Attorney resigns, trustee questions mayor

With less than six months on the job, Fredonia village attorney Todd Thomas has resigned after being offered a full-time position with the city of Jamestown and, as a result, the village finds itself in familiar waters yet again: without the services of a legal council.

Mayor Athanasia Landis had been planning on announcing the news to the public during yesterday’s board meeting, but had her thunder stolen by trustee Douglas Essek, who voiced his displeasure — during the workshop prior to the meeting — regarding the lack of communication about Thomas’ resignation.

Essek read from a prepared statement essentially asking why Mayor Landis had not informed the board of Douglas’ resignation as soon as she had become aware of that information.

According to Essek’s complaint, Landis had received the announcement on Friday, Aug. 25 from Thomas himself, while the board hadn’t heard about the news until the following Thursday, Aug. 31 from an email sent to the board by Thomas.

“(Thomas) told me that he had notified Mayor Landis that he was resigning on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017.” Essek said, reading from his statement. “This, by the way, was the Friday before our last board of trustees meeting that was held on Aug. 28.

“Ironically, it was during that same meeting on the 28th that Todd Thomas was appointed the director of administrative services, city clerk for the City of Jamestown in Jamestown.”

Landis interjected: “It’s not ‘ironically,’ it’s because of that, (that he resigned).”

Essek continued: “He had resigned from Fredonia prior to this Jamestown appointment and we were not told until after the meeting on the 28th by Todd himself in a follow-up email. Todd was actually surprised that the Mayor had not relayed his resignation…during a public or an executive session on Aug. 28.

“At the board meeting on Aug. 28, Todd was noticeably absent and the meeting started without him present. During the beginning of the workshop Trustee Christina asked if anyone knew if Todd was coming, to which Mayor Landis replied, and I quote, ‘Todd is not coming tonight.’ Perfect time to have said that he had resigned on the Friday prior, I would have thought.”

Essek argued that it is the mayor’s responsibility, based on “the charter, code and legalities of appointments and alcohol issues where a lawyer is imperative (to) communicate directly to the board members that he had resigned. To this date we have had no correspondence from you, the mayor, who had known of this resignation Aug. 25, said nothing Aug. 28 at the board meeting or executive session and has said nothing to us since.”

Landis explained her actions by prefacing that she “had a very good answer for that.

“Todd called me about 4 p.m. (on Friday, Aug. 25) and he said ‘Mayor, I want to tell you something in the utmost secrecy and confidence. I was offered’ — and I’m quoting — ‘I was offered a job of clerk administrator at the city of Jamestown by the mayor. However, until we go to the council, I don’t know if I’m going to get the position.'”

Landis explained that because Thomas asked her not to tell anyone until he was officially appointed for the Jamestown position, that she felt obligated to honor his request.

“It was confidential information,” Landis emphasized. “I have no idea why Todd told you that I was supposed to say anything. I can ask him right now. I can text him and see his response. I’m not withholding information from you. What would be my reason for that?”

“I don’t know,” Essek replied.

“I don’t know either,” said the mayor. “There’s no reason of any sane person (to do that). He was resigning. I found out Friday afternoon, it was probably after four. I can see my phone records. It was after 4, I was here and he called me. We had some other discussions, but he said ‘I have to tell you something.’ And his quote was ‘the utmost confidence.’

“I respected the confidence. What do you want me to do, come to an open meeting and announce to the world?”

While Essek seemed to accept part of Landis’ explanation, he remained firm in the belief that the mayor should have reached out to the board at some point.

“Since that time that he was appointed, we haven’t had any correspondence,” Essek said.

“He sent you a letter,” Landis countered.

“A follow up,” Essek said, his voice rising. “His words were ‘this is a follow-up email.'”

“And I don’t know why because I didn’t have the first (email),” Landis said, arguing that there was no original email to “follow up” from. “That was the first email where he had talked to all of you and he said that he had resigned. To me, he called me and he said that.”

Essek dug in his heels.

“Since the last meeting, don’t you think you’d correspond with us saying that we should be thinking about looking for a new replacement for our village attorney?”

“I thought that goes without saying, and at (today’s) meeting I was going to announce it, that we’d be looking for a new attorney. As you saw I wrote a lot of emails last week about many different things. My emails are to inform you about things you don’t know. You knew about the resignation (by then). If you expected a note from me I apologize; I didn’t even think about it.”

The argument died down and Landis explained that Thomas is “still the attorney for us, for as much as he can finish what we have started. I told him that it’s not going to be easy to find a new attorney and he said ‘if you need two days, two weeks, two months or two year’

“Obviously, we can’t be two years without an attorney.”

Trustee Phyllis Jones said that it’s important to have the attorney present during council meetings, something Thomas would be unable to do.

“I think this should be a priority,” Jones said. “We have a lot of decisions coming up and we need to have an attorney one way or another.”

“I agree,” said Landis with an exasperated sigh. “And our attorney has resigned.”