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Post is vital to village

Fredonia needs to keep an administrator

By SAM DRAYO Jr.

The position of village administrator in Fredonia has been an important position in our Village for over 50 years. It is time tested and successful. However, the Village Board — three trustees out of five — have proposed repealing the position of administrator. A public hearing is planned for 6 p.m. Monday at Village hall. This letter gives reasons for retaining the position of village administrator.

Reasons for keeping the position:

A qualified administrator can provide professional guidance and over-all direction of village operations and financial advice. Elected officials are part-time and frequently change. Most elected officials have little or no knowledge of village government or its procedures. Most have full-time jobs. Elected officials come and go and provide little continuity to village government. Elected officials in approximately 50 villages in New York state of similar size or larger than Fredonia depend on a qualified and knowledgeable village administrator to advise them on the operation of village government and finance.

In 1977, a group of respected and knowledgeable Fredonia residents, headed by Fredonia school district Administrator Dr. Carl Olson over a considerable period of time reviewed the position of village administrator and recommended its adoption in its present form.

Unlike many villages, Fredonia is a large full-service municipality with a State University. It provides its residents, businesses and the college with water and sewer facilities, fire and police protection, a street department and a parks and recreation department. The village has contracts with three employee unions. In addition the village, by contract, provides water and sewer services and fire protection to large areas outside of the village boundaries, mostly in the town of Pomfret.

The village needs a full-time, qualified and knowledgeable administrator to assist the mayor and Village Board in coordinating and advising them of all the various functions, projects and services provided by the village and courses of action to take so that good decisions can be made for our village. Part-time elected officials, most with little or no municipal background and most with full time jobs, simply cannot be expected to do this on their own. Professional guidance from a qualified administrator is necessary.

Can you imagine our hospital without an administrator or our school district without a superintendent? In our area, the villages of Hamburg, Williamsville and East Aurora, which in my opinion, are vibrant and progressive villages with downtown districts that are thriving, have a village administrator.

This is not to say that an administrator is a magic bullet for Fredonia, but the position will allow the elected officials more time to concentrate on major issues, policies and best practices for Fredonia and provide continuity to village government.

The mayor’s recent letter entitled “Truth, Lies and a Law That Never Was” contains four assertions that need to be corrected.

1. The mayor claims there should have been a public referendum, a vote by the people of the village, to establish the position of village administrator since “there was a transfer of power” from the Board of Trustees to the administrator.

However, no powers of any kind were transferred from the Village Board to the administrator. The administrator was established to assist the Village Board in carrying out its duties. It gave additional duties to the clerk-treasurer. Section 1 of the 1977 resolution stated the purpose of the position as follows:

To further affirm that no powers were transferred from the Village Board to the administrator, Section 4 of the resolution establishing the position of administrator specifically states, “Nothing herein contained shall be deemed or construed as abolishing, transferring, or curtailing any powers or duties of the Board of Trustees … ”

Thus, the Village Board continues to have full rights to make contracts, appropriate funds, appoint officers and employees, fill vacancies, determine policies, enact all laws and regulations, determine Village policy, etc.

2. The mayor stated the village stepped out of the boundaries of the charter because the charter did not authorize the creation of the position of village administrator. This statement is incorrect.

State village law in effect in 1967 when the position of administrator was first established permitted the office of administrator as state village law could apply to Charter Villages were not inconsistent with the provisions of the Village Charter. The State Village Law then in effect authorized the Board of Trustees to create or abolish by “resolution “ offices … and delegate so much of its powers, duties and functions as it deems necessary for … administering the Board of Trustees duties and functions.” This was not inconsistent with the village charter.

Article 2, Section 3(a) of the village charter states “The Board of Trustees may establish and appoint by resolution such other officers, including deputies, as the Board of Trustees shall determine. Said officers, including deputies shall perform such duties as shall be determined by the Board of Trustees.”

Article 2, Section 14 (20) of the charter gives authority to the Village Board to make by bylaws, rules and regulations and local laws they deem proper and prescribe the powers vested in any officer or employee in the village as they deem proper.

Article 2, Section 15 (22) of the charter authorizes the Village Board “to prescribe the powers and duties of all officers and persons appointed by them to any office or place whatsoever, subject to the provisions of this Act, and to direct the time and manner in which such officers or persons shall perform their respective duties.”

Since the provisions of Article 2 are contained within the Village Charter and grant broad powers to the Village Board, no local law was required to implement them and the position of village administrator (Clerk-Treasurer) could be implemented by a board resolution pursuant to the village charter and state village law.

3. The Mayor claims that under an 1897 law the Mayor has additional duties/powers which are given to Mayors under State Village Law, provided they are not inconsistent with the Charter. However, adding duties to the position of Mayor would be inconsistent with the Charter which specifically limits the duties of the mayor.

In any event, the 1897 law the mayor referred to was repealed and was not re-enacted under the current village law now in effect. The mayor has only the powers specifically granted by the Fredonia charter or an overriding state law. The village law is not an overriding state law.

The current state village law specifically states that the state village law “shall not be deemed to repeal or otherwise affect any provision of any village charter,” it being the intention of the legislature that the same (village charter) shall continue in full force and effect unless and until the charter is duly amended or otherwise affected.”

To give additional duties to the position of mayor would require a charter amendment subject to a mandatory referendum (a vote by the residents) as it would very likely curtail or transfer duties of the Village Board which are set forth in the charter and which are extensive.

Since its creation in 1829, the village charter and its elected officials have consistently upheld a form of government that has a strong council form of government with limited authority in the mayor. This basic structure of Fredonia village government has not changed since its inception and has well-served the village.

4. The mayor claims the word “administrator” never appeared in the charter “until Mr. Drayo very quietly pushed it through to cover his tracks before he retired in December of 2016.” Nothing was “quietly pushed through” and no “tracks” needed to be covered.

The position of administrator was added to the charter for clarity as it was originally in resolution form which could get lost in the annals of many Village Board resolutions adopted over many years. Placing the position in the village charter where village matters are professionally catalogued and indexed by legal publishers and readily available to the public to view via the village website and village code book makes good sense. This is consistent with the principal that government should be transparent.

The reasons for adding the position to the charter were explained to the mayor and Village Board prior to enactment, published in full in the OBSERVER and a public hearing was held before enactment. There were no objections and the local law was unanimously adopted. The local law was not “quietly pushed through.”

SUMMARY:

Setting aside all procedural arguments, as practical matter part-time elected officials with little or no local government experience cannot be expected to operate a full service Village. Fredonia needs a full-time qualified village administrator with a sound financial background to assist the Mayor and Village Board and to provide expertise and continuity to village government. The oversight and employment of the administrator always rests solely with the Board of Trustees.

Repealing the position of village administrator, a position in the village for more than 50 years, would be a big step backward for our village. I urge the Village Board to retain the position of village administrator and to actively seek a qualified person to fill that position as soon as possible. This would be in the best interest of the village.

Sam Drayo Jr. is a Fredonia resident.

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