NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - The North Salem Town Board voted Thursday, March 19, to fill a vacant council seat, a move Supervisor Warren Lucas said was necessary in light of the current public health crisis.
Sworn in at noon Friday, March 20, was Croton Falls businessman Bob Daros, a Republican.
The town’s Democratic leaders, including Katherine Daniels, a former school board member who lost the November election by 12 votes, objected to the board’s action, calling it “unfair” to appoint anyone—of either party—who is running for election in the fall and would, as a result, gain a “leg up” by running as an incumbent.
Referring to the pandemic as “an unprecedented time,” Daros said he believes that Lucas was right about “needing a fifth person should something happen.”
As for serving on the Town Board, Daros said he would do his best, and hoped to apply both his business and emergency services experience to the position.
The emergency meeting was accessible on Google Zoom, an online videoconferencing site. Daniels, Democratic Committee chair Emily Siegel and a handful of others, including Daros, were in attendance. Town historian Susan Thompson commented virtually and Town Attorney Roland A. Baroni Jr. also tuned in.
Lucas had called the meeting in response to the spread of the coronavirus. At the time, there was only one confirmed case.
However, on Saturday, March 21, the supervisor announced that there were “several positive cases of COVID-19 in North Salem with an additional number of people quarantined.”
Lucas said last Thursday that he had become increasingly concerned over the past two weeks that the board wouldn’t be able to function if one or more members were taken ill.
Lucas said later that “staying at four people is a status that is inappropriate right now. We all get along, that is not the issue. If we lost more than one member, I would not have a Town Board.”
In an email after the meeting, Lucas said he had asked Daros to run “right after the election” because he felt he would make “a wonderful addition to the Town Board.”
He cited Daros’s business in Croton Falls and deep personal roots in the hamlet.
“Katherine is a nice person, but when I make a decision, I have always tried to do what I think is best for the town in the long run,” Lucas wrote about Daniels.
After hearing what Daniels and others such as Siegel and Councilman Martin Aronchick, the lone Democrat, had to say Thursday, the board voted 3-1 to appoint Daros.
Voting “yay” were Lucas, Deputy Supervisor Peter Kamenstein and Councilman Brent Golisano. Aronchick, after explaining at length why he couldn’t support the resolution, voted “nay.”
“I’m all about consensus. For that reason, I think we’ve been able to work through differences.”
It was the first time as a councilman that Aronchick said he felt he “needed to vote against something.”
“This, to say the least, has a partisan appearance. It’s unmistakable. It’s not about Bobby’s individual characteristics.”
Aronchick had told Daros, a fellow firefighter, ahead of time that he wouldn’t support appointing anyone.
“I hope it does not affect our friendship,” Aronchick said.
“It does not,” Daros replied.
Even the appearance of political motivation, Aronchick said, does “the opposite of what we ought to be doing during this time of crisis.”
He did not disagree with Lucas, however, that something had to be done in case a council member fell and a quorum couldn’t be reached.
Aronchick suggested the board could “easily fill” the fifth seat with someone who was not a declared candidate, arguing that there were many “capable” residents who could serve until the winner of the election was sworn in.
As for the suggestion that the board needed Daros in light of the town’s push to revitalize Croton Falls, Aronchick said, Daros, who runs a fuel oil and propane business there, could help out by offering his insights to the town Planning Board, which is spearheading the efforts.
“We have an election coming up in November. The people will decide,” Aronchick said.
“Neither Bobby nor Katherine are unfit for this appointment except to the extent that both of them would bring with them the appearance of partisanship and that is something that I cannot support,” he concluded.
“I appreciate your position,” said Lucas.
Said Thompson: “I have nothing against Bob Daros; I like Bob Daros. That is irrelevant. But the relevance here is fairness. And I don’t think a political appointment is fair.”
Thompson said she understood the need to fill the seat quickly, but thought it should be by someone who had promised not to run in the fall.
“Petitions have been carried and Katherine and Bob are the candidates,” she said.
Daniels reminded the board Thursday that she’d been asking “for months” that the seat, which was left open in November by Councilman-elect Thomas Moreo, a Republican, remain open because “that’s the fairest way to go into the election.”
“Right now, if you seat Bob, you are giving him a strategic advantage over me. I think that is grossly unfair. It interferes with the process of the election.”
According to Daniels, one option would have been to ask Lisa Douglas, who did not run for reelection, to remain temporarily on the council.
The other, she said, would be to appoint “a neutral person who has not declared that they are running for election.”
Town leaders are in danger of losing “a lot of credibility,” which Daniels said would be “extremely unfortunate.”
She later called the argument that Daros is the “best choice” for the seat because he is a Croton Falls businessman “utter nonsense.”
“In that capacity, he should be serving on the Croton Falls Revitalization Committee providing insight and recommendations to the board. Having him on the board provides zero benefit. In fact, the opposite may be true, as he would likely need to recuse himself from any decisions that directly benefit his business,” she said.
Charging Lucas with using the pandemic “as an excuse to give a strategic advantage to his personal pick in the election,” Daniels said in an email: “This was a brazen political move on Warren’s part and he needs to be called out on it.”
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