Village Board Sets Bad Financial Precedent

An Aug. 27 letter from Doug Conroe, Chautauqua Lake Association executive director, to the village of Lakewood states that “reputable individuals” saw what appeared to be herbicide treatments in Lakewood’s waters in mid-June. The CLA conducted water testing and then submitted an invoice to the village of Lakewood.

Lakewood Village Board members Randall Holcomb and Ellen Barnes say the village’s mayor, Cara Birrittieri, is responsible for an invoice sent from the CLA to the village in early July. Bririttieri denies that claim. If one takes her comments at face value, that leads to us to wonder who, exactly, the mysterious “reputable individuals” are cited in the CLA letter.

The Aug. 27 letter, sent after a request by Birrittieri to clarify the issue, only muddies the water by citing “reputable individuals” as the source of the water testing request and then claiming the association is merely requesting reimbursement of its costs from the village. There are important legal differences between invoices and reimbursements, but the central issue is the same; since when do the requests of a “reputable individuals” result in an invoice to be paid for by village taxpayers? Who decided that these “reputable individuals” are more reputable than the state DEC, who told anyone who asked that there were no herbicides applied in Lakewood. They would know, after all, since they were actually on the boats when the herbicides were being applied in Busti.

We said last week in this space that it would actually have been understandable if Birrittieri had ordered the water testing, as is alleged by trustees Barnes and Holcomb in a letter they filed with the village clerk on Aug. 27. Birrittieri has publicly maintained the testing happened “independent of village government” as far back as a June 16 story in The Post-Journal. She reiterated that statement on Monday. Barnes gave a conflicting report during the Aug. 27 Village Board meeting, saying Conroe told her Birrittieri requested the testing and citing another private citizen as confirmation.

The weight of this comical situation falls on Birrittieri and Conroe because they’re really the only two people who can make clear to the public exactly what happened, and only Conroe can speak as to the identity of the “reputuable individuals” who requested the testing. In June, Birrittieri told reporter Jordan Patterson that the testing was independent of the village government. In the same June 16 story, however, Conroe said the CLA was “glad to help the village.” Was the CLA helping the village or “reputable individuals?” Something smells worse than weeds left to rot on the shores of Chautauqua Lake.

If the CLA can’t come up with the person who authorized the tests, or is unwilliing to do so because it jeopardizes funding from the village, then the CLA should rescind the invoice. If someone in village government authorized the testing — either as part of their official duties or outside of their official duties — and prompted the CLA invoice, then that person should fess up and deal with the possible legal repercussions. There is no gray area here — whoever asked for the water to be tested should pay or the water sampling should be considered pro bono work.

It’s hard to believe that a measly $853.40 is causing such a ruckus, but Lakewood residents should be concerned. Guessing the identity of the “reputable individuals” is a fun game to play, but the process involving this $853.40 is the major issue; and that process is convoluted at best. The first thing the village received was an invoice in July. By the end of August, the terminology has changed from an invoice to a request for reimbursement. It doesn’t sound like much, but there is actually a big difference between an invoice and a request for reimbursement. An invoice is a document that states the items purchased and the amount payable, communicating between the buyer and the seller that the seller has provided goods and now expects to be paid. A reimbursement is the act of paying someone for expenses they have paid, and the organization hearing the request has the option of making a full or partial reimbursement.

On Aug. 27, the board unanimously approved paying an invoice. When it became clear that no one in the village had actually requested the water testing, Holcomb and Barnes questioned the payment and wanted to stop the payment. Despite knowing that no one elected to the village’s elected offices actually commissioned the water testing, trustees Doug Schutte, Ted McCague and Birrittieri voted in favor of the audit of claims, allowing the payment to go ahead, while Holcomb and Barnes voted against. Let us repeat this — the mayor and two trustees voted to pay an invoice for services that the mayor has steadfastly, since June, said happened outside of the village government. Again, the village agreed to pay an invoice that the mayor denies approving. Where is the logic in that?

Under such misguided logic, a “reputable individual” could notice a home within the village that is too dangerous to remain standing, take it upon themselves to order an emergency demolition and then send the village an invoice for thousands of dollars. A “reputable individual” could notice a heaving sidewalk, fix it because he fears someone tripping and falling, and then send the invoice for his work to the village for payment. In neither case did the village request the work. Substitute water testing for housing demolition or sidewalk repair and the fictional situations mirror reality. The Lakewood Village Board has just set a bad financial precedent.

Lakewood residents, we ask you, are some of these board members the type of elected individuals you want handling your hard-earned tax money?

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