Monticello board divided on manager, attorney
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Monticello Village Attorney Jacob Billig technically lost his job but didn’t Monday night, while Village Manager Zach Kelson kept his in split votes at the reorganizational village board meeting.
It began with village resident Mattie Anderson telling board members it seemed unfair to allow Kelson who will soon be replaced by a permanent village manager to make the annual job appointments that are a standard part of every reorganizational meeting.
Newly sworn-in Trustee TC Hutchins and Mayor Gordon Jenkins agreed, and Trustee Scott Schoonmaker made a motion to have the future manager make those appointments.
But Trustee Victor Marinello protested, “We have a village manager in place.… He makes the appointment, period.”
Kelson himself didn’t think it would make a difference, but Billig told the board the village code is clear on the matter and cannot be changed by a simple vote but must be done by a new law. Thus the motion was dropped.
Hutchins then moved to terminate Kelson, arguing that he cannot serve in that position because he lives outside the village boundaries and is not the mayor, who village law says should be tabbed to serve temporarily as village manager (though Kelson is not the first village official to reside outside the village nor be a temporary manager who is not the mayor).
Schoonmaker immediately made a motion to go into non-public executive session, and when the board emerged about half an hour later, Hutchins kept his motion to terminate on the table.
Jenkins seconded it, but Schoonmaker, Marinello and Rue voted against it, keeping Kelson on the village payroll for now.
So Kelson made his appointments (which included naming the Democrat as the village’s official newspaper).
But the board also got to make some appointments, and Jenkins’ recommendation to retain Billig who has served for just the past year was shot down by Schoonmaker, Marinello and Rue. Hutchins cast the only other vote in favor.
Deputy Village Attorney Robert Gaiman unanimously garnered reappointment, yet Billig will actually stay on with the village until the mayor nominates a new appointee (whom the board approves) or Billig resigns.
Billig said he does not plan to resign and is eager to continue working to improve the village, mentioning his efforts to finally get the Broadway reconstruction effort going after a decade of delays.
“I’m continuing to do the work as the village attorney,” he explained after the meeting.
“I believe I have a good relationship with the entire board, and maybe it will be possible that they will reconsider,” Billig added, saying he was not surprised or disappointed in the vote. “... I am hopeful as they go on to select a new manager, that will bring more stability to the village.”
Of the three trustees who voted against retaining Billig, only Rue responded to an e-mailed request for comment this week.
“Speaking for myself, I did not feel like Billig represented the full board and the village’s interests as a whole,” she said. “He could have done a better job communicating with all five of us and staying neutral. Too often, rather than strictly advising us on the law, he acted either like he thought he was a sixth board member; or like the personal attorney for the mayor, Trustee Hutchins, or the past manager whom we fired.”
Rue also remarked about the manager vote, “Zach Kelson is doing a great job! I’m sorry he won’t be with us longer. He has performed a valuable public service by giving us the time he has, at personal sacrifice. The community should thank him for stepping in during a crisis when he was desperately needed. We are now interviewing professional managers. When we have the right one, and Zach is ready to go, the time will be right. We should not rush.”
Other appointments Monday evening included Jenkins’ reinstatement of Schoonmaker as deputy mayor and the board-approved naming of Dennis Diuguid as chair of the planning board.
The board also agreed to continue having the county handle its tax foreclosure proceedings, and Glenn Gidaly told trustees that the village has landed a $333,000 grant to completely fund the installation of sidewalks on the east side of Route 42 to connect the Broadway-area sidewalks to the ones near the Monticello High School.
Thus, “Walkable Monticello” will be designed, constructed and inspected at no cost to taxpayers. Even the writing of the grant was done by the county at no charge to the village.