8 supervisors file lawsuit over committees

By David Avitabile

In an unprecedented move, half of the Schoharie County supervisors are rebelling to overturn the chairman's decision this spring to change board committees.
Eight supervisors--five Democrats and three Republicans--filed a lawsuit in Supreme Court last week naming board Chairman Harold Vroman as a defendant.
The objecting supervisors fear Mr. Vroman, a Republican, altered committee membership because he didn't like the way they voted.
Quoting state law, Alexander Powhida, the attorney for the eight supervisors, stated that members of committees should serve until the end of the calendar year in which they were selected. That period cannot be longer than the supervisor's term of office.
"Chairman Vroman's removal of the petitioners from their various standing committee appointments was beyond the authority conferred upon him pursuant to the County Law and the vote of the Board of Supervisors," the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit said that a public officer can only be removed from his service for cause, and there appears to be no cause here.
"In fact, the only apparent transgression of the petitioners who have been removed from their standing committee appointments is that they disagree with the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors over various appointment and policy decisions."
It is improper, the lawsuit added, "to allow a chairman to exercise removal authority based upon mere disagreement and without proper conduct on the part of the person being removed from their committee appointments."
In his statement, Fulton Supervisor Phil Skowfoe, the board's deputy chairman and a Democrat, said he and other supervisors were removed from various committees after the chairman became upset with the way they voted.
After being named to the committees in January, "in the ensuing months," Mr. Skowfoe said, "I and certain of my fellow supervisors voted on standing committees in such a way that the Chairman was unhappy with our particular votes.
"In an attempt to silence our dissent, the Chairman, on his own initiative and without vote of the Board, removed me from the Finance, Solid Waste committee and personnel committee."
Changing committees whenever he wants to would allow the chairman "to stifle dissent and debate amongst the members of the Board of Supervisors" especially on the committee level, Mr. Skowfoe said in the lawsuit.
Such action would minimize "the authority of his fellow supervisors," Mr. Skowfoe said.
On Friday, Mr. Skowfoe said he tried to get Mr. Vroman to change the committees back, to no avail.
"I felt we exhausted everything," he said.
Supervisors, he added, need to be able to vote the way they want without fear of being taken off committees.
"You shouldn't be afraid of intimidation in how you vote," he said.
He said he did not know if there would be any fallout because of the lawsuit but said he would say more when the action has concluded.
"When it's over, I'll talk," he said.
Mr. Vroman voiced a similar sentiment Friday.
He had no comment on the lawsuit but would talk about it "at the end," he said.
"I'll let it go where it goes."
He expected county attorney Michael West to handle the case for the county.
Some supervisors have noted that the change in the committee came after the vote to disband the flood recovery committee and install county Treasurer Bill Cherry to head recovery efforts, an issue that split the board.
Mr. Vroman has said he only made the changes because the committees were not working well together.
Besides Mr. Skowfoe, supervisors filing the lawsuit were Democrats James Buzon of Middleburgh, Gene Milone of Schoharie, Carl Barbic of Seward and Sandra Manko of Sharon and Republicans Larry Bradt of Carlisle, Mike Brandow of Conesville and Earl VanWormer of Esperance.

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