Weekly Feature

2018-01-11 / Front Page

Opinions split on Baich appointment to Planning and Ethics boards


The appointment of one man to both the Planning Board and the Ethics Board became a point of disagreement for the Orchard Park Town Board during its annual organizational meeting.

At the Jan. 3 meeting, Councilman Eugene Majchrzak voted no on appointments to the Planning Board of Joseph Liberti for a seven-year term; Nick Baich, as an alternate for 2018; Harold Fabinski as chairman for 2018; and John Bernard as part-time planning coordinator. Majchrzak also voted against Baich and James Morse for five-year terms on the Ethics Board.

Those motions were still approved 2-1, with Councilman Michael Sherry and Supervisor Patrick Keem voting in the affirmative.

Speaking to The Bee in an interview after the meeting, Majchrzak said he voted against both appointments only because of Baich. Sherry said he and Keem were aware of Majchrzak’s decision to not approve Baich.

Majchrzak said he had only met Baich a couple of times and when he asked Sherry about Baich’s qualifications, Sherry said he was a well-respected attorney. Majchrzak said he has no issue with Baich’s background, but he added that being a well-respected attorney has nothing to do with the Planning Board.

Majchrzak, the only member of the Town Board with planning and engineering experience, added that he began to hear about the idea of Baich on the Planning and Ethics boards in December.

“It was an alternate position, and there was no reason that we had to hurry this through in the organizational meeting,” Majchrzak said. “We could’ve left that position open.”

Baich, as an alternate, would have an opportunity to vote on planning decisions if a member of the board is absent.

Sherry, who serves as the Town Board liaison to the Planning and Ethics boards, said Baich has served the town for a number of years on different committees. Baich, a member of the Ethics Board for more than a decade, had expressed to Sherry a desire to serve on the Planning Board in some capacity. Sherry added that he felt Baich would be a perfect fit coming aboard as an alternate.

Looking back at past practices, Majchrzak, the longest-tenured member of the Town Board, said an individual may be groomed on other boards, such as the Conservation Board or Zoning Board of Appeals, before joining the Planning Board, which Majchrzak said is probably the most important board in the municipality outside of the Town Board.

“A board like the Planning Board, we probably should’ve brought some people in for interviews if we did not know the individual, and we didn’t do that either, which was very peculiar to me,” Majchrzak said.

Supporting Baich on the Planning Board is the board chairman, Harold Fabinski. Fabinski, who also serves as chairman of the Orchard Park Republican Committee, feels Baich will be a good fit to help fill the goals of the town’s strategic plan for the Planning Board, which focuses on community character and quality of life.

Fabinski said one of the advantages of having Baich as an alternate is he will have an opportunity to learn about the inner workings of the Planning Board.

“Sometimes a fresh set of eyes helps you see things a little differently and better,” Fabinski said.

In regard to Majchrzak’s comment about Baich getting time on either the Conservation or Zoning boards, Fabinski, a longstanding member of the Planning Board, said he has seen individuals in his time be appointed to the board with no government experience.

Sherry agreed with Fabinski’s assessment that some members of the Planning Board would be put directly onto the board without prior experience on other boards.

“The idea that there’s some absolute essential service that must first take place on the Zoning Board of Appeals, I would strongly disagree with that,” said Sherry in regard to a individual needing to be a member of another board before the Planning Board.

As for his decision not to vote for Baich, who is chairman of the Ethics Board, for the Ethics Board post, Majchrzak said there is the chance a petitioner could come to either the Planning Board or the Ethics Committee and the individual on the board would have to recuse himself or herself from a vote.

Majchrzak added that with Baich’s move to the Planning Board he is granted a stipend. Thus, he would have been the second town employee on the Ethics Board, joining Town Engineer Wayne Bieler. The town code says two town employees cannot be on the Ethics Board at the same time.

Majchrzak stressed that he had no issue with Baich on the board but didn’t want to lose Bieler from the Ethics Board due to his experience and the regulation of the code.

Bieler, according to Majchrzak, was removed from the board not by choice. Majchrzak said there was no discussion with the board and Bieler about the move. He added that he had a conversation with Bieler as the decision was developing and that Bieler talked with Sherry during the week of the organizational meeting.

Sherry said he talked with Bieler about giving up the final year of his term on the board. According to Sherry, Bieler said Baich was needed on the Ethics Board.

Sherry and Majchrzak also disagreed on whether Bieler had a time conflict for the Ethics Board meeting.

“You take someone like Wayne Bieler, who probably if you had to pick one person in the whole town, as far as employees go, knows more about the town and how it was built, has the planning background and the financial background of how the town is run and you remove him from a board to make room for someone else,” Majchrzak said.

Majchrzak said because he had a difference of opinion on the appointments for both boards that the slate should have been divided into separate resolutions for each person for the Planning and Ethics boards, respectively. Majchrzak said he made contact with the other individuals in the appointments to explain his situation and reason for voting no.

In his past time on the board, Majchrzak said when all members agree on the appointments they can be grouped together, but when they don’t agree, there should be singular resolutions. He said he didn’t speak to Sherry or Keem about changing the agenda to singular resolutions, adding that he believed it was common sense to conduct it that way. During the work session prior to the organizational meeting, it was decided the resolutions wouldn’t be split up.

“To me, it shouldn’t have been two want it and one doesn’t; it should’ve been that it made sense,” Majchrzak said. “We don’t have a unanimous vote here so let’s separate them and we’ll have a unanimous vote on three of the individuals and one it will be 2-1.”

Speaking to if the roles were reversed, Sherry said he would not allow a philosophical difference to be a reason for voting down a whole motion or having them separated.

“Anyone who looks at Nick’s resume and the time he’s put into serving our community, there’s no question in anyone’s mind that this is a topnotch candidate,” Sherry said. “We’re fortunate to have Nick willing to serve on the Planning Board even as he chairs the Ethics Committee.”

Sherry felt the resolutions should have been done together, hence why he moved the motions back together. Majchrzak said there was an idea during the work session to read Liberti, Fabinski and Bernard appointments as one resolution and Baich as another. The agenda is set by Keem.

“All of them had to do with the Planning Board. ... That’s the group that we were approving or not approving,” Sherry said.

Majchrzak said there is no friction or rift within the Town Board. Sherry also described the issue as a disagreement and said the board will move on.

To avoid issues such as this in the future, Majchrzak said the board should continue to communicate when there may be a point of contention with the organizational meeting.

“All three of us should learn from the fact that if there is an issue, let’s bring it up prior, because next year Pat may not agree on something or Mike might not agree on something, so let’s bring it up and make sure we have this separation if that’s the case.”

email: cgraham@beenews.com

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