The appointment of a new member for the Town of Lancaster’s Zoning Board of Appeals sparked a lengthy debate at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting amid calls for making the selection process more transparent.
The town, which did not publicly advertise the opening, received two applications for the Zoning Board of Appeals position, and the four Town Board Democrats on Tuesday named a former aide to County Legislator Lynn M. Marinelli to the post.
Lancaster Supervisor Dino J. Fudoli, a Republican, joined eight residents in blasting the selection process and arguing for advertising well in advance when there are future vacancies on the Zoning Board of Appeals, Planning Board and other bodies to be filled, in order to attract the best candidates.
“I do think we need to reform the process and open it up to the public,” Lancaster resident Carmen Hangauer said.
Jill Monacelli, an employee of the Erie County Probation Department, was selected for the Zoning Board of Appeals over Dan Beutler, a former member of the Depew School Board and Planning Board who regularly speaks at meetings and has criticized past Town Board actions.
Facing pointed questioning from Beutler’s backers, the board members who supported Monacelli defended her as more than qualified to serve on the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“You get different perspectives from people from different walks of life,” said Councilman John Abraham Jr., a high school teacher and former Zoning Board of Appeals member.
Appointments to zoning boards of appeal typically don’t generate much attention. But the small group of Lancaster residents who attend each Town Board session has made this an issue beginning with last month’s reorganization meeting.
The Town Board was voting to fill the seat on the Zoning Board of Appeals left vacant by the retirement of Jeffrey Lehrbach, whose term expires Dec. 31.
Beutler and Monacelli were the only applicants for the position.
Fudoli said Tuesday that he recently asked the other members of the Town Board to hold off on appointments to any municipal board for 30 days to allow for a new selection process, but he said no one responded to his request.
Councilwoman Donna G. Stempniak recommended Monacelli’s appointment. She said after the meeting that she knows Monacelli and considers her qualified but didn’t encourage her to apply to fill the vacancy.
Several speakers, including Beutler, questioned why the board didn’t interview either candidate before settling on Monacelli.
Councilman Mark S. Aquino replied that he is familiar with both candidates, so reviewing their applications was sufficient for him to make his decision.
Beutler’s supporters said his experience on boards in Depew and his dedicated attendance at Town Board meetings should have tipped the scale in his favor. “He’s really involved. He pays attention to what’s going on,” Lancaster resident Tom Kazmierczak said.
Monacelli did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.
The 30-minute debate included a philosophical discussion of the qualifications for a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals. Aquino, who also served on the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, said judgment and common sense are most important. “It’s not rocket science,” said Aquino, who had a testy exchange with Fudoli over how diligently Aquino responds to the supervisor’s emails.
In the end, the Town Board voted 4-1 to appoint Monacelli to the Zoning Board of Appeals, with Fudoli voting no.
Town Board members did not formally approve a new approach to filling future vacancies, but a consensus seemed to form around casting the widest net possible in the search for candidates.