GLENVILLE – Concerns about recent Facebook comments posted by a Town Board member were brought up by two Scotia Fire Department members at Wednesday’s board meeting.
The comment, which has since been removed, was written by Board Member James Martin.
Fire Lt. Adam Henery said comments made by Martin were critical of many of the aspects of the village Fire Department.
“Of particular note was: ‘A fire department with employees who don’t even live in the community, yet demand high wages and benefits that the taxpayers bear, and they do not as they live in another town,” Henery read. “He followed that up with: ‘What is needed is men and women who provide such service with caring for those individuals who sacrifice to pay for its cost.’”
Henery said he was “frustrated” as a Scotia firefighter and as a Glenville resident he was “discouraged” and “embarrassed” by the comment.
“Public employment should be about hiring the best candidates for a position,” Henery said. “Somebody who brings the most value to a community, not based on where you pay your taxes. Well, let’s get real about residency, while individually we may have many addresses we collectively reside at 148 Mohawk Ave., that beautiful century-old fire house.”
Being an elected official carries a burden, Henery said. He asked that Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle and the other members of the town board ensure Martin recuses himself from the upcoming District Four contract vote.
A recent social media post regarding the recent village election asks why the village needs to be saved, Scotia Fire Department Capt. Keith Phillips said. “
“Our firefighters do not, nor have ever demanded high wages and benefits,” Phillips said. “This [Martin’s comment] is a lie. A lie told on a Facebook group with 13,000 members by a Glenville Town Board member.”
The timing and the targeting of Martin’s social media comment are suspect, as the contract negotiations and vote for District Four are in the near future, Phillips said.
“If you feel that our wages are too high or our benefits are too great, that’s fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Phillips said. “But, this post was not scrutinizing our wages and benefits for an X, Y or Z reason, this was a statement. A false statement. A statement that’s been seen by us, and many throughout Scotia, Glenville and the region as an attempt to smear our good name and reputation as firefighters.”
The department declined to comment further Thursday.
Martin spoke later in the meeting and said that for a living, he is a senior planner and economic development specialist, and has been for over 40. He said that in the course of his career he has looked at over 150 separate town and village budgets across upstate New York. Part of why Martin ran for the board, he said, was because he believes he has knowledge and perspective which would be useful for the constituency.
“I did post what I said, and I think I’m entitled to my opinion, and I’ve shared as much with Keith in messaging back-and-forth,” Martin said later in the Town Board meeting. “I also indicated that there was no greater supporter among the elected boards, whether it be the trustees or this Town Board, than me, for the service that you all provide.”
The Fire Department is the most expensive department in the village’s budget, Matron said. On average, it costs $141,000 per firefighter for the year between salary and benefits, and the per capita income in the village is $38,000, he said; that is “not sustainable.”
“It’s not a comment on the service that you guys provide, or your personal integrity, or any of that,” Martin said. “I keep that completely separate, and I have enough discipline upon myself to do so.”
Martin did not respond for further comment Thursday.
The Fire District contract is up for renewal at the end of this year, Koetzle said.
“We need to sit down and get an agreement on that [contract] before the end of the year,” Koetzle said. “This obviously complicated that a little bit, but I’m committed to getting a contract in place by the end of the year that is fair and affordable for all.”
On Thursday Koetzle said: “I think that people have opinions and disagreements, and it’s probably healthy to air those in person, not on Facebook. I’ve never been a proponent of airing these things on social media. When you’re a public official you get a lot of criticism through social media, some of it warranted, and some of it not.”
Talking face-to-face with people is more civil and results in a better outcome, Koetzle said. Adding he wants people to come to the Town Board and talk issues out.
“We have a huge moment right now,” Koetzle said. “To really work together with the village. We have a mayor who is finally listening, a mayor who is engaged and who wants to work with the town. That is a huge step forward. We have the opportunity to do that on a variety of issues.”
The Fire District contract between the town and village, and water service for residents are among issues where the town and village can work together, Koetzle said.