Mayoral candidates talk about leadership and relationships | News, Sports, Jobs
SARANAC LAKE — At a mayoral candidates forum on Wednesday evening, village residents were able to learn more about the three people who ran for mayor of Saranac Lake in the March 15 election.
The three mayoral candidates in next Tuesday’s election – Melinda Little, Jeremy Evans and Jimmy Williams – met at the Saranac Hotel in front of a crowd of around 60 to answer questions from moderators and the public.
The full two-hour forum — co-hosted by High Peaks DSA, Tri-Lakes Neighbors for Good Gov’t and Adirondack Independent News — can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3J2jRsR.
Williams was asked about the discrepancy between his government experience and that of Evans and Little. He said he sees this as an advantage, having a fresh look at old issues. He said the mayor’s job was to “orchestrate,” to find experts, empower them, and pave the way to a good culture in which they can work.
Williams focused on his goal of “repairing relationships”. One area he said it would help was filling vacant homes and storefronts.
“We need to reorganize the code and the development office”, he said. “We do not cooperate with the owners. …Relations generally don’t get better, they get worse, with exposure to these two offices,” said Williams. “Which makes people not want to make improvements.”
Little was asked how she stood up for community members who felt upset or attacked by Mayor Clyde Rabideau.
Little said she questioned her attitude toward citizens from the start. She said he has “admirable” qualities, but she distanced herself from him.
“He’s very aggressive, and especially with women he can come across as putting them down,” he added. she says. “I have no control over it. What I control is my own behavior. I’m the one running this time and my leadership style is very different.
There are things that frustrated her as a trustee, Little said. When she brought up the idea of the village having more work meetings to be more transparent, the idea was “close.”
Little said under his direction, there would be no more “piss matches” Where “Decisions taken behind closed doors” in the village.
“Unethical behavior has been a trend for several years,” said Williams.
He said change starts with leadership.
“Anyone who doesn’t do the right thing…must leave”, he said, adding that they had to be replaced by someone with good intentions.
Little said she would like to add business meetings to the village schedule to keep the public informed of upcoming decisions, invite department heads to speak at meetings, expand public commentary and possibly add a segment of questions answers. She said that the budget is dense and complicated. She said it should be simplified so the public can better read and understand where their money is going.
“We can make the budget easier to read tomorrow,” said Evans.
Evans presented himself as someone with a wealth of knowledge and the ability to use it.
“When I attend a village meeting, the village council and staff sit a little straighter because they know when I’m there and saying something, there’s some truth behind it all. “ said Evans. “They know what I know, and that fact drives them crazy.”
Evans said employees and village officials come to him for advice, help and information, and he does not store information. He said he was working for the betterment of the community.
He said when he criticized the village for not releasing enough financial data during a debate hosted by the Enterprise and Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce earlier this month, the next day the village had published three years of annual update audits on its website.
Filling vacant spaces
Two of the big questions asked at the forum were vacant homes and vacant storefronts. Each candidate had a different way of handling this.
Williams said the village needs to mend its battered relationships with landowners and business owners to get them to improve their structures. He said poor relationships have held back progress in the past.
Little said she wanted to hire a new person for the code office, a new face and someone to work with individual owners one at a time, turning “problematic properties” in productive ones.
Evans said the village needs to change how its building and development code is interpreted. He was part of the group that wrote the code years ago and said he was disappointed with how it was being used. The interpretation of the new development code makes “far too difficult” to enter a storefront, he said, adding that the village is losing businesses due to the complexity and associated costs.
Williams said there was a staffing issue in the village code and development offices. He said potential business owners, developers and renovators have been spooked by the deteriorating relationship with village officials.
Williams asked if he could ask Little a question. He asked how many times she had heard someone complain in a board meeting or in a personal conversation about someone in the code or development offices.
A forum participant disputed this, wondering if it was a viable question.
“I have been in front of the village council to talk about some of these issues and no one has done anything,” said Williams.
Later, he apologized if that question was too aggressive.
Few agreed that the viability of the issue was questionable, but said there were communication issues in the code and development offices.
“I think a lot of people go into projects without fully understanding what they’re getting into, and it’s not communicated as well as it should be.” she says.
She would like to create a “cheat sheet” so people know what to expect when they start.
Evans said that as head of the code and development office for nine years, he had been asked about this question countless times. He said he was that link between landowners and the code officer that Williams and Little were suggesting.
Evans said not all municipalities, including Saranac Lake, have sufficient resources for their code offices for the high workload they face. But he said that was no excuse for individual behavior.
Evans said he would like to fix the “underlying issues” in the department before adding more staff.
Williams said repairing relationships is key to filling storefronts.
“Our options are to work with people and find a solution…or just leave it as is,” said Williams. “Unless we want this place empty, we need to talk.”
Little said there are opportunities to work with owners one-on-one. She said village development code administrator Paul Blaine had recently made progress with a problematic property, working with a landlord to convince him to renovate and sell the property.
Evans was asked what positive changes he’s made to vacant storefronts over the years he’s worked on the issue, because it’s still a problem.
He said that community development is “reward” and “frustrating.” There are constant setbacks, he said.
He said that despite ongoing issues, he is proud of downtown Saranac Lake. It’s not just a “dead city” and it works better than the others.
Police and Fire Reserve Fund
The candidates were asked about the special village meeting they all attended Monday about, among other things, the creation of a $2.5 million reserve fund for utility capital projects. fire and police. This resolution was tabled after public opposition to a decision taken without notice.
Evans thinks it was inexcusable to vote to allocate so much money, practically “overnight.” He thinks the money is only allocated because he raised the issue at the Enterprise-Chamber forum. Evans said the money was set aside for public safety buildings, but the public was never told.
“It’s like we can’t be trusted” he said.
Williams said business shouldn’t be done “on Facebook or in a vacuum.”
He said he would like to eventually approve this contingency fund, if that makes sense.
Little said she offered to table the reserve fund vote because it would be better to include it in the budgeting process, to allow more time for public comment.
Evans lamented that village budgets come “95% cooked” before the public and council see them. Village staff create most of the budget before public discussions, so few changes are made.
Little invited the public to Thursday’s meeting.
“If you enter at the beginning of the conversation, then you will have your say on certain things”, she says.
The candidates also discussed water quality issues, an issue that was addressed in guest comments in the Enterprise written by Dan Reilly and to which the mayor responded.
They debated whether the tests show the water to be unsafe or good. All three have agreed to share water test results with the public as the Saranac Lake Central School District does, but with confidentiality to focus on neighborhoods rather than addresses.
They also discussed the police service, saying they want to keep a local police because of the services they provide. But Williams and Little also said they wanted to look at ways to reduce costs without affecting the quality of services. Williams said that 29% of the village budget being police department costs seems very high.
The candidates also discussed the position of village manager, what they want to do for Saranac Lake families, the regulation of short-term rentals and electricity licenses.
In next Tuesday’s poll, Evans will run on the Stronger SL party line, and Little will run on the Democratic and Common Sense party lines. Williams will run on Republican and Independent SL party lines.
Voters can vote at Harrietstown City Hall from noon to 9 p.m.