ENFIELD, N.Y. — Things became heated again between Enfield Town officials during a Wednesday night special meeting that was held to appoint a new deputy town clerk.
While the vote to name Patricia Speno deputy clerk and increase the salary for the position from $7,000 to $10,000 was unanimous, the meeting was again bogged down by close to an hour of public comment of people saying the pledge of allegiance and infighting between members of the board and the highway superintendent.
A copy of the agenda can be found here.
Town Supervisor Beth McGee informed the board that there will not be reimbursed for town funds spent paying highway workers for hours that they did not work.
“The only way payroll can be reimbursed is if employees are assigned to work duties that have to do with the COVID-19 response,” McGee said.
Councilperson Robert Lynch disagreed and said that based upon the information he has gathered there remains a slim chance of reimbursement.
“What I am telling you is there will be none… I clarified (with county officials),” McGee said, adding that Lynch could email county officials if he desired further clarification on the matter. For his part, Lynch was adamant, despite acknowledging public statements from both state and county officials that such reimbursement was unlikely, that reimbursement could happen.
“There is an inkling of hope,” Lynch said.
McGee was adamant there was not.
With the requirement that all New Yorkers must wear masks out in public McGee said that the town board has gotten a line on a potential supply of wearable masks and if anyone in Enfield needed one to contact her by email.
“We will see what we can do,” McGee said.
Locally Lynch claimed that based upon his interpretation of Tompkins County COVID-19 data that the curve of infection is flattening.
“I know we are not out of the woods yet, but we are seemingly making progress,” Lynch said.
Things became heated during the portion of the meeting dedicated to discussing town highway department business, with multiple board members accusing Highway Department Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins of unprofessional behavior while Rollins accused the board of overstepping their bounds. During the meeting Rollins repeatedly muted himself, refused to answer questions, screamed at the board when he did answer questions, and specifically told McGee to, “Shut up! I will mute you! Mute!”
At issue was Rollin’s insistence that he would pay his highway department workers for time they are not working during the COVID-19 pandemic and that he has power as an elected official to do so.
McGee, and all members of the board except for Lynch, were adamant that they would not sign time cards for time not worked, especially considering the fact that all workers whose hours or pay have been affected by COVID-19 are eligible for special unemployment benefits that in some instances pay workers more than they were receiving.
“Buddy, can you explain to me why you want this money to come from the town and burden our taxpayers instead of coming from the federal government in the form of unemployment?” Boardmember Stephanie Redmond asked.
Rollins refused to answer the question and muted himself.
When the question was shifted to Lynch, who serves as the liaison for the board to the highway department and has repeatedly supported Rollins’ positions in the past, he merely deferred to Rollins’ position.
“It’s about separation of powers… We have limited control with power of purse but not the power of the shovel,” Lynch said.
McGee and other board members agreed, saying that they were not telling Rollins in any way shape or form what hours to assign to whom and for what. Just that the town would not pay highway department workers for hours that they did not work out of town coffers, especially when there is federal funding available through unemployment to do just that.
“You will pay what I tell you to pay,” Rollins told the board.
Board members also took issue with Rollins’ characterization that the town board laid off the highway department staff, which McGee said the board has no authority to do. Currently, unemployment benefits do not require someone to have lost their job, just a reduction in hours or pay to be eligible.
“If the highway department staff was laid off it was (Rollins) who did it,” McGee said.
Rollins insisted it was McGee, but as to whether the staff was actually laid off or not there was no definitive answer.
Beyond the need to save money the board added that the town has a local law stating that time cards must only include hours for work performed, and that paying the highway department for not working might constitute gifts and be illegal.
“Maybe the time card policy isn’t legal?” Lynch suggested despite admitting that he never read the law
Lynch added that it seems that things are eventually going to end up in court to determine if Rollins has the right to pay his workers town money for hours they didn’t work.
“If it goes on like this and we continue to be at someone’s throats, what may well happen is we will be in court arguing it out,” Lynch said.
McGee responded, “I guess that is what needs to happen. The town board has purview here.”
Rollins was adamant he would submit his payroll as he saw fit and that he expected the board to approve it.
Rollins also took issue with the board’s attempt to discuss the State Department of Transportation funding for local projects through the Consolidated Local Streets and Highway Improvement Program or CHIPS.
“Everything that Beth is saying about CHIPs is what I do every year. I don’t know what the hip hah is about other than her being arrogant… so get your act together on this CHIPS stuff because I am fed up with fighting the town board on it every year,” Rollins said.
McGee, who said that she had spoken to a DOT official earlier in the day, said that she was informed that the state, which is currently under extreme financial pressure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is more likely to reimburse monies spent earlier in the year. Furthermore, she stated that the DOT recommends highway department superintendents work with town boards to come up with new plans designed to spend funds designated for CHIPS reimbursement as quickly as possible.
“I do this every year, and you don’t seek reimbursement until the end of the year. That’s when the work is done,” Rollins said.
When McGee asked Rollins to stop shouting or that he would be muted he responded, “Shut up! I’ll mute you! Mute!”
McGee said this behavior by Rollins is typical.
“You have no desire for accountability to the people who pay for things in this town, (you) just shut down and don’t have the conversation. It’s volatile, it’s manipulative and obstructionist,” McGee said.
The town board voted unanimously to approve Patricia Speno as deputy clerk and to increase the position’s salary by $3,000. Lynch commented on how qualified he believed Speno to be, how much work exists for the town clerk, and that while he was not thrilled by the increase in salary it makes sense to pay for qualified people.
According to town clerk Ellen Woods, the salary increase for the position was in line with a town policy to pay a living wage for non-elected officials.
Towards the end of the meeting, McGee accused Lynch of consistently misinforming the public through his reelection website that also doubles as a blog where Lynch, who formerly worked in broadcast news, writes articles reporting on town news.
Specifically, McGee asked Lynch if he would correct an article from earlier this year that stated that the position of deputy supervisor would take on many of the supervisor’s responsibilities when the only real responsibility for the deputy supervisor is signing documents when the supervisor is not available.
Lynch argued that when he wrote the article and the matter was being discussed that more responsibilities being delegated was part of the discussion, making the article accurate at the time and therefore requiring no change.
McGee disagreed, and said that the articles Lynch writes should not even qualify as news and seem to be designed to misinform the public.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misattributed a question asked by Boardmember Stephanie Redmond as being made by Supervisor Beth McGee. The attribution has been corrected.