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Proposed Farmersville law to defend town officials has ‘bad optics’

FARMERSVILLE – Everyone agreed: The optics were not good for a local law to provide a defense for Farmersville town officials and employees, at a time when the town board is considering changes to the town wind law.

The public hearing Monday was attended by about 50 residents, most of whom wore green T-shirts with wording that made it clear they were not Alle-Catt Wind Farm supporters.

Town Attorney David DiMatteo, who prepared the proposed law, said he recommended the legislation when he found out the town did not have any. He was appointed in August to help the town board address the growing number of wind issues.

He said the local law is similar to one most towns have on the books, to indemnify town employees – including board members – and some volunteers from lawsuits filed against them as individuals for actions within the scope of their employment or duties.

It would not cover criminal acts or intentional wrongdoing, DiMatteo said. The person would have to notify the town supervisor in a timely manner and give their full cooperation for their defense.

At the outset of the public hearing, Ginger Schroder, a town resident and an attorney representing the group Farmersville United, said she had concerns about “the optics and timing” of the proposed local law.

Schroder said the word “reckless” was omitted from the local law. Since it already covers criminal acts and wrongdoings “you should add reckless,” she said.

One woman asked whether each town board member was required by law to review the 4-inch thick binder of public comments on the proposed wind law changes.

“It’s in our best interest to do so,” replied Supervisor Robert Karcher.

DiMatteo said at Schroder’s suggestion, he would look into adding the word reckless. He said that questioning a town board member or employee served with a lawsuit would quickly determine whether the town should pay for the defense.

“Why is it being introduced now?” asked David Putney. “The timing seems strange.”

DiMatteo, who said he discussed it after he was appointed in August, agreed “It is bad optics.” He said he would bring the local law back to the town board next month.

“There’s no rush to get it done,” Karcher said.

DiMatteo added he’ll be proposing another local law next month involving prior notice, meaning the town “can’t be sued unless they have prior notice of the defect. Once you are notified, you need to decide” to take action or not, he said.

The attorney said the law would involve the town keeping a log of prior notice filings and how the notice had been addressed by the town.

“It’s something else you don’t have,” he added.