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Bethlehem fills Planning Board seats

Split vote, heated discussion between supervisor and Town Board

In a split vote Wednesday, Jan. 27, the Bethlehem Town Board appointed Thomas Coffey and Steve Rice to fill two vacancies on the Planning Board. They will replace Katherine McCarthy and Daniel Coffey (the latter of whom earlier this month was appointed chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals).

Supervisor Sam Messina cast the dissenting vote. He approached the agenda item by proposing the vacancies be discussed amongst the board, but Councilman Mark Jordan countered by making a point of order that a motion must be made and seconded before discussion can be held on any such matter.

Messina motioned that the board fill one of the two vacant seats, but his motion was not met by a second. Jordan then motioned that Coffey and Rice be appointed.

A spirited discussion followed, during which all five members of the Town Board acknowledged the quality and volume of applications that had been received. Several said much consideration had been given to leaving one or both seats vacant as a cost savings measurePlanning Board members are paid $5,263 annuallybut concluded that having a larger, more robust board is essential.

"I think in the end, given the projects that are developing in this townI have come to the conclusion that this is a very important board and not the time or the place to think about reducing that board," said Councilwoman Joann Dawson.

Councilman Kyle Kotary, who at the last Town Board meeting spoke of the potential for cost savings, expressed similar thoughts.

"I'd rather ensure we have the quantity of quality representation," and seek cost savings elsewhere, he said.

Concerns were expressed over the board's ability to form a quorum if the seats were left vacant (four of the remaining five members would have to be present to constitute a quorum unless the board was formally reformed into a five-member entity). Councilman Mark Hennessey said that important projects before the board require timely consideration.

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