Fredonia board removes administrator references

Position of power

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford A larger-than-normal crowd packs the Fredonia Board of Trustees’ second floor meeting room at village hall for the board’s meeting Monday.

After hearing some criticism about it, the Fredonia Board of Trustees voted 3-2 at its Monday meeting to remove all references to a village administrator from the village code.

The trustees who voted for the law removing the language, as well as Mayor Athanasia Landis, all made statements in support of their decision, also criticizing Fredonia’s pro-administrator faction. That group’s most vocal member, former Village Attorney Sam Drayo, again spoke out against the move.

Drayo stated during the public hearing on the law that the administrator position was established by a previous Board of Trustees in 1967 because “they wanted someone to keep the village informed.” Reading from the original resolution, he said it was intended to provide “economic and efficient” government and minimize details that the trustees had to cover.

“That purpose is even more important today than 50 years ago,” he said.

“The village has an A1 bond rating and having a qualified village administrator played no small role in that.”

Drayo added that while the current village code states Fredonia may have an administrator, it does not mandate one. “Why delete that? Why not keep that option?” he wondered.

Two other members of the public spoke out against the law, including Roger Pacos, a Board of Trustees candidate in November’s election. “It seems it’s worked out for six previous mayors,” he said of the administrator position. “I’m worried about throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” Pacos added that as a longtime village employee, Drayo’s opinions on the matter are important.

Another candidate for trustee, Dale Ricker, attempted to ask Village Treasurer Jim Sedota if he was village administrator at one time. Landis refused to let Sedota answer, ruling that he could do so at the end of the hearing after everyone else who wanted to speak had spoken. “Then you don’t want to hear my question,” Ricker responded, turning and walking away.

Landis used her mayor’s report to make a statement attacking Drayo and other critics of her push to eliminate the administrator position — a push that started in the summer of 2018 with the resignation of Richard St. George, the last administrator, along with a vote by trustees to abolish the position.

“Your comments both here and in the paper were inaccurate, incomplete and wildly misleading,” she said directly to Drayo. “You are making an argument against democracy. When you start talking about people who don’t have the background, that work part-time, that they don’t know what to do — that may be true … There is nowhere in any law that says the Board of Trustees and the mayor are part-time.

“If I’m a part-time mayor, I’m the mayor between 9 and 1. Who’s going to be mayor from 1 to 9, nobody? … This is not a part-time job, this is not a full-time job, this is an all-time job,” she continued. “I’ve spoken to people at 1 o’clock in the morning. I’ve visited the plant at 3 o’ clock in the morning., I’ve called this Board of Trustees on a Sunday because it was an emergency. So whoever thinks this job is a part-time job, it’s not a job, it’s a service.”

The mayor criticized the idea that an unelected administrator could outrank elected officials. “That’s the strength of democracy, that’s the power of the people, to be governed by those elected and hold them accountable. We had an administrator, who held that person accountable? No one. No one. He did whatever he wanted,” she said.

Landis said there was a “shadow government” in place when she took office in 2015, and criticized people who questioned her motives in trying to abolish the administrator. They “turned it all around to all of a sudden be a power grab, an overreach, an abuse of power…Please tell me, what power is out there to go harness and then abuse? I have no power. I have come to this board for absolutely anything.”

Trustees Michael Barris, Kara Christina, and James Lynden — who all wound up voting to remove the administrator language — also made statements in support of the law.

“In practice … administrators of Fredonia secretively insulated the successive mayors and trustees from information about the village’s capital and financial assets, functions, projects and services,” Barris said.

Christina said that “this village was allowed to deteriorate” while it had an administrator, with “crumbling infrastructure, brown water in several neighborhoods,” and a police department, fire hall, DPW building, reservoir and water treatment plant all in subpar condition. “If having an administrator is so important to the running of the village, then how did the village deteriorate so?” she asked.

Christina added if there was a desire among villagers to reinstate the administrator position, the public should vote on it in a referendum. “Continually re-visiting previous actions taken by the current board and mayor is wasteful and takes precious time and energy away from the efforts to govern,” she said.

Trustees Douglas Essek and Roger Britz voted against the proposal to remove the administrator language. Essek is challenging Landis for the mayor’s seat in November’s election.