Charter could sway vote in village

The recent rancor afflicting the Fredonia Village Board and mayor offers a perspective on authority to govern. Much has been said about the purchase of a used truck for $9,000 appropriated from the approved village budget by the mayor and other village officials.

But little is known about the $300,000 relief, granted without consultation by the previous village administrator, to SUNY Fredonia for the amount due from a water bill. A review of the village’s charter and its intersection with state law illustrates the background of these contentious issues.

Minutes from a 1967 village board meeting describe the resolution of a local law creating the office of village administrator. New York state law as described by New York Conference of Mayors Handbook says the creation of this office represents a transfer of power from the mayor and board of trustees and therefore must be approved by a public referendum. Since no referendum was held, the creation of this office occurred outside of state law. Had the title of village administrator been identified as an employee, a referendum would not have been required. But Village Board minutes from 1967, 1977 and 2016 clearly recognize the village administrator as an officer.

Fredonia’s 50-year history of operating outside the law does not reveal a consistently dysfunctional relationship between municipal officers. Deliberations mostly proceeded smoothly until the last couple years they didn’t.

Whether by design or lack of oversight the office of village administrator appeared over time to attain authority equal to or exceeding that of elected representatives. This undemocratic condition has been corrected by the village administrator’s resignation on grounds that his authority had been stripped. Mayor Athanasia Landis gained support of the board to assign the duties of treasurer and clerk to separate officials.

Mayor Landis’ opponents have expressed intent to re-create the office of village administrator with powers never granted. The village elections in November offer clear choices for voters concerned about a government enjoying legitimate and representative lines of authority.

Mark Twichell is a Fredonia resident.