Confusion Reigns In Grafton
by Alex Brooks
Deputy Supervisor Cathy Goyer again presided over the Grafton Town Board meeting on July 9. About half an hour into the meeting she read a letter of resignation from Town Bookkeeper Victoria Nellis which she said she had “just received today.” However, the letter was dated June 30, and when questioned by members of the audience and Town Board members, she said that her daughter Carrie Minkler had been appointed to the position over a week earlier.
[private]Goyer said the bookkeeper is a position appointed by the Supervisor. She said, “I made the appointment with Ray’s [Supervisor Darling's] approval.”
None of the Town Board members had heard anything about this until this meeting. Board Member Barbara Messenger was astonished that Goyer had not told anyone on the Board about this situation. “You knew about this but did not tell anyone on the Board. This is a complete surprise to us.”
Victoria Nellis’ resignation letter went on at some length about the ways in which she felt undermined both by the Town Board members and the former bookkeeper, Tyler Sawyer.
Sawyer was seeking bookkeeping reports last month through a Freedom of Information Act request, but why he wanted them or what he was looking for has not been made public. Both Barbara Messenger and Marie Claus have made it clear that they have doubts about whether the Town’s books are in good order, but exactly what it is that they are concerned about has not been made public.
There was a discussion about this earlier in the meeting when Barbara Messenger pointed out that the Supervisor’s Report has not been accepted by the Town Board since February and asked if there is a plan to “correct” the Supervisor’s Report.
Deputy Supervisor Goyer said she doesn’t know what it is that they have concerns about, so she doesn’t know what they want her to do.
Another matter that Nellis mentioned in her letter was training. She said the company that supports the Town’s accounting software wanted her to take two training sessions to make sure she was using the software properly and the Town Board paid for the first one but declined to pay for the second one, which Nellis paid herself.
Nellis apparently felt uncomfortable amid the mistrust, non-communication and factionalism that have characterized Grafton government recently. Cathy Goyer said she found Nellis’ letter very upsetting. Although she didn’t elaborate, she apparently meant that a newly hired Town employee should be given more support and encouragement than Nellis received in her first half year in the job.
In the public comment period that followed this revelation, a number of people were very critical of Deputy Supervisor Goyer. Pat Ivory said it was the second time she made a Town employment decision without consulting the Town Board, which he felt was not right. “You guys have got to get together! This is embarrassing,” he concluded.
Doug La Rocque had some similar things to say. He said, “I have never seen this kind of stonewalling by a chief executive to the elected Town Board members.” He also said that Goyer appointing her daughter without consulting anyone is clearly nepotism, and he called on Carrie Minkler to resign.
Goyer said this was not a fair characterization of how the appointment was made. She said when the town advertised the position in January, Carrie Minkler applied for it and was the second choice among the applicants. She has a four year degree from RPI in business finance, and she is currently working for a CPA firm in Albany. When Goyer consulted with Supervisor Ray Darling about who to hire to replace Nellis, it was natural to choose the person who was the second choice in the previous search process.
A lack of confidence in the Town’s financial condition was also a recurring theme in this meeting. Doug La Rocque said, “No one knows what the Town’s financial condition is.” Later, when asked to approve budget transfers, Marie Claus said, “We’ve already made the point that we don’t trust the numbers. I don’t want to vote for this.”
Barbara Messenger tried to suggest a collaborative effort by asking if the Town Board could help with sorting out the finances. Goyer seemed to feel there was nothing to sort out, and nothing came of the exchange. Just about everybody is in favor of an audit. Goyer contacted the State Comptroller’s Office to schedule an audit. While at first they thought they might be able to come do an audit in July, they are now talking early to mid-August.
Town Garage Roof
Councilman Rick Ungaro said it was brought to his attention that a hole in the roof of the Town Garage was leaking on to the electrical panel during rainstorms. He brought in a roofer to fix this hole. The roofer looked over the rest of the roof and found seven holes in it. Deputy Supervisor Cathy Goyer said the Town does not have the money to replace the entire roof but they are getting estimates to repair the holes. Goyer said Highway Superintendent Herb Hasbrouck told the previous administration that the roof needed repair or replacement and “he was asked to wait.” Former Councilman Ed Fredricks disputed that. He said the first time it was brought to the Board’s attention was “at the end of last year.” In any case, Ungaro said he hopes to get some estimates and move forward with repairs in the near future.
Councilwoman Barbara Messenger said she would like to have a discussion about the Town Secretary position. Since Marie Claus had made clear on several occasions that she would like the position to be 9 am to 2 pm each day, part time without benefits, Messenger asked Mike Crandall, as the most senior Councilman, what he thought. Crandall said he thought the position should return to being part time without benefits as originally discussed, but he made clear that this was because of budgetary constraints – no reflection on the person who fills the position. He said, “This young lady is everything we could want in a Secretary.”
Crandall made the motion to define the job as “up to 30 hours at $12 per hour, without benefits. The motion carried 3-1, with Claus and Messenger joining Crandall in voting in favor and Rick Ungaro voting against. Ungaro said he feels the Town should have someone in the Town Hall full time to respond to the needs of the citizens.
Grafton Trail Riders
The Board had more or less come to an agreement last month about giving permission for overnight camping on the Grafton Trail Riders property after Rick Ungaro suggested they use the same 60 hour limit specified in State law. But Councilwomen Claus and Messenger wanted a clean copy of the resolution with the new language in it and time to consider the new terms. However, no one had put together a new draft of the resolution in the intervening month, and the Board was temporarily stymied. But no one wanted to put off voting again, after the matter was tabled twice before. Marie Claus said if they want her to vote for it, the resolution would allow camping only on the Over the Mountain Weekend September 21-23, subject to the State limit of 60 hours. The Board agreed to vote on that and passed it unanimously.
Agenda For Town Board Meetings
Barbara Messenger said she would like to see the agenda for Town Board meetings circulated prior to arriving at the meeting so that Board members can be better prepared to deliberate on the matters that will come before them. She asked that a tentative agenda be put on the Town web site a week before each Town Board meeting. She made a motion to that effect, and it passed unanimously.
The Squad responded to 14 calls in June – three difficulty breathing, one fire standby, four falls, one call cancelled, one dog bite, one stroke, one seizure, one traumatic injury, one psychiatric. They put in 78 volunteer hours and traveled 488 miles. Congratulations were offered to Joe Allain for successful completion of NYS EMT-B exam, and to Jordan Baldwin for successful completion of NYS First Responder Certification.
Captain Donna Baldwin also said that the Rescue Squad needs to have access to a bathroom. Cathy Goyer said the Town is seeking estimates on having a lockable door installed between the bathroom and the front hallway, but they are not ready to go yet. Herb Hasbrouck then came forward to say that there is a problem with putting a door in that location – it hampers handicap access to the bathroom. But he said you don’t really need a door because all the offices are locked. The only thing that needs to be done is to put a lockable window in the Town Clerk’s customer service window. He said he would do that the next day.
A number of people asked at public comment time when Supervisor Ray Darling would be resuming his duties as Supervisor. Deputy Supervisor Goyer said she believes he is coming back but she doesn’t know when. Darling told the Eastwick Press that he has an appointment with his doctor late this month, and he hopes to get approval to come back to work next month.[/private]