Story and photo by Larry Austin
One Town Board seat remains vacant after the sitting four councilmembers deadlocked on appointing a fifth at Monday's reorganization meeting.
Mary Cooke's election in November that elevated her from councilmember to town supervisor necessitated that she resign her council seat at the meeting. Her motion to appoint Shelia Ferrentino, a member of the Planning Board, to serve until the end of the year failed when the board locked in a 2-2 vote.
Cooke and Councilman Richard Crawford voted in favor of Ferrentino's appointment, but councilmen Ray Billica and Gary Roesch voted no.
The board had discussed an appointment in executive session prior to Monday's meeting.
"I thought we were going to discuss this further and we were not going to bring this up tonight," Billica said when Cooke moved to fill the vacant seat. When Billica said he would not vote yes on the appointment, Crawford suggested to Billica that he move to table the matter, but Billica said, "We may as well just talk about it in the open."
"If I was voting tonight for an individual to fill the vacancy, it would be a very, very difficult vote," Billica said. "We had 16 applicants, of which one decided to drop out, and we came to 15. After a pre-screening process we interviewed six, and out of that six, honestly, any one one of them would probably be an excellent addition to the Town Board."
He said his no vote was not against Ferrentino. "Rather, my thought process has been that I think there is one person that I think could possibly be just a little bit better," Billica said.
Roesch concurred, saying he considered one candidate "may possibly be a touch better." After the vote regarding Ferrentino tied 2-2, Roesch moved to appoint Mike Madigan, but the motion failed for lack of a second.
Cooke agreed with Billica's assessment of the six candidates who were interviewed, but she said, "We are splitting hairs in trying to determine the appointment, but it is our responsibility to do that. And I feel very strongly that we need to get this job done because we have work to do. Two weeks isn't going to really change too much in my opinion."
Cooke said the board faces "a huge list of things that need to get finished."
Ferrentino, who attended the meeting, said she was encouraged that the board was doing its due diligence in selecting a candidate.
Ferrentino said she was "a little disappointed, but like I said, it's commendable that the town is doing their job. I wouldn't expect anything less from them. I'm very pleased about that. I'm more happy about that than I am disappointed."
Roesch said Madigan was "over and above everybody else in my personal opinion. He brings a business aspect to the Town Board in reference to the life science business."
Madigan is a senior program manager for Life Technologies. Madigan's leadership with the local Tea New York group had "nothing to do with it."
Cooke said she was hopeful a consensus could be reached by early next week in advance of the Jan. 17 meeting so the board would be ready to make an appointment. The board members had agreed, Cooke said, to wait for the appointment of a fifth Town Board member to fill vacant seats on town advisory boards.
"We've got work to do, now with all of the appointments. We have interviews to do with the advisory boards," Cooke said.
The Grand Island Town Board will meet in a workshop session Friday, Jan. 6, at 1:30 p.m. to discuss the council vacancy. Cooke said she did not anticipate a vote to appoint a candidate at that time.
Billica, Cooke and Crawford are Republicans. Roesch is a Conservative.
One of the 16 applicants for the vacant seat, former Town Supervisor Peter McMahon, did not receive an interview.
Whoever is selected to fill the seat could run again for the last year of the unexpired term.
Cooke said that a willingness on the part of the candidate to run for the seat in 2012 was not a requirement for selection, though she said, "Basically you're handing someone an incumbency so you would like them to use it, I would think."
Deb Michaux, chairwoman of the Grand Island Republican Committee, said the committee was involved in its own process and had interviewed four top applicants: Ferrentino, Madigan, Deb Billoni and Patrick Fox.
"It's up to the council to make the decision. So we just went through the process so that the committee was somewhat involved, because you've got to have the support of the committee when we go out to do petitions and the endorsement."
The endorsement process for the 2012 election takes place in the spring.