Disagreements Leave Village Without Mayor

Deputy Mayor Ted McCague was seemingly appointed mayor at the last regular board meeting at the village of Lakewood. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

LAKEWOOD — It was thought that Deputy Mayor Ted McCague was going to be the new mayor of the village of Lakewood.

After a recent appointment attempt at the last regular meeting and one trustee changed his mind, the board still did not have a majority to confirm McCague as mayor, leaving the village without one after a heated Village Board meeting Friday.

The same motion presented by Trustee Doug Schutte at the last regular meeting was presented before the board: to have McCague serve as appointed mayor through one term that would last until the end of the year and another that would last through 2019. The next elected mayor will be decided in the 2019 general election.

McCague had abstained from voting for himself at the last regular meeting, which resulted in a 2-1 vote with Schutte and Trustee Randy Holcomb being in favor and Trustee Ellen Barnes not casting her vote for McCague.

At Friday’s special meeting, Schutte and Barnes voted the same, and McCague voted to appoint himself. However, Holcomb decided to change his vote against McCague’s appointment because he said there wasn’t transparency regarding discussions to fill a new trustee position that would have needed to be filled if McCague had been mayor. Holcomb said he worked for 11 days to set up this candidate for the position but didn’t feel like he was being met halfway.

Talks regarding an unnamed candidate had been progressing when the board thought McCague was the new mayor. However, the appointment was challenged when Barnes and Village Attorney John LaMancuso realized a majority vote in regard to all five positions of the board, not just members voting, was needed.

Holcomb only compromised to vote for McCague’s appointment in October based on a good faith stipulation that the entire board would have a say in who would become the next trustee. The mayor has the full authority to appoint a needed trustee.

“I feel I’ve held up my end of the bargain, and I’ve heard little or nothing from Mr. McCague or Mr. Schutte about a compromise,” Holcomb said as he went into a prepared speech about how he felt McCague hadn’t communicated with him about the new future trustee. “So no, I will not support appointing Mr. McCague as mayor. I revert back to my original decision of leaving the mayor position vacant.”

Holcomb shared that he thinks the Village Board would operate well with just the four of them with McCague as deputy mayor until the next election. Holcomb went further and accused former Mayor Cara Birrittieri of purposely resigning weeks after her move to Florida so that a vote for mayor would not be on the ballot for Tuesday’s election. He thinks she was coached to put the village in its current situation.

“It did not have to be this way,” Holcomb said.

Barnes said there is precedent in the village for having a functional board of only four members.

Schutte thought they had all been moving in the “same direction” in regard to possibly appointing a new trustee. He mentioned not understanding Holcomb’s change of heart and how Holcomb had suggested the process was not proceeding with good faith.

“It’s appalling to me that we have somebody with the capacity of this person not leading our village,” Schutte said. “It’d be one thing if we did not have somebody who was capable as functioning as our mayor. … We have that person.”

He then accused Barnes and Holcomb of being obstructionists. Barnes said she thought the agreement on a trustee would have happened before this special meeting to correctly appoint McCague as mayor. Holcomb mentioned there has been too much turnover of trustees in the past few years.

McCague confirmed with LaMancuso that the trustee seat has to be vacated in order for a new trustee to be appointed. He wanted to wait to have further discussion about the new trustee and possible candidates until after he was appointed mayor while Barnes and Holcomb wanted an informal agreement of at least 3-1 on who would be the new trustee before the appointment.

“This is ridiculous, folks,” McCague said to the audience, which became heated after the compromise from Holcomb was dropped.

He expressed that Barnes mentioning that he knew of who ordered the water tests in Lakewood was “ridiculous” and false. Previous accusations while Birrittieri was mayor had named her as the person who ordered water testing that the Chautauqua Lake Association billed the village for after a check to see if herbicides were used to treat village waters without permission. Tests revealed that the waters had not been treated.

“To me, I see no sign that it’s going to change,” Barnes said in regards to transparency among the board members, the lack of which she cited for her reason to continue opposing McCague’s appointment. “I am open to communication, and that communication has not been forthcoming at this point.”

McCague used the same argument against her, saying transparency goes both ways and told her she hasn’t been transparent with him either.

“If you want to know what’s going on in this village, get involved,” he challenged her while banging on the desk. “Do something. What have you produced in the whole time that you’ve been on this board? Absolutely nothing. Other than throw spitballs.”

McCague said Barnes thinks he is going to be exactly like Birrittieri and said that’s false and that he hasn’t yet had the chance to prove himself.

Multiple residents called on the board to try to come to an agreement, which wasn’t reached as of adjournment. One resident, Laura Smith, said she had respect for all four trustees and would like to see them work things out, citing the division, muttering and banging on the table as embarrassing.

“There is certainly no reason in the world why we shouldn’t have a mayor in Lakewood,” Schutte reiterated.

LaMancuso chimed in by saying the vote for mayor didn’t need to be decided today and could be brought up again for further discussion. He also said that he’d like to see a board with five members as soon as possible because village government is designed to have five positions to break ties. He had also advised McCague not to vote for himself but said there was no law that prevented him from doing so.

The next regular meeting of the village board will take place Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 6:30 p.m.