Tempers ran high at a Tuesday, Feb. 12, meeting of the Ballston Town Board that devolved into nearly four hours of bickering and finger pointing, highlighted by the accusations of attempted bribery by a developer.
The bribe accusation was leveled by Councilwoman Mary Beth Hynes during a presentation for a proposed mixed-use development at the vacant Janet’s V Corners lot in Ballston. Before the presentation, Supervisor Patti Southworth said she would be recusing herself from voting on the project due to a prior interaction with the applicant, David Osher of Morgan Communities.
“I don’t feel I can make an impartial decision on the application,” she said.
Hynes said Southworth had told her Osher offered a bribe during a meeting between the supervisor, Planning Board Chairman Richard Doyle and Building Inspector Tom Johnson.
“You all heard the supervisor would not be voting on the proposal because of some interaction she had with you,” said Hynes to the developer. “I have heard the word ‘bribe’ thrown out there and I would like to you an opportunity to address that.”
“To be honest with you, I don’t know what you are referring to,” said Osher. “I have had no interaction of this type at all with the supervisor.”
Southworth later declined elaborate on why she recused herself beyond saying her conversation with Hynes was misinterpreted.
“I had a negative interaction with Dave (Osher) and he made an offer that I felt he crossed the line that I was not willing to have crossed,” she said. “I thought it was unacceptable. I am not willing to compromise on my integrity. I am protecting the town.
“I’m the only one that knows what my comfort zone is based on my interactions with the developer,” she continued. “He deserves to be looked at solely by what he is presenting and nothing else.”
Hynes argued if a bribe was indeed offered, it would be a criminal matter that demands investigation. Southworth said throwing accusations around in public prejudices the project.
“This puts the town in a position where we could be sued and jeopardizes this project.”
She went on to say the entire matter is aimed at dashing her aspirations to become Saratoga County clerk.
“The board is trying to destroy me,” she said. “This is solely about trying to bloody me up. They don’t want me to have any political position, let alone the county clerk position.”
The developer is pitching a senior housing development of 444 apartments, along with 50,000 square feet of retail space on 32 acres of land. The board asked the developer on Tuesday to revise the plans to include more retail space.
Things did not cool down at the meeting as the Town Board wrapped up a weeks-long process to buy a pickup truck.
The drawn-out battle for the truck purchase stems from a decision by the Town Board to move some highway funds, including equipment purchases, into a capital reserve fund. As a result, Highway Superintendent Joe Whalen needs to get permission from the board for such purchases.
At the meeting Southworth said because the purchase was coming out of the capital reserve fund, it would be subject to a permissive referendum. But other board members questioned the need for a public vote over such a simple matter. Southworth replied she had verified through research that this was subject to that permissive referendum.
Her comments drew ire from the board members, who appeared frustrated at the length of time it was taking for the simple purchase.
“Here we are, we approved this a couple of months ago,” said Councilman Tim Szczepaniak. “As budget officer, you’re the one that is supposed to follow through with that.”
Szczepaniak said he had gotten a call from Whalen because he was ready to pick up the truck and the funds weren’t available.
“He can’t do it,” said Szczepaniak. “That’s just downright embarrassing.”
In the end the board agreed to transfer the funds to the fund balance so the truck could be picked up.
Whalen, seemingly caught in the middle of the bickering, expressed frustration.
“The meeting on this truck was Dec.12, it’s now Feb. 12.,” he said. “These are the little things that get aggravating when you’re trying to run a department.