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Berne officials clash over public hearing

Dec 08, 2020 4:30 pm
Noah Zweifel is reporting for the Altamont Enterprise some members of the Berne Planning Board during a December 3 meeting, rebuked the town board and its attorney, Javid Afzali, for scheduling a public hearing on a proposed local law governing home-based businesses that should have been referred to the planning board for review first. This led to a charged exchange between Afzali and planning board member Larry Zimmerman, a former trial attorney. In addition to the home-occupation bill, the town board has scheduled upcoming public hearings to review a solar-energy-facilities law, which Zimmerman and other planning board members argue is also subject to planning board review. Animosity between Afzali and Zimmerman brought on a heated exchange, complete with interruptions and insults. At one point Deputy Supervisor Dennis Pallow, sitting in the gallery, accused Zimmerman of having a dog that was not registered with the town, only to have a planning board member correct him, saying Zimmerman's dog was dead. The home-occupation bill would amend the town’s zoning laws to allow home-based businesses within the town. Supervisor Sean Lyons was put on notice by planning board chair Michael Vincent that holding a public hearing for both laws without planning board review would violate the town code. Afzali subsequently emailed Vincent, condemning him for making a legal interpretation and accusing Vincent of leaking the story to the media, which Vincent and the Enterprise denied. The planning board ultimately resolved in a unanimous vote to request formal notice from the town board to review the laws that require review. It appears, however, the public hearings will still take place on December 9 as planned, despite the fact that the planning board will not have the opportunity to make its required recommendation ahead of time. This is not the first time that Afzali has allowed a town to run afoul of the law. In one notable occasion in 2019, as the Knox town attorney, Afzali did nothing to stop the town board from illegally removing two transfer-station employees with Civil Service protection from their positions. The two employees took legal action and were reinstated later that year. In Berne, Afzali has been criticized for muting residents during public hearings held through conference calls and allowing executive sessions to be called inappropriately. He once muted former Berne supervisor Kevin Crosier, a Democrat who often strongly disagrees with his Republican successor, during a remote public hearing in May on the town board’s controversial proposed law to expand the planning board from five to seven members. Read the full story in The Altamont Enterprise.
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