ENFIELD, N.Y. — The Enfield Town Board is in flux after Beth McGee resigned from her position of supervisor on Sept. 30.
There are currently two vacancies on the town board, one for supervisor and one for councilperson. Stephanie Redmond, who was named deputy supervisor in April and was elected as a councilperson last November, will take the position as acting supervisor for the Town of Enfield.
A special meeting was held Oct. 5 to vote on Redmond taking the role of supervisor, but it was not approved. Following the meeting, Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey, who has been on the board since January 2018, resigned. The board, which usually has five members, now only has three. Since three votes are required for a majority vote, any future votes will have to be approved unanimously by Councilpersons Virginia Bryant, Robert Lynch and Redmond.
“Frankly, I have neither the will nor the energy to engage in this kind of negative exchange,” Mehaffey wrote in her resignation letter. “I prefer to spend the time I have left doing something more positive.”
Because Redmond was not approved as supervisor, she is the acting supervisor, meaning the board currently has no deputy supervisor. The town board only has until Dec. 31, 2020 to make an appointment for the position of supervisor. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, the vacancy can only be filled by a special election. Guy Krogh, the town’s counsel, said that the governor may proclaim a special election to fill the vacancy. If the governor does not make an appointment, the matter then falls to the courts by petition. The deadline for calling a special election has passed, meaning a special election for this position cannot be held until November 2021.
McGee sent a resignation letter to members of the board Sept. 30. Over the last few months, tensions have been high between McGee, Lynch, town clerk Ellen Woods, and Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins. Over the summer, McGee attempted to terminate Woods’ and Rollins’ positions at the end of this year and to increase the supervisor’s tenure from two to four years, but withdrew her proposals at the town’s June 30 meeting. In July, the board voted to put the proposed laws changing the elected offices of highway superintendent and town clerk into appointed positions on the November ballot amid Enfield residents’ disapproval of the changes. Lynch was the only councilperson who opposed the vote.
“I am extremely proud of the work I’ve accomplished with community members and previous boards over the last seven years, and I thank them for their commitment to the work of the Town,” she wrote in the letter. “I applaud (Mehaffey, Bryant and Redmond) who have worked valiantly together to get much work done in the midst of COVID-19 and in spite of the obstruction and toxic environment created by (Lynch, Woods and Rollins).”
In March, McGee announced that she was planning to resign from the board, set to take effect April 30. However, she has continued in her position, citing the need to ensure that the town is in a stable place following the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the budget planning season approaching over the summer months. McGee’s term was set to expire Dec. 31, 2021.
McGee’s resignation came at the end of the Sept. 30 meeting, following a discussion of the budget, which was adopted. Only Lynch voted against the budget.
During the public hearing, people raised concerns regarding the town clerk’s salary, as well as cuts to the highway department. The clerk’s salary has increased from $20,000 to $22,000, according to the budget, but Woods has raised concerns that she often works more than 40 hours a week, meaning she does not make a living wage.
Highway fund appropriations for general repairs have dropped $58,450 compared to the 2020 budget. The budget summary recommended that the number of full-time highway staff is reduced from five to four and part-time summer help is eliminated, which will represent approximately $70,000 of savings in payroll, health insurance, unemployment and other costs. The summary stated that the “highway budget is inflated annually to inaccurately reflect the cost of operations and improvements and accountability for such budgeting and expenditures is never forthcoming.”
Upon McGee’s resignation, Mehaffey moved to appoint Redmond to the position, which Bryant seconded. In July, over 100 Enfield residents submitted a petition to the board asking for the right to vote on the next town supervisor and councilperson in the November 2020 general election rather than McGee appointing one.
Lynch moved to adjourn and postpone the appointment for a month to get legal advice regarding the decision.
“That’s not how they did it in Ulysses when (Nancy Zahler, interim supervisor of the town of Ulysses) was elevated,” Lynch said. “She had to resign first as a Town Councilperson, I presume, on advice of counsel, and the town supervisor had already resigned. I believe this is illegal and I will consult with the counsel on this.”
Woods said that she had consulted with the Association of Towns, and the proceeding was legal. However, Woods said that Redmond would not be able to vote for herself, despite no legal precedent disallowing the practice. This meant that there were only three eligible votes for Redmond’s appointment.
At the Oct. 5 special meeting, Redmond said that she would not vote for herself. In order to be approved as town supervisor, Redmond needed an unanimous vote from the other three councilpersons, Krogh said.
“There was some question as to whether or not that is allowed, apparently there’s no law exactly prohibiting self-voting, but it gives the appearance of impropriety,” she said. “While in my heart, I know I would be doing this for myself, it would be for the best interest of the town, it would not be a personal, vested interest. However, I do not feel that it is proper and it may be considered unethical.”
Many residents shared their support for Redmond’s appointment. Resident Julie Schroeder gave her support for Redmond’s election. She commented on the tension that has been present among board members.
“Disruption, incivility and disrespect have become regular occurrences,” she said. “Angry outbursts, lengthy paternalistic lectures and stony silences when a response to a question is required, have been regular. I have seen zero productive results to these antics except to the venting of personal grievances and the deepening of lines that sets up the us-versus-them mentality.”
McGee said that she was appalled that the board would consider not approving Redmond’s appointment, given that she has been trained and is qualified for the role. She said that if people petitioned for a primary election, it would cost the town thousands of dollars in the case of a special election or a court choice.
“They trusted me to do what was in the best interest of this town, and in the face of a pandemic, I avoided leaving the town in a position in which unprepared and ill-experienced people would be trying to muddle through,” McGee said. “It’s not really my obligation to continue to help anybody going forward. And there’s a whole lot going on in this town, a whole lot that still needs to be done, and I have prepared Stephanie for that as the deputy town supervisor. My level of disappointment here of what’s happening is just ridiculous because I think that it is personal grudges.”
Lynch said that he wanted to delay this decision to the regular Nov. 11 meeting, after the two referenda for changing elected positions to appointments will be voted on. He said that because the board has until Dec. 31 to make a decision and the board had already approved the budget, there was no crucial business left requiring a five person board.
“Last meeting I was angry, and I believe for good reason,” Lynch said. “The meeting’s final minutes went too perfectly to have been left to chance. Plans for resignation and succession were clearly choreographed, not only behind my own back, but more importantly behind the backs of those we serve. … I think we should be this way at least until after the November elections when those two referenda will be decided. I think it will be indicative of how much Enfield cherishes its democracy.”
Bryant motioned for the appointment of Redmond from acting town supervisor to town supervisor for the remainder of McGee’s term, which Mehaffey seconded. Lynch voted against the appointment, meaning Redmond will not take the position of town supervisor.
“It feels pretty exploitative, but there’s not much I can do,” Redmond said. “I’ve done the best I can. If there’s no safeguards for my position and something should happen to me, may the odds be ever in your favor, Enfield.”
Lynch responded, “I just want to say Stephanie, it’s nothing personal, it’s on principle.”
“I actually don’t agree with that at all,” Redmond said. “I think that if I had pandered to your paternal instinct, then it probably would have been fine.”