Monticello fires manager
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Zach Kelson was expecting to find himself out of a job Monday night.
He just expected to be replaced rather than fired.
“I was planning to depart when they hired a new manager, which I expected to happen that evening,” he said.
Kelson, the Monticello village manager, had been hired in December to temporarily replace John Barbarite while the village board searched for a permanent replacement.
Controversy had dogged him since the split vote to hire him, however, and Mayor Gordon Jenkins and Trustee TC Hutchins often voiced their dissatisfaction with his lack of office hours (Kelson maintains a full-time law practice in the village).
On Monday with Kelson absent from the village board meeting due to a prior commitment the tension again came to a head when village consultant Glenn Gidaly gave his recommendations for projects to be submitted for a $2.5 million Restore NY state grant.
Village trustees angrily told Gidaly that this was the first time they were seeing this information, yet they were being expected to vote that evening on what projects to formally include in the ultra-competitive grant process.
Their frustration turned into fury when Gidaly told them he had sent his recommendations to both Kelson and Village Clerk Edith Schop the Friday before, with the assumption that trustees would receive the material in time to review it.
Schop, however, was off that day, and Kelson never forwarded the e-mail to any trustees.
“This is a prime example of the no-show manager in the village,” remarked an embarrassed Jenkins.
Trustees Carmen Rue and Hutchins criticized Gidaly for not taking it upon himself to e-mail the trustees directly, but Gidaly refused to accept that argument.
“Whether or not the information gets out to everyone it’s supposed to, that’s not my responsibility,” he told the seething board.
Gidaly said he assumed Kelson would distribute the e-mail to the trustees, but when contacted on Tuesday, Kelson said the e-mail in question had been received by him just before 5:30 Friday evening with no request to forward it on to anyone else.
Nevertheless, on Monday Jenkins made a motion to terminate Kelson, which Hutchins seconded.
“I want him out so we can move forward,” said the mayor.
“We’re in jeopardy of losing $2.5 million for the revitalization of Monticello,” Hutchins angrily observed. “How much longer can we continue doing this?”
The motion received support from trustees Victor Marinello and Scott Schoonmaker who had originally voted to hire Kelson and had been his staunch defenders the past few months but not from Rue.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Kelson had yet to be officially informed of his termination, but he thanked the board, the village staff and the public for allowing him to serve them.
“I wish them all good luck in the future,” Kelson remarked.
Monday’s 4-1 vote finally enabled Jenkins to take over as temporary village manager, since a permanent manager has yet to be hired.
“I don’t want any pay,” the mayor said.
Though village code stipulates the mayor can be the temporary replacement for a manager, Jenkins had been blocked last year by Schoonmaker, Rue and Marinello from taking the post after he heatedly berated them for firing Barbarite, threatening to “shut down” the village and fire employees.
On Monday, Jenkins promised that those words would not become reality.
“I’m not hiring anyone, I’m not firing anyone,” he assured. “The only thing I’m there to do is help the public.”
And he may not sit in that chair for long, as it is. Though the mayor said the process will not be rushed, he explained that the board is close to hiring a permanent, full-time village manager.
Sources close to the negotiations say it may very well be Gozza Agency COO Chris Gozza, a Liberty native who was at the meeting Monday night.
Gozza confirmed this week that he is vying for the position but would not comment further.
In the meantime, the board was scheduled to have a meeting last night to continue a public hearing on the Restore NY grant application and possibly finalize it for submittal to the state. (See Tuesday’s Democrat for an update.)