Middletown fills planning and ZBA posts

By Matthew J. Perry
Four candidates were accepted last month by the Middletown Town Board to fill a full-time position and two alternates on the planning board, and one alternate to the zoning board of appeals.
Catherine McCarthy will fill a seat vacated by Pete Palen at the beginning of the year. Kate VanBenschoten and Paula de Simone were chosen as alternates, while that position on ZBA is now filled by Carolyn Konheim. All were approved by the board by a vote of four to one.
Middletown faced unusual circumstances when it found a relatively deep pool of applicants expressing interest in unpaid town positions. More accustomed to replacements dribbling in, the town board debated over how best to screen the applicants and make evaluations. Some voices on the board, including Supervisor Len Utter and Don Kearney, who sits on the personnel committee, expressed confidence in the existing review process, which was informal and often confined to telephone interviews. Councilman Brian Sweeney argued that with so many applicants, some of whom were entirely unknown to the board, a more formal method was necessary.
In the end, the board did call applicants in for private interviews. All members of the council were allowed to ask questions, but not all did. Utter, who had earlier expressed full confidence in the personnel committee’s ability to make the choices, said he observed but did not actively participate in the interviews. Kearney could not be reached for comment.
Sweeney said he felt the interviews had gone well but that the format had not been properly utilized. “I pushed for interviews because I thought it was important that we got to know something about each candidate. Some of the applicants I had never even met. I thought the interviews were very enlightening. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that the input received from the candidates was fully considered when the board appointments were made.”
Utter said that despite the fact that alternates will not have a vote on most issues, their presence on the board would help to avoid deadlocks by insuring that a quorum can always be met. Passage of board resolutions requires that a majority of the total members vote in favor, not a majority of those present. “Having a full board at all times helps business to go on as it should,” he said. “It’s frustrating for contractors and homeowners on tight schedules to be held up 30 days if there aren’t enough members present to have a quorum.”
Alternates are expected to attend all the meetings they possibly can and to stay informed of board’s docket in case their vote is unexpectedly required. In casting the lone vote against the appointments, Sweeney acknowledged the importance of the alternates’ position.
“I’m not saying that the people chosen aren’t qualified,” he said. “But I think that a long-term connection to the area is one factor that should have been given more weight in the decision-making process. The planning board deals with a lot of important issues and I’m not sure why other candidates with long ties to the area and solid qualifications weren’t given greater consideration.”
The four other candidates for the positions were John Blish, Tammy Castillo, Glenna Herz and Jake Rosa. Castillo previously had served an appointment to the planning board.