BALLSTON SPA – The Republican mayor who abruptly resigned this week didn’t quit because of his stated reason of political pushback from the Democratic-led Board of Trustees, suggests Ben Baskin, a board member who was on the receiving end of the mayor’s scathing rebuke.
In an interview, Baskin defended himself against allegations made by departing Mayor Larry Woolbright during Monday’s virtual board meeting.
Baskin said Woolbright is really resigning because he’s burnt out.
Baskin said he and Trustee Liz Kormos, whom Woolbright singled out as being difficult to work with, were used as scapegoats.
Woolbright’s abrupt resignation was viewed as a shocking political development.
It was on the heels of Woolbright’s successful push for the village’s first nonpartisan election last March, and his leading the village out of financial straits.
In making the move for an election without political affiliations, Woolbright said he was motivated by the “nastiness” on the national stage that he said had seeped into local politics.
Woolbright’s resignation took effect Friday. In an interview Thursday, Woolbright said he spent Wednesday, with plans to meet again Friday with Trustee Christine Fitzpatrick for a seamless transition. Fitzpatrick was Woolbright’s deputy and will serve as acting mayor.
During the interview, Woolbright, who’s leaving with two years remaining on his four-year term, directed most of his discontent at Baskin.
Woolbright said the chemistry of the board changed dramatically after former Trustee Noah Shaw chose not to seek re-election earlier this year, replaced by the newcomer Baskin.
Shaw, Woolbright said, was a “moderating influence” who allowed Woolbright to be a mayor and think about the big picture. He didn’t muddy the political waters with trivial details, Woolbright suggested.
Baskin has been anything but, Woolbright said, pointing to a Baskin-authored proposal Monday night that would have directed village office staff to keep a log of all phone calls into Village Hall – with the callers’ names, phone numbers, email addresses, and what subjects they were calling about.
Woolbright called it just one example of Baskin’s attempts at micromanagement.
Baskin countered that Woolbright misrepresented the intent of his proposal.
Baskin said correspondences to village staff – for items that the requester clearly intended the board to review, including policy matters such as village fees – were being intercepted at the staff level and not presented to the board.
Woolbright laughed at that notion, citing the “all-inclusive” nature of Baskin’s request.
Baskin said he withdrew his motion with the “trust and understanding” the mayor would work on resolving the matter.
“That kind of negotiation happens all the time, and discussion is no basis for resignation,” Baskin said. “It’s absurd to resign because of that. I don’t believe that’s the reason.”
Baskin said he believed the mayor and board had healthy disagreements about a variety of matters. He said the four Democrats argued amongst themselves as much as they did with the Republican mayor.
Baskin agreed that he didn’t go along with everything the mayor asked for, nor should he.
The board member said he didn’t see eye to eye on providing access to village meetings. Baskin said he’s interested in making sure that access to Zoom meetings is posted on the village website and places where it made sense for people to look for it.
He said Woolbright’s administration didn’t appear to be as committed, and Baskin said the policy where residents had to call the clerk during business hours to get access codes was bothersome.
The board member went on to say the mayor’s resignation took the panel by surprise.
Woolbright, according to Baskin, made no prior statement to the four Democrats on the board suggesting the relationship had grown untenable.
Baskin also suggested Woolbright misrepresented board members’ priorities.
Woolbright had questioned their prioritizing of sidewalks, trees and bike lanes amid more pressing concerns about infrastructure, public safety and the condition of buildings and roads.
Baskin said efforts to improve sidewalks and streets were part of a “complete streets” initiative that “in no way interfered with the mayor’s priorities.”
The board actually shared Woolbright’s priorities, according to Baskin.
“We all agreed that water and sewer were top priorities,” Baskin said. “That improving our public buildings, Village Hall, police, courts, DPW – those are all high, top priorities. Nobody argued about that. There was no disagreement there whatsoever.”
Baskin said Kormos applied for a grant to secure funding for sidewalk improvements, which had been a focus of numerous community surveys and focus groups.
Baskin said complete streets funding entails a matching grant that would multiply four times over the village’s $100,000 expense from surplus.
