The first meeting of the Town of Aurora with its two new board members in place was held on Jan. 10, and already the shift in party dynamics is resulting in debate and changes in government for the year ahead.
While they disagreed on some matters, most board members said they felt the process was respectful and hoped to maintain that going forward.
The town board holds its annual reorganization meeting to conduct appointments for its advisory and zoning boards in January. Normally these meetings are uneventful, but this week’s meeting saw the new council members suggest and approve new people to posts different than what had been proposed by Supervisor James Bach. The main change included a new person as the town attorney, and the removal of someone who has been involved with the town for many years.
With a 3-2 vote, Brigid Maloney was appointed as the town attorney. She will replace Joel Kurtzhalts, who was appointed a few months ago.
Council members James Granville, Joseph McCann and Luke Wochensky were in favor of her appointment, while Bach and Councilman Charles Snyder voted against the measure. Bach and Snyder had suggested Kurtzhalts to the post, but they were defeated in their motion.
Granville and McCann are new members to the board and join Wochensky as the first Democratic majority in Aurora in well over a hundred years, according to research conducted by Town Historian Robert Goller.
McCann said interviews were held for the various posts, including town attorney. He said Maloney has an extensive background he thought would benefit the town. She is with the firm Lippes Mathias and he felt that was a benefit as she could use the firm for additional support.
Wochensky agreed, saying she was a “phenomenal attorney.”
Bach said Maloney interviewed well, but did not think she had the same municipal legal experience Kurtzhalts has, who has been a town attorney for the Town of Marilla and the firm Bennett, DiFilippo& Kurtzhalts, LLP has been involved in local government legal matters for years.
Maloney’s online biography states that she served for 10 years as general counsel and chief compliance officer at UBMD Physicians Group at the University of Buffalo, and for four years she advised the county hospital and nursing home as an assistant county attorney for Erie County.
In a similar 3-2 vote, Ronald Bennett will no longer be the deputy town attorney. He took that role about four months ago, transitioning from the main town attorney and having Kurtzhalts as the leader. Bennett had been with the town for many years.
There were some other changes related to the attorney’s post. In September 2021, the deputy post was given to Bennett and the role was given a salary, as he was to help with the town’s advisory boards. The main town attorney salary was also cut at that time to reflect the change in duties.
The new board members made a motion to change duties and salary back to what it had been before September 2021. Firstly, former Deputy Town Attorney and current Town Prosecutor Edward Snyder was re-appointed to that role. The board majority also adjusted the salaries so that the deputy’s salary went back to the main attorney. McCann said they wanted it the way it was before four months ago, and that it meant no increase to the budget.
The new majority also voted against re-appointing David Librock to the Planing Board for another 7-year term, instead approving Jeanne Beiter for the role. Librock had been a member of the Planning Board for 14 years. Bach said Librock probably missed only one meeting in that time and thought he was an excellent candidate to stay on the Planning Board. He also said he did not like the idea of removing people who still want to help, and that there are often people leaving the board each year, which would open it up for new people to step forward. Wochensky said that Beiter holds a master’s degree in urban planning and had been involved in work for the City of Ithaca, and he felt that her background would be a good resource for the town.
McCann said he thought Librock was a great candidate, and even asked Librock if he wanted to serve as an alternate to the Planning Board. Librock said he appreciated the offer but had other volunteer opportunities at this time.
All members who serve on the town’s zoning or advisory boards do so as volunteers. They are not compensated for the roles.
McCann also said that the board should not ignore people who step forward and should look to give them a chance now to do something, otherwise they might lose interest in the future. After the meeting, McCann noted in an email that it “was a little more intense than I expected,” but he wanted to point out that “the new Democratic majority appointed three women to the Planning Board, two women to the ZBA and our first female Town Attorney.”
“All of these women are highly qualified and bring much experience to their new roles,” he said.
After the meeting, the members said they were looking forward to the future working together.
“I do appreciate how well this board has run over the many, many years. And I’m very happy to be a part of it,” James Granville said.
Supervisor Bach noted the differences but added he thought it would be easy to work through them.
“We’re not always going to agree, as you saw tonight. But if we’re respectful of each other in our decisions, then we can move forward and do what’s best for the town,” Bach said.
The next board meeting is Jan. 24.