Niskayuna — Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed picked up a new title, and a new duty, at last week’s online meeting of the Town Board.
The Republican supervisor has named herself co-chairwoman of the town’s Public Works Committee — a committee that had been chaired solely by Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw.
McGraw and two other Democrats on the Town Board — John Della Ratta and Bill McPartlon — are unhappy with the supervisor’s decision. All three placed their names on a letter — delivered to Syed on Monday — that criticized the move.
A copy of the letter also was sent to The Daily Gazette.
The Public Works Committee is responsible for water and sewer operations, stormwater and drainage issues, engineering, the town’s wastewater treatment plant on Whitmyer Drive and the town’s sewer districts, among other things.
Syed has appointed herself — under town law, the supervisor can make such appointments — because she has been given the authority to execute contracts with producers and haulers of organic wastes that will soon be delivered — and then treated — at the wastewater treatment plant.
The resolution, which the Town Board passed unanimously at its April 30 meeting, will allow Syed to execute the contracts without the need for approval from the Town Board.
Residents of Whitmyer, the dead end street on which the plant is located, have spoken against plans to process wastewater from outside customers for the past two years. They have spoken in person during board “privilege of the floor” sessions and also written letters.
Residents have voiced concerns about increased truck traffic they believe will come with increased business at the plant. They also are concerned about safety, as delivery trucks would need to negotiate a sharp turn on Whitmyer.
“The reason why I appointed myself co-chair was to allow the [Whitmyer] residents to have someone to come to with all their concerns,” Syed said in a Sunday afternoon phone conversation. “They feel comfortable talking to me.”
The supervisor also said she wants to commission a mitigation study “that will involve anything such as widening the road, improving visibility over there and just giving them answers to some of the questions they’ve asked, like ‘Why can’t we have a different location for dumping?’ and ‘Why can’t we have a one way in and one way out?'”
Syed has had reservations about trucks bringing soda waste water to the treatment plant in the past. But $530,000 remains budgeted as revenue in the preliminary budget that was adopted by the Town Board last November.
“The do-nothing option is no longer an option any more,” Syed said. “As I said when I came on board, I cautioned against everything this project was going to entail, it went through regardless.
“So here we are, we have to accept the waste and how do we do that in the most responsible manner possible?” Syed asked. “What I can do, what I will do as co-chair of public works will to make sure I am in close contact with all the residents of Whitmyer and to any degree which we can address any of their concerns and implement mitigation measures, we will.”
During the meeting, Syed said she appreciated that the Town Board trusts her review and execution of the contracts. She’s hoping the supervisor’s signature on contracts, which also will be reviewed by town legal personnel, will be necessary only in situations where time is an issue.
“If there is time and time allows it, I do think we should still go through the process of having public input, having Town Board input, so we’ll see, time will tell,” Syed said
In their letter to Syed, Democrats McGraw, Della Ratta and McPartlon first criticized the supervisor over her stance on the wastewater treatment plant. The letter also erroneously said the supervisor had appointed herself chairwoman to the committee; Syed has appointed herself co-chairwoman.
“You have never cautioned the Town Board against the waste water treatment plant, you have never expressed concern over the Town Board’s much-discussed efforts to upgrade this award-winning and taxpayer-friendly plant to become “net zero” (producing all the energy it requires to operate) and you have never failed to add to your town budget income from the plant generated through the acceptance of modest, well-vetted contracts with local companies producing organic waste,” the letter read.
The Democrats also criticized Syed for refusing to vote on the $17.5 million renovation project at the treatment plant, the largest borrowing package in town history.
The letter also voiced concerns over Syed’s mitigation plan.
“What mitigation is lacking?” the letter asked. “There is already a plan put in place by the actual chairwoman of the Public Works Committee to repave and widen the road. She has also secured new signage, requested a lowered speed limit on the road and has had the brush cut back regularly. What further mitigation do you desire for the residents of the street?
“We are concerned that by this action you are setting a precedent that you will offer mitigation to every resident who is opposed to a town action and take away committee chairmanships when you disagree with a Town Board member,” the letter also read.
Rosemarie Perez Jaquith, a Democrat who joined the board in January, did not sign the letter.
“I’m not interested in political intrigue,” she said in a statement emailed to The Gazette on Tuesday. “Neither are the residents of Niskayuna. We are in the midst of a health crisis and people are worried about their jobs, their families, and their physical and mental health. They elected me to work on their behalf and that is what I am focused on.”
Syed responded to the letter with a letter of her own, which was emailed to McGraw, Della Ratta and McPartlon on Tuesday.
“When I exercised my authority to appoint myself as co-chair of the Public Works Committee … I did not do so as a personal referendum on all that Councilwoman McGraw has accomplished in her tenure as chairwoman,” the letter read. “I did so to assure that I am kept informed of all aspects involving the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) and Consolidated Sewer District No. 6.
“I’d be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that Councilwoman McGraw is the first on scene to help any resident in need and to offer a helping hand,” Syed also said in the letter.
Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-641-8400 or at [email protected]