“In every respect, I believe we can afford to do it, and we should take our opportunities where they come,” Baskin said.
Kormos, whom Woolbright accused of acting unilaterally and undermining the mayor’s authority, also weighed in.
In an email, Kormos said:
“I do not believe I acted unilaterally. But if he felt that way, I believe everyone, Village residents included, would have been better served by a direct discussion rather than a surprise resignation.”
Kormos said Woolbright complained several times to her about the magnitude of the work and handling hundreds of emails, affirming Baskin’s suggestion that Woolbright had grown tired of the job.
She said the board encompasses five different personalities who attempt to bring their talents and unique insights into discussions and debates.
“We challenge one another and frankly that’s just part of the job,” she said.
In terms of Ballston Spa’s prospects moving forward as it transitions to all Democratic representation, Kormos said:
“For the remaining board, party affiliation belongs on the national stage, not in our neighborhoods. I may identify as a Democrat, but I’ve supported Republican and no party candidates as well and ran on a non-partisan line gaining a significant number of Republican and ‘No Party’ votes.
“Ballston Spa‘s future is very bright because of the hard work the entire board has done,” she continued. “We brought it back from the brink of financial disaster collectively. No one person can claim exclusive credit. We are all devoted to solving the tough problems and moving Ballston Spa forward.”
But Saratoga County Republican Committee Chairman Carl Zeilman suggested Woolbright, despite his best efforts, had been “bullied” out of office.
“You’re forcing him out at every turn – where he’s been trying to make progress with respect to correcting the deficit, infrastructure rebuilds, just management of the village itself, and there’s been a roadblock that has been put up and not only for him, but the village attorney, who also resigned.”
Zeilman said the Town of Milton has a race in which incumbent Town Supervisor Benny Zlotnick, who is registered with no party affiliation, and is a Moving Milton Forward candidate who left the GOP, seeks re-election against Republican-Conservative candidate Scott Ostrander, and United Milton candidate Barbara Kerr.
In the contentious race, Zlotnick fired Kerr, his one-time deputy, for running against him.
Zeilman suggested Baskin and Kormos’ endorsement of Zlotnick played a role in what he said were their intentional efforts to cause problems for Woolbright.
“People are afraid, rightfully concerned, that their influence is being put upon the current supervisor, the current Democratic supported supervisor in the Town of Milton, and that makes for a very concerning situation,” Zeilman said.
The theory had gained enough traction for Woolbright to address it on Facebook.
“As mayor of Ballston Spa I have been careful not to endorse any candidates for office in the towns that encompass our village and with which the Village has good working relationships,” Woolbright’s statement read. “That is true of the current supervisor race in the Town of Milton. However, it has been brought to my attention that attempts have been made to link Benny Zlotnick to my recent resignation because of his support by Village Trustees. I just want to state that Benny and I have been friends for 30-40 years and have worked well together during our mutual time in our respective offices. I do not believe he had anything to do with the recent difficulties that led to my resignation.”
Observers on the other end of the political sphere have suggested Woolbright’s resignation was part of a larger effort to damage Zlotnick’s re-election bid.
Martha Iacolucci, chairwoman of the Milton Town Democrats, acknowledged Woolbright’s resignation in Ballston Spa has an impact on the Milton supervisor race in the respect that it plants the notion Democrats are difficult to work with.
Ballston Spa is a village within Milton and Ballston.
But Woolbright said he’s not a diehard Republican to the extent he would do something like that. He pointed out that he displayed lawn signs for President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
Woolbright said he had simply had enough of Baskin and Kormos; particularly, Baskin’s meddling.
Iacolucci, chairwoman of the Milton Town Democrats, said she’s disappointed Woolbright, who she’s known 25 years, felt that he had to resign.
“I’ve always respected his opinion,” she said. “I think he did an excellent job in the village. I’m disappointed that the board and the mayor did not see eye to eye on every issue, but politically speaking people don’t see eye to eye on every issue.”
In the meantime, Zeilman said he’s already heard from village Republicans who have expressed an interest in running for mayor in two years. He said they’re upset about what’s transpired.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.
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