Desire To Move Quickly Causes Complications

One can certainly understand Mayor Cara Birrittieri’s concern when Lakewood residents told her herbicides may have been applied on Chautauqua Lake within Lakewood’s boundaries after the Lakewood Village Board explicitly voted against using herbicides within village limits.

The desire to move quickly to make sure the public’s health wasn’t at risk is also understandable. Had there been herbicides accidentally applied in Lakewood, signs would have needed to be posted to keep people and pets out of the water until the area was deemed safe.

What is less understandable is why Birrittieri didn’t at least poll the board before agreeing to spend money to test the water. No one on the Lakewood Village Board should have been surprised that the water testing happened — it was reported by The Post-Journal on June 16. What surprised two of the board members, however, was the fact that the village received a bill for the water testing that they didn’t know was coming. It isn’t clear whether or not Birrittieri actually broke any rules by approving the $835 test; board members Doug Schutte and Ted McCague both said the mayor can spend less than $2,500 without board approval because it’s part of the mayoral contractual account. Board members Ellen Barnes and Randall Holcomb say the water testing is unbudgeted spending that must be approved by the Village Board.

As we have said before in this space, just because something is legal doesn’t automatically make it the best course of action. Barnes and Holcomb have appropriately, in our view, raised concerns over executive action by Birrittieri in the past, including the mayor’s hiring of an attorney and agreeing to pay a retainer without board approval.

With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that no herbicides were deployed in Lakewood. Birrittieri didn’t know that on June 15, so the desire to act quickly is understandable. In our view, Birrittieri at least should have performed a phone or email poll of the board before hiring anyone to test the water off of Lakewood’s shores so that all board members were aware that there would be a cost, even a small one, while giving their blessing to the testing. It wouldn’t have taken so much time as to put the public at risk and would have given those with opposing viewpoints at least a chance to give their opinion. Given the past history between Birrittieri and some members of the board, it would have been a more prudent course of action.

And, it would seem a legal opinion from someone at the state level is needed to put this matter to bed once and for all.