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Conflict of Interest Concerns Shake Up Village Board

By Jann Wiswall

Deputy Mayor Resigns in Protest

Village of Ellicottville board member Greg Cappelli resigned his deputy mayor post during the annual organizational meeting of the Village Board on Monday “in protest of the Mayor’s reappointment of [his wife] to the Village Planning Board.”

Cappelli, who did not resign his board position, said he believes the “appointment is a conflict of  interest” in that the planning board reports to the Village board. Now that John Burrell is mayor, reappointing his wife to that board amounts to nepotism.

He also referred to a proposal made at a March 20 special meeting to increase planning board members’ pay per meeting. The proposal was not approved, but he commented that elected officials should not propose or vote on proposals that would benefit their personal finances.

Mayor Burrell said his reappointment of Sheila Burrell is based on her extensive (31 years) experience on the planning board. “She has been involved in every major project the board has undertaken, and was the lead on the historic overlay project.”

Burrell said he believes he may have reappointed Sheila once while serving as mayor in the 1990s. All other reappointments were made by past mayors.

He added that he would recuse himself from voting on Sheila’s reappointment.

During discussion, Board Member Patra Lowes agreed that Sheila “is very, very knowledgeable” and has been an asset to the planning board. But, she said, the ethical argument has merit.

Town Attorney Kathleen Moriarty stated that, while she knows “this is hard for you, John [Burrell], there is higher scrutiny when any officer or employee of a municipality considers appointing spouses or family members to positions that would benefit the officer or employee financially or otherwise.”

She read aloud section V(i) of the town of Ellicottville’s code of ethics (which does not apply to the Village but may be used in the future to draft a code of ethics for the Village), which states: “an Officer or Employee shall pursue a course of conduct which will not raise suspicion, or give the impression, among the public that he is likely to be engaging in acts that are in violation of his trust.” She also read section VII pertaining to recusal: “An Officer or Employee shall promptly recuse himself from acting on a matter before the Town where acting on the matter may financially benefit …. the officer or employee … [or] a member of his household…”

Referencing New York Conference of Mayors guidance, Moriarty said she would not recommend the Mayor take this step for ethical reasons and that she would be remiss to recommend otherwise.

Cappelli said he knows of two other village residents who would be interested in serving on the planning board. Burrell said neither has Sheila’s equivalent experience.

At the end of the heated discussion, the appointment was put to a vote and a motion to reappoint Sheila Burrell was not seconded.

Mayor Burrell then explained that appointments are the Mayor’s to make and he was not withdrawing the nomination. Without the board’s ratification, the situation reverts to the status quo, leaving Sheila Burrell on the planning board for another term until and unless Mayor Burrell presents another appointee to the board.

Burrell also said he was not prepared to nominate another board member as Deputy Mayor.

While most other reappointments were approved by the board, two appointments were changed to “acting” status. Given the Village and Town’s intent to hire a municipal engineer, the board approved a suggestion to reappoint Nussbaumer & Clarke’s Nick Dobmeier as “acting” village engineer. And, the board appointed R.A. Mercer, PC, as “acting” village accountant.

The board delayed a decision on the composition of a Village Comprehensive Planning Committee.

Several Commissioner positions needed to be filled by board members on a voluntary basis. Mayor Burrell will remain as the board’s budget officer. Patra Lowes volunteered to serve as commissioner of Parks, Streets, Refuse and Sidewalks. Joe DiPasquale volunteered to continue as Beautification commissioner. Newly elected board member Spencer Murray was asked by Burrell if he would serve as noise commissioner. Murray asked for time to think about it. No one volunteered to serve as water, sewer, parking or special events commissioner. A motion to appoint Lowes as commissioner of zoning and planning was not seconded.

Regular April Board Meeting

The above-referenced organizational meeting took place after the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the board on Monday, April 10.

The first order of business was to welcome Spencer Murray to the board. Murray was elected to a four-year term on March 10.

Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brian McFadden briefed the board on a possible new event coming to the town and village – a Rhino Lacrosse tournament. Although the event is not yet official, McFadden said he has received permission from ECS Superintendent Mark Ward to use the school’s five fields and asked the board for permission to use the Village Park for three more fields, as well as the Village/Town Hall front lawn for a vendor showcase. The event could draw as many as 4000 people for the three-day tournament Sept. 22-24. The board approved the request. DPW Forester Job Lowry reported to the board on a Tree City USA meeting he attended in Albany on the Village’s behalf. He noted that Ellicottville is one of Tree City USA’s oldest members and was again named in 2016 by the Arbor Day Foundation in honor of its commitment to effective urban forest management.

Lowry said state foresters are concerned about the rapid spread of oak wilt due to sap beetle infestation, which is killing red and white oak trees. There have been no reports of the beetle yet in WNY, but he said the disease and beetles are being spread through transport of lumber and firewood.

Lowry also reported that he met foresters from several other local municipalities who have been able to obtain grants for urban forestry. He said typically the DEC wants municipalities to first create a tree inventory and management plan, and said there are grants available for that as well.

Board member DiPasquale said that grass is not surviving in several areas along Monroe Street sidewalks. He said he has asked a contractor for an estimate to replace the areas with concrete. Several board members felt concrete was not the solution. Burrell said DiPasquale should seek multiple solutions and bring them to the board for discussion.

Burrell brought to the board’s attention that the Village does not have a required Code of Ethics Law. He said he and Moriarty will draft language based on NYCOM guidelines and the Town of Ellicottville’s existing law for the board’s approval. A public hearing will be part of the process.

The May meeting of the board has been moved up one week, to May 1, at 6 p.m. in the village/town hall.

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