Fredonia’s charter finally in compliance with state
Truth is complicated and difficult to explain while lies are simple and require no explanation.
To my knowledge, there are several laws that we need to follow to govern the village. We are required to follow the charter as well as the state laws. If something is covered by the charter, we follow the charter — if not, we go to state laws. For example, according to our charter, “The board of trustees is the hiring (and firing) authority of the village.” Although state law gives the mayor the power of appointment (with the approval of the board) the charter supersedes state law, so we follow the charter.
On the other hand, state village law assigns administrative duties to the mayor. Our charter is silent on the matter, so state law prevails. This is not my opinion, it comes directly from the Local Government Handbook issued by the state, according to which since 1897 even charter villages are subjected to provisions of the State Law that are not inconsistent with their charters.
According to state law, the administrator can also be a non-elected person appointed by the board. In that case, the position has to be created via a local law that fixes the powers, duties, term and other details of that office. However, this is not a local law that can be enacted by the Board of Trustees; since it constitutes transfer of power , it requires a direct vote by the people of the village, or in other words, a referendum.
One would think it’s easy. Not in Fredonia. In November of 1967, the Board of Trustees, under the direction of attorney Sam Drayo Sr., established via simple resolution the office of village administrator and named the clerk-treasurer as such. However, and because in 1967 the board was not authorized by the charter to create that position, in doing so, the village stepped out of the boundaries of the charter where it stayed for the next 10 years.
The position of the administrator was “repealed in its entirety” in January 1977, before being re-established in September of the same year. This time, although again through a simple resolution, the wording was a little different and the creation of the position less obvious. Apparently aware of the fact the charter never authorized transfer of power, the Board of Trustees, under the direction of attorney Sam Drayo Jr., combined the positions of village clerk and treasurer into one. The new position was arbitrarily called “village administrator.” Just as before though, neither act was authorized by the charter, so once again, and for the next 21 years, the village was moved outside the margins of the charter.
It’s worth noting that, because there was no local law enacted to create the position, the village was also kept outside the state village law.
In fact, the word “Administrator” never appeared in the charter until December of 2016. Right before he retired, Mr. Drayo, very quietly pushed through a local law and amended the charter, with no other explanation than to codify and clarify practices previously adopted and “tighten some loose ends.” I call it, “covering your tracks.” Of course, there was no referendum involved, only a six-days’ notice for public hearing.
One small, but very important detail: the title of the adopted law was a little different from the title on the proposed one, as it contained two extra words: “village administrator.”
Mr. Drayo defended his decision not to involve the public by saying that, Fredonia is a charter village, so there is no need to follow state law and that this is not a position of power, as all the power resides in the board.
Well, let’s see. To begin with, according to Home Rule Law, although local governments have the power to adopt and amend local laws, these cannot be contrary to State Constitution or any general law.
As for there being no transfer of power, the resolution said one thing, the practice was drastically different.
1. The former administrator repeatedly and in the presence of many called himself “Head of the Heads.”
2. The former administrator repeatedly and in the presence of many, accused employees of insubordination when they talked to me after talking to him, clearly believing that the Mayor was his subordinate.
3. The former administrator repeatedly returned written requests from Department Heads addressed to “The Mayor and the Board of Trustees” demanding they changed it to “The Administrator and the Board of Trustees.”
4. The former administrator was the sole negotiator for all union contracts which he cosigned, without any authority.
5. The former administrator not only thought himself above the Mayor; he thought himself above the Board. Without asking, suggesting, or discussing anything with the Board, he made the decision to ignore the water/sewer contract with SUNY Fredonia and undercharged the college. That decision cost the village almost $300,000 in two years. That was not a “clerical error”; according to the auditors, it was a deliberate act. Furthermore,
6. When the position of the career fire chief was created, the former administrator changed the supervising authority on the civil service form from “Board of Trustees” to “Village Administrator” saying that “all department heads report to the administrator, not the Board.” And finally,
7. The village is listed in the Local Government Handbook as one of only 55 in the state that are run by administrator.
So, might I ask, which part of the charter am I not following?
My administration has returned the village to its charter. The accusations to the opposite are unsubstantiated fabrications. I invite everyone to read the background information, ask the questions you need answers to, and come to your own conclusions. I inherited the fallout of a law that never was . I happily take full responsibility for what I have done. I challenge everyone to do the same. In the end we all desire the same thing; to move the village forward inside the parameters of our charter and the state law.
Athanasia Landis is mayor of the village of Fredonia.