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Newsmaker of the month: Firm cashing in on past chaos

Fredonia Village Hall

When it comes to the exorbitant cost of legal fees, the village of Fredonia is doing the right thing. It is advertising for a new attorney.

Last month, an OBSERVER Freedom of Information Law request revealed the village had paid Webster Szanyi $234,063 for services rendered in 2021. That was more than triple the amount paid to Daniel Gard in 2020 when he pocketed more than $68,000.

Even worse for village residents, who are footing the bill, the firm has not done a very good job. Last spring it held an illegal meeting for a closed retreat to talk about village charter changes. While the firm defended the decision — and will never admit to breaking the law — the premise is quite simple: three people constitute a quorum and government business was discussed behind closed doors.

Illegal.

In recent months, new board members — who have also learned of the high costs of the firm from the OBSERVER– have not been happy with some of the resolutions that have come before the village. In one case, a resolution regarding a water project was too vague and had to be tabled to be rewritten. That’s another cost to Fredonia due to a shoddy job the first time.

Where Fredonia faces pitfalls with seeking out a new attorney, however, is this: previous board members have been stubborn, standoffish and often embarrassing. They have made mountains out of minor disagreements and previously had issues with an exodus of department heads. Again, that is not on this board but it is a history it has to accept.

For the first four months of a new regime it has been far from perfect, but it also has not been bedlam and babel. There appears to be a sentiment from these trustees to right a ship that has sailed in rough waters and porous decisions for more than a decade.

While that is progress, there also is no question this law firm is cashing in on the chaos from the past. That $234,063 amount — for a village of less than 9,500 residents counting the college — is far from acceptable. The firm cannot be allowed to get away with that again.

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