A mutiny is in the works in Schoharie County, where half of the county’s Board of Supervisors signed on to a lawsuit against the board’s chairman over an abrupt change in committee assignments.
Board Chairman and Summit Supervisor Harold Vroman is named as defendant in the suit filed Monday in state Supreme Court.
Eight town supervisors signed on as plaintiffs: Philip R. Skowfoe Jr. of Fulton, Larry Bradt of Carlisle, Donald Brandow of Conesville, Earl Van Wormer III of Esperance, James S. Buzon of Middleburgh, Gene Milone of Schoharie, J. Carl Barbic of Seward and Sandra Manko of Sharon.
At issue is what some supervisors consider an unprecedented and unlawful change in committee assignments Vroman ordered in April — a move some contend served as punishment for those who voted to do away with the county board’s Flood Relief Committee against Vroman’s wishes.
Skowfoe, who lost his position on the board’s Personnel Committee in the changeover, said Wednesday that he believes the supervisors have no choice but to bring the matter to court.
For one, he said state law governing county boards doesn’t allow for changes in committee assignments after they are established.
And he said he doesn’t want to make decisions based on how the board’s chairman might react in the event there’s disagreement.
State County Law detailing the county board’s power to create standing committees states, “A member of any standing committee shall serve until the end of the calendar year in which he shall have been selected” unless the board fixed another period for committee service.
In a discussion during a board meeting in April, Milone called on Vroman to remove Jefferson Supervisor Daniel Singletary from his chairmanship of the board’s Personnel Committee, contending that Singletary was unsympathetic to employee concerns.
In response, Vroman overhauled many of the committees, pulling Skowfoe from the Personnel Committee he’d sat on for more than 10 years and shifting a total of five supervisors from the assignments they were issued in January.
Skowfoe said he doesn’t want intimidation to play a role in his votes.
And he said pulling experienced supervisors from committee assignments they’ve held for years is bad for the government.
“I think it damages the county because you take all your experience away,” Skowfoe said.
He said he wants the committee assignments put back as they were set in January.
“That’s all we’re asking for. We’re not asking for monetary settlements or anything. If we don’t do this, they can change committees any time they wanted if they didn’t like the way you voted,” said Skowfoe, who his serving his 15th year as a supervisor.
“Nobody should be afraid of how they vote,” he said.
Van Wormer, who owns a construction company and a home inspection service, lost his seat on the board’s Buildings and Purchases Committee in Vroman’s new assignments.
Van Wormer said the disagreement is disappointing at a time when the county is pulling itself back from the brink of disaster.
“The saddest part is we have this big, major disaster and a lot of us are trying to pick up the pieces and move onward and it takes leadership. It takes leadership in your town, it takes leadership in the county,” he said.
Van Wormer is calling into question Vroman’s leadership skills.
“His attempt at leadership is more of a dictatorship. Unfortunately, that’s not how you lead.”
Van Wormer said he and Skowfoe are the only supervisors with construction and building maintenance knowledge, so there’s no logical reason for his removal from the board’s Buildings and Purchases Committee.
“[Vroman] didn’t tell me I wasn’t doing a good job,” Van Wormer said.
Both Skowfoe and Van Wormer voted to dissolve the board’s Flood Relief Committee in April, as did the six other supervisors who signed on to the lawsuit as plaintiffs.
The other eight supervisors, including Vroman, voted against the Flood Relief Committee’s dissolution. Some of these supervisors’ committee assignments were changed as well.
During a county board meeting last month, Bradt asked Vroman to reverse his committee changes. Vroman said he’d made his decision and he had no intention of changing it.
Van Wormer said it’s likely the county will be footing the bill for the legal action, but he said he believes it’s necessary.
“Any time there’s been a lawsuit filed that had to do with the best interest of the county, the county has always picked up the bill,” he said. “Questioning the wisdom of a chairman’s decision would fall in line with what’s the best interest for the county. That’s not to say that Harold [Vroman] is wrong or right. I think that half the board feels he’s wrong.
“There’s just too much at stake with all the problems in this county now not to make sure the chairman’s making a wise choice,” Van Wormer said.
Vroman declined comment Tuesday.