The Trudeau Institute
Harrietstown Town Board members Thursday, Sept. 27 waited for Saranac Lake Village Trustee Paul Van Cott to show up at their regular meeting and ask questions about annexing Trudeau Institute into the village, but he never showed up.
Earlier in the day, Van Cott emailed a letter to the town — copying Village Board members and the media — inquiring about a potential annexation meeting and charging that the town is dragging its feet on the issue.
“I had planned on speaking tonight at the Town Board meeting but see that there is no opportunity for public comment on the agenda,” wrote Van Cott, a Democrat who supports Village Trustee Tom Catillaz (D) in the town supervisor’s race against Town Councilman Bob Bevilacqua (R). “This communication is not intended to be political and is, as such, directed to the entire Town Board.”
A quick reply came from the town’s email address simply stating, “We allow public comment at the start of every Town Board meeting.”
And they do, but someone who doesn’t regularly attend Town Board meetings might get the impression that they don’t, as “public comment period” is not written anywhere on the agenda like it is on Village Board agendas.
Deputy Supervisor Barry DeFuria admitted that “public comment period” should be written on the agenda but added that the Town Board has been offering a public comment period at least since he’s been on the board in 1998.
Needless to say, DeFuria and other board members did not address the letter during the meeting; however, they defended their position on the annexation process when asked by local media after the meeting. And DeFuria was not pleased by Van Cott’s letter.
“If he ever sends me one like that again, although he’s indicated that it wasn’t political, and I don’t understand why if it’s not political he would send it to (the media), if he does something like that, it will be political,” DeFuria said.
Van Cott opened his letter by saying that he thought Trudeau’s annexation seemed to like “a perfect opportunity to join with the town of Harrietstown to help an existing, large employer look at its options for strengthening itself in our community.”
Van Cott said he was looking forward to having a meeting with village, town and Trudeau officials to openly discuss the possible annexation. But he was disappointed that town officials would not meet.
“You refused to enter in a dialogue with the Village Board about Trudeau, suggesting the village was ‘moving too fast,’” Van Cott said. “This, even after Trudeau, in an e-mail directed to the village and the town, confirmed its interest in the 3-way conversation.”
Yet all the board members — councilors DeFuria, Bevilacqua, Ron Keough and Nicole Meyette — said it’s premature to sit down with the village and Trudeau at this point.
“They’re trying to start at the middle, and you have to start at the beginning,” Bevilacqua said.
Van Cott said he was “shocked” that Town Attorney Jim Maher “made it clear — on your behalf — that the Town Board would likely oppose annexation, without any discussion with the Village or Trudeau. By taking this approach, in my opinion, the Town Board missed an important opportunity to represent the town in dialogue concerning one of our largest employers.”
But DeFuria said there’s a process that needs to be followed.
“I don’t know how the village operates, but we check with Jim Maher on a lot of things to make sure we’re doing it right, and then we do it right and make sure they’re done right,” DeFuria said.
DeFuria questioned Van Cott’s preparation before firing off the letter, particularly since he is an attorney at the Adirondack Park Agency.
“The guy’s a lawyer; I thought he was bright enough to look up the procedure on how to do annexation, and apparently he doesn’t want to do that,” DeFuria said. “He just wants the town and the village to start annexation proceedings, and we can’t.”
Trudeau has to file a petition to start the annexation process, and the town of Harrietstown has not yet received any paperwork.
“When somebody gets around to following the process, then we’ll address it,” DeFuria said.
In New York state, the annexation process requires the filing of a petition by at least 20 percent of the qualified voters or by the owners of a majority of the assessed value of real estate within the territory to be annexed, according to New York State Municipal Law. The annexing municipality must have a public hearing to determine whether annexation is in the overall public interest. Then the boards of each affected local government must approve annexation by a majority. If one board fails to approve, there is a procedure for judicial review. Once approved by the boards, the proposition must be submitted for election by the voters in the territory to be annexed.