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Newest Fredonia trustee, mayor in public disagreement over meeting with state, other municipalities for sharing

Two Fredonia officials are at odds with each other over a potential meeting between municipalities to discuss consolidation and shared services.

Mayor Athanasia Landis rebuked Trustee Douglas Essek during a recent village board meeting. Landis stated Essek went above her head and the heads of the other trustees by asking officials from the city of Dunkirk, the town of Pomfret and Chautauqua County if they would like to meet with the village and a New York State Department of State official, who is coming to Fredonia to discuss consolidation and shared services assistance with the mayor on Monday.

“You (Essek) never asked me if I’m OK with that; that was my meeting (which I invited you to),” Landis asserted. “You went ahead, changed everything … and then said, ‘You know, if you can, you can come.’

It’s like you invited me to your birthday party and you have an entertainer at your house and I decide, ‘Well, how about if I call the whole village hall?’ And I call the entertainer and I take it from your house and I put it … down here (at village hall) and we have the party down here. That’s how I felt.

“So, in good conscience, I cannot approve nor come to that meeting … because I don’t recognize this as a productive meeting for the community. (The state representative) was supposed to meet with me at the time of your meeting now, and he will meet with me because I’m going to email him.”

Landis added the type of meeting Essek wants would take “weeks of preparation,” which is why she initially told him she does not want to hold the larger meeting with the state rep when he approached her with the idea.

She also told Essek he cannot conduct a government meeting by himself without prior authorization from the board, and he cannot hold a meeting without a clear agenda and research done ahead of time.

“I don’t want to have all these municipalities and somebody from the county — I don’t understand why they should be here, but anyway, you invited them — I don’t understand how we’re going to stand up there without something to say,” Landis argued. “It’s going to make us, the board, myself and the village, look unprepared, unprofessional and disorganized.”

Essek defended himself by saying Landis told him in past emails that it would be a good idea to maintain an open dialogue with other municipalities on the topic of consolidation and shared services.

He also noted Landis was incorrect when she said he set up a meeting with all the municipalities; he tentatively asked all the involved parties if they would be interested in and available for such a meeting so he could bring that information to the board and receive its blessing for it.

“I would think that given all these ideas here that the best opportunity to discuss things would be to have all the people and all the municipalities and everybody on board that would be there to discuss these things,” Essek pointed out. “I’m totally in favor transparency. I think the public should know when we discuss shared services (and shared facilities). The public is in favor of this.”

He then told Landis, “I understand you had scheduled a meeting previously and because (the state rep) is a very busy person — he’s not in town very often — so this was the perfect opportunity to utilize his services and to have everybody on board at the same time.”

Essek stated there are a number of topics that can be discussed at the meeting, including shared public works facilities, a shared fire hall and a shared police headquarters. Landis countered by saying the board already put the issue of a shared police facility to bed last year after diligent research.

“I want to go to a meeting perfectly prepared,” she added. “I want to do my research, talk to the people, have the right papers with me. For example, I really am in favor of wastewater treatment plant consolidation. However, I cannot present it at this moment. Why? Because I have nothing to present, except I think it’s a good idea. And that’s a very short discussion. From that point, to actually go to the state and say, ‘This is what I have, this is how much money maybe we’re able to save,’ and that’s why I’m asking the state, ‘What can you do for us?'”

Essek questioned what village law he broke by simply calling the municipalities and the state rep and asking if they would be interested in a meeting. He added the other municipalities were in favor of such a meeting to discuss ideas.

“It was like a brainstorming thought here,” Essek remarked.

“Brainstorming starts here (with the board),” Landis replied. “This is your base. You belong to this board. This is the brainstorming and then we go as a unit to other municipalities.”

Trustees James Lynden and Kara Christina sided with Landis during the argument, with Lynden calling such a meeting between so many municipalities “a spectacle.” Trustees Phyllis Jones and Marc Ruckman were not present to voice their opinions.

Email: gfox@observertoday.com. Twitter: @gfoxnews

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