BALLSTON SPA – After Republican Bernadette VanDeinse-Perez won her seat on the Ballston Spa Board of Trustees in a special election this month, she had to vacate her spot on the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals. On Monday, VanDeinse-Perez’s seat on the zoning body was filled by the Democratic trustee candidate she defeated in the special election.
Republicans are calling Democratic Mayor Christine Fitzpatrick’s appointment of Kamran Parwana to the Zoning Board of Appeals – a decision that the Village Board of Trustees approved on Monday – a politically motivated move that overlooked an experienced candidate in Gary Dale, who has been serving as an alternate on the Zoning Board of Appeals since January of 2021.
For her part, Fitzpatrick, whose term ends next week, defended her appointment, calling Parwana “extremely bright.”
“This is nothing but a political move. It’s clear, and it’s disappointing,” said Mayor-elect Frank Rossi Jr., who defeated Fitzpatrick in this month’s special election. “[Parwana] is a good person and somebody that I too would like to see involved, but the problem is that you want someone that has a good history with that board to be on the board itself. That’s why we use the alternate system.”
Fitzpatrick said Parwana is qualified for the zoning seat.
“I’m not saying that Gary Dale is not a worthy candidate, but we have some difficulty sometimes getting people involved in committees, and if we get somebody who is a strong candidate, somebody who has skills and intelligence, those are the people we want to appoint,” Fitzpatrick said.
Neither Parwana or Dale returned messages seeking comment.
The Zoning Board of Appeals is a nonpolitical, five-member voting body, with three alternates, that makes critical decisions about development in the village. The board of appeals weighs in on zoning restrictions, building heights, use of green space, density, historic preservation and the types of businesses that can open, among other issues.
Parwana’s term will end in 2026. Trustee VanDeinse-Perez was the only Board of Trustee member to vote against the appointment. She said her opposition to Parwana’s appointment is not personal, but she said overlooking Dale goes against a common practice in the village of moving alternates into permanent positions.
“If we are trying to put the best people in there – people who have experience – Gary [Dale] is that person,” she said. “I understand that Christine [Fitzpatrick] may have wanted to set some legacy, but this was honestly a misstep on her part.”
New York state law has been permitting the use of alternates for zoning boards of appeals since 1998.
Trustee Shawn Raymond, a Democrat, said promoting committee alternates is not a hard and fast rule in the village, and nothing in village code specifies that zoning board members serve as alternates prior to getting a full-time spot.
“I’d say it’s a practice we try to do,” Raymond said of promoting alternates. “It’s not always a practice that has been followed in the past.”
Zoning Board of Appeals Chairwoman Anna Stanko said serving as an alternate is an important part of the learning process. She said she was an alternate before becoming a full member – as was VanDeinse-Perez. Alternates fill in whenever full-time members can’t make meetings. Stanko said Dale has participated in a handful of meetings during his current term.
“Alternates come to meetings, they see how everything works, they understand the kinds of questions that we ask. It’s good teaching,” Stanko said. “So my feelings were that Gary [Dale] should have been promoted, and if they wanted to appoint Kamran [Parwana], he should have been appointed as an alternate.”
Democrats said Parwana was the right man for the job right now.
“I appointed [Parwana] based on my observation of his talent and his commitment, and this is very common practice,” Fitzpatrick said. “The other side saying it was political, it is really a case of the pot calling the kettle black.”
Raymond said he was impressed by Parwana’s resume.
Parwana’s LinkedIn profile lists him as a director at Altai Consulting, which conducts strategy, research and impact evaluation in the developing world. Parwana, who holds degrees from the University at Albany and Northeastern University, has had jobs based in Afghanistan and Tunisia, according to LinkedIn. Gary Dale’s LinkedIn page lists him as a design section manager at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
“[Parwana] has worked a lot with municipalities doing organization and planning and really understanding the nature of interpreting code and understanding it,” Raymond said. “He’s had to do things not exactly like zoning law but similar things and has had to navigate codes and laws and different things internationally.”
Raymond also said it’s important that village leadership be diverse.
“We really need to prioritize having our committees and boards reflect and represent the diversity of our village today,” he said. “I do want people with different ethnic backgrounds, different genders and also different political affiliations.”
The dispute over the seat is the latest disagreement in a village that is deeply divided. Fitzpatrick, who became mayor after Mayor Larry Woolbright unexpectedly resigned in October, lost a tight special election race to Rossi, 553 to 498. VanDeinse-Perez defeated Parwana 610 to 440 in the trustee race. Rossi’s and VanDeinse-Perez’s terms will run until November 2023.
“Our village is currently very divided,” VanDeinse-Perez said. Of Parwana’s appointment she said, “I think, in part, it was a somewhat political move, but at the end of the day I want to put that stuff aside.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.