Some worry that open government in Palmyra could be compromised if a third family member becomes a trustee.
Some think Thanksgiving dinner could constitute a quorum should the Republican candidate for village trustee, Pat Nolan, be voted into office on Election Day — and that has some people worried.
“My chief concern is that you would have three brother-in-laws voting on the budget of the fourth brother-in-law and then voting on the salary increase of the other brother-in-law’s wife, the deputy clerk,” said John Rigney, a longtime village resident. “That to me is a conflict of interest. I don’t think it’s good for democracy.”
Currently, sitting members of the Village Board are Republican brothers-in-law Chris Piccola and David Husk. Nolan, also a brother-in-law, would make three.
And those would be enough votes on a five-member board to pass any resolution. That concerns a Democratic candidate for the trustee seat, Peter Wimer.
“I’m concerned — not necessarily with the Piccola family, but the nepotism seems to be getting a little out of hand here,” he said. “What’s to stop them from getting rid of (Village Clerk) Alicia Lynch and putting in Chris’ wife (the current deputy clerk)? They’ll have a quorum at Christmas dinner.”
Questions also arise on how voting would work when making decisions affecting the highway department — currently run by Superintendent Mike Boesel, also a brother-in-law — as well as those surrounding the deputy clerk position, held by Mary Piccola, Chris’ wife.
The highway budget, Chris Piccola said, is not at issue. Those figures are controlled by the Town Board, and the village just votes to approve them. As for his wife, her raises are based on merit and approved by the entire board.
“I don’t see it as an issue,” he said. “I don’t see what political power would benefit my wife or anyone else. We have the best interests in mind for this village.”
Traditionally, when decisions were made concerning family members, those affected would abstain from voting because of conflict of interest. In this case, however, there could be no vote — there wouldn’t be enough people to legally make a decision.
Also at issue is the law surrounding what constitutes a quorum — three members of a sitting board together in one location can legally constitute a meeting if discussions or decisions could affect policy.
But the fact that a board is made up of members with family ties is not illegal, just awkward.
“Quorum alone does not constitute a meeting of a public body — people might meet by chance at social gatherings,” said Camille Jobin-Davis, assistant director for the state Committee on Open Government. “If they are not gathered to discuss business, there is no violation of open-meeting laws.”
“They must be extremely careful what they are talking about,” she said. “It could be a fine line. Whether they are discussing board business or the (Super Bowl) game, they would have to be very careful.”
Piccola said: “I don’t think anybody should have any worry. There is no big political takeover, no power-mongering going on. There’s nothing to get, and I don’t think anyone else does either. All I see is three people who care what happens in this village.”
The Palmyra Republican Committee will hold a Meet the Candidate session in the Village Park on Main Street this Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. The public is invited to meet the candidates, ask questions and enjoy cider and doughnuts.