Public Officials Need To Play By The Rules

One doesn’t have to serve in elected office to hold a position of power, particularly at the town and village level of government.

For example, Myra Blasius, deputy chairperson of the Lakewood Zoning Board of Appeals, had a hand in deciding how the village of Lakewood would handle a contentious application from Blue Wireless to put a cell tower up in the village. Some are vehemently opposed to the tower for aesthetic reasons, others see the tower as beneficial to the future of the Lakewood Volunteer Fire Department and the legal fight over the tower as too costly to the village. And, the Zoning Board of Appeals hands down decisions on a regular basis that affect how village residents use their property.

Those who have a hand in such important decisions must avoid not only impropriety, but the appearance of impropriety.

That brings us to a fence Mrs. Blasius and her husband built on their property. A neighbor has complained that the fence, characterized as a replacement fence, was installed incorrectly with the finished side facing the Blasius’ property and the unfinished side facing the neighbor’s property. Village zoning codes stipulate fences must be built with the finished side facing out.

Michael Looker, the Blasius’ neighbor, alleges there has been pressure placed on village officials and employees behind the scenes to keep the dispute from being resolved. Both Mayor Cara Birrittieri and Ted McCague, village trustee, say there has been no political pressure placed on them, and they may be right. Given that the dispute would normally be heard by the board of which Mrs. Blasius is deputy chairperson, we understand how Looker would arrive at his conclusion. The reality is the Lakewood Zoning Board of Appeals can’t hear the case, so a neighboring Zoning Board of Appeals needs to be found to hear the case and make a decision.

Village officials say there has been no political pressure placed upon them, but it certainly does not look that way from the outside. In July alone, the Lakewood Village Board held two public hearings for special use permits from residents who wanted to build fences that didn’t comply with village zoning regulations. Those residents knew they needed a special use permit for their fence, so why didn’t the deputy chairperson of the Lakewood Zoning Board of Appeals?

It’s impossible to prove there have been shenanigans over the Blasius’ fence, but this is an issue that could have been avoided. It should be a lesson to anyone serving on a public board of how not to behave.