going to lobby to have such a term limit established in Lake George town government.