Ballston Spa

Ballston Spa mayor quits, questions colleagues’ priorities; Village lawyer also resigns

Ballston Spa Mayor Larry Woolbright speaks at Wiswall Park in Ballston Spa on Oct. 14, 2020.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Ballston Spa Mayor Larry Woolbright speaks at Wiswall Park in Ballston Spa on Oct. 14, 2020.

BALLSTON SPA – Mayor Larry Woolbright tendered his resignation to the village clerk Monday, citing an increasingly fractured relationship with the Village Board of Trustees’ majority.

After the meeting, village attorney Stephanie Ferradino also submitted her resignation.

Both abrupt actions take effect at the end of business Friday.

Points of frustration Woolbright mentioned were the trustees recently overruling him in a 4-1 vote to spend $225,000 of the village’s surplus account on what the mayor said were nonessential items, rather than on basic priorities. 

Speaking for about 20 minutes from a prepared statement, Woolbright accused Trustee Liz Kormos of infringing on his authority by continuing to act unilaterally and implying that she represents the mayor and board. 

Woolbright then asserted Trustee Ben Baskin continually attempted to micromanage day-to-day operations of the village and its staff.

“My unproductive relationship with the Board of Trustees is the sole reason for this decision,” Woolbright said. “Since the March election, that relationship has become more strained and adversarial. The trustees block me at every turn, and their attitude towards community members and village staff is not always consistent with my idea of how the Village of Friends should operate.”

A Republican who was elected unopposed in 2019, Woolbright has two years remaining on his term. The board consists of four Democrats.

Woolbright said his priorities for the village didn’t align with trustees’, whom he said were focused on “niceties” amid the village’s problems providing basic services.

“In my opinion, we as a village are still in damage control mode,” he said. “We need two or three times our current fund balance [of $2.5 million] before I will feel secure about our future.” 

Woolbright said he prioritized the village’s financial health, along with water and sewer infrastructure, streets, equipment and buildings. 

The mayor said he wanted to make sure drinking water is safe while preventing sewers from backing up into residents’ basements. 

He said he wants residents to be able to get to the grocery store after a snowstorm, and that they have ample fire and police protection.

Woolbright said the village also needs places for its employees to work and store equipment.

In contrast, the mayor said, fellow board members’ priorities appear to be on bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks, street trees and parks, which Woolbright said he wasn’t opposed to, but as lower priorities.

“I’m a walker,” Woolbright said. “Sidewalks and crosswalks are important to me. My wife is a cyclist. Bike lanes are important to me. I have a Ph.D in ecology. I certainly do not hate trees. And I’m a gardener who loves to spend time in parks.

“But what I’m saying is that these things are not the highest priorities for the village in its current circumstance.”

Kormos said her intention wasn’t to offend Woolbright, while Baskin said he appreciated what Woolbright brought to the position and accomplished.

Trustee Shawn Raymond, who wasn’t mentioned during Woolbright’s comments, said he would have liked for the mayor to make his feelings known sooner, and he saluted Woolbright for doing an “amazing job.”

Woolbright said his criticisms didn’t apply to Trustee Christine Fitzpatrick, whom he referred to as a “model trustee” and “great village servant” whose leadership and abilities in records management, health insurance and other employee benefits, labor negotiations and COVID-19 response were to be commended. 

“She is the only one of the four who consistently asked me what she can do to help and then does it,” Woolbright said.

Woolbright won unopposed in 2019 and succeeded John Romano, who retired from village politics after 28 years.

Woolbright ran on a platform of wanting to solve the village’s financial crisis, which he said he accomplished. 

“In addition to closing the books and filing the mandatory state reports for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020,” Woolbright said, “I have also taken the village from a $300,000 deficit to a $2.5 million surplus – $200,000 of which was taken as income in the current year for use on the Village Hall project.” 

Woolbright said he improved the village’s financial circumstances while keeping tax increases minimal, doubling the village’s paving budget and advocating for thousands of extra dollars to replace obsolete equipment. 

“The board’s had no hand in this, other than approving my budgets and approving the expenditures,” Woolbright said. 

The mayor took exception to Kormos’ recent comments about the village’s surplus fund being excessive. The board member had also said there was a need to “rein” in Woolbright.

Woolbright said: “When you have a water tank that the state has told you needs to be replaced at a cost of $2 million, a 100-year-old sewer system that experiences sewer line breaks multiple times a year, 35-year-old vehicles, and buildings that are falling apart I do not think that $2.5 million is an excessive surplus.”

Woolbright said the board had also been an obstacle in his efforts to redevelop Ballston Spa’s downtown, which is plagued by vacant parcels and abandoned or underused buildings.

In 2019, the mayor launched an economic development planning process that involved hundreds of residents and gave the village a blueprint for its downtown.

The process drew in directors of state development programs, both to meet with property owners, and to hear pitches from Woolbright about Ballston Spa’s potential as a good place to invest state resources. 

Woolbright said at least five “major regional developers” called asking for tours of the downtown and to discuss goals. 

But Woolbright said the board refused to consider his request to update its zoning code so that it would be helpful to the property owners who were trying to develop their properties. 

As a fallback, Woolbright said he asked Ferradino, the village attorney, to draft enabling legislation that would have allowed developers to propose concepts that might not fully comply with village zoning.

The proposals would have been subject to approval by trustees.

“The board refused to consider that and then brought forward a proposal for a moratorium on development,” Woolbright said, incredulously. 

“Fortunately, community outrage prevented it from being adopted. However, it certainly undid most of my work in convincing the property owners that we wanted to support them in developing their commercial properties and to outsiders who no longer believe that Ballston Spa is open for business and a good place to invest their money,” he said. 

Ultimately, the board adopted the enabling legislation.

But trustees refused to let Ferradino, who was on retainer, put together the legislation for free, and hired another lawyer, which was another point of contention for the mayor. 

Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

 

Categories: News, Saratoga County

One Comment

JOHN MITCHELL

I am sorry to hear that Mayor Larry Woolbright is resigning. Party politics (which I believe Mayor Woolbright avoids) is so harmful.

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