The Seneca Falls Town Board moved in a direction, which some did not expect on Tuesday – as discussion about cost of living, property taxes, and overall expense to local taxpayers continues to take center stage.
In November, Councilmember Doug Avery attempted to make a motion to eliminate the position of full-time town attorney. That motion was ruled out of order; and the Town Board ultimately had that item before them at Tuesday’s session.
Allison Stokes addressed the board on the subject of ‘total cost’ associated with legal services in Seneca Falls during public comment. She noted that between $90,000 invested into Foster’s salary, along with upwards of $220,000 spent on outside legal counsel for the various legal battles playing out in Seneca Falls. She called it ‘wasteful spending’ and suggested that the Town Board take action to those expenditures.
Matt Blair, a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, defended Foster – calling him honest and fair. “He has integrity,” Blair added. “He’s been consistently providing outstanding legal counsel and service to the Town.” The Zoning Board member also submitted a letter of resignation, for the possibility of the Town Board opting to move away from the full-time town attorney setup.
Councilor Avery made the motion to eliminate the position; and said he was doing it to ‘correct the record’ on his previous attempt in November, which was ruled out of order.
“The allegation was made that the three of us had met illegally to strategize about this whole thing,” he explained. “That was quite simply a fabrication. We went to great lengths to avoid talking to each other in groups of three.”
Town Supervisor Greg Lazzaro responded, noting that email conversations can also be considered meetings under law. “I don’t have the court cases in front of me, but meetings of three are not just physical,” he explained. The supervisor said they can include conversations over the phone or by email.
Lazzaro stood by his assessment of the original motion from November.
Deputy Supervisor Lou Ferrara said after that he isn’t overjoyed by the outside counsel circumstance, but noted that it’s necessary at this stage of the game. “[Foster] realizes that he has areas of expertise, and he’s sought out outside counsel as a way to make sure the Town is protected,” he explained. “We’ll have to pay him for another year even if we let him go, and seeking out outside counsel isn’t justification for dismissal,” Ferrara added.
After the motion was on the table — Avery said that he did so to ‘clear the air’ and moved to rescind it. Counselor Dave DeLelys rescinded his second, and the board moved on to the next item of business.
Foster thanked the board for their support and said he keeps an open door policy if any of them believe he isn’t fulfilling his obligations as town attorney.