Supervisor and board discuss at length internal communications
The Bethlehem Town Board has effectively overridden Supervisor Sam Messina’s decision to begin Webcasts of board meetings, objecting to its cost and procedure.
The board voted 4-1 in a Wednesday, May 26, meeting, to rescind the contract Messina had signed to purchase equipment and training that would have wired Town Hall’s meeting room for Internet broadcast and archiving. Messina dissented, maintaining he was authorized to sign the contract without first bringing it before the board.
Board members, however, railed against the matter as an example of a breakdown in communication at Town Hall.
The tyranny of one is democracy for none, Councilman Mark Hennessey said.
Messina, however, said he felt as if the Town Board was stonewalling him on many issues, including his requests to spend for Town Hall repairs and make repairs to the park’s tennis court lights.
`I feel every time I communicate with this board, what I communicate is picked apart,` he said. `I’ve got to get a little cooperation to move this town forward.`
Councilman Kyle Kotary ` who raised the matter under the `new business` portion of the meeting ` said his primary objection to the contract was spending money on a `luxury item` in uncertain economic times.
`Only a few nights ago we were down in Selkirk telling people we don’t have money for bridges, sidewalks, sewers and the like,` he said, referencing a community forum held on Monday, May 24.
Messina said he authorized the expenditure of $12,800 for equipment purchases and $3,000 for training on Friday, May 21. The money would have come out of a line item in the supervisor’s budget for `other contractual services.`
Messina said the town would later enter into a $410 per month contract with IQM2 of Ronkonkoma to provide software.
`I had the money in my budget, I had the authority to do this,` he said.
Town Attorney James Potter said that while the town code says the board must authorize contracts, the board also delegates authority to enter into them in many situations for practicality’s sake. If a Highway Department needed to purchase shovels, for example, the superintendent wouldn’t have to come before the board to authorize the expenditure.
There is a schedule of purchasing practices, Potter continued, which details the limits of this policy.
Looking at policy, however, he was unable to say if the current situation would have been allowed or not.
`This written guideline is not crystal clear,` Potter said.
This assumes the expense falls under the category of the line item, though. Several board members said the idea of Webcasting had come up in the budgeting process.
`The board had opined on this situation. The board had removed it from the budget,` Kotary said.
Messina said everyone liked the idea, but the cost being discussed at that time was much higher, around $60,000 to $80,000.
`It’s clearly documented that [former supervisor Jack Cunningham] thought this was a good idea to have streaming video, just that the cost was too much,` Messina said.
Hennessey suggested pulling the contract back and going into a competitive bidding process.
`I will be very happy to work with you on a project like this so we can put it out to competitive bid,` Hennessey said.
Messina declined, at which time Councilman Mark Jordan presented a motion to rescind the contract.