In the midst of suing the New Paltz Village Board, Jason West has decided to take a leave of absence from the position of village mayor.
After filing a lawsuit in August concerning a recent decrease in salary, West informed Village Trustees and friends via email and Facebook that he is taking a paid one-month leave-of-absence from the position due to medical reasons. Deputy Mayor Rebecca Rotzler will act as mayor during West’s absence.
West’s lawyer Michael Sussman said his client believes the village trustees docked the mayoral salary and brought down the position from full-time to part-time as a reaction to West’s lack of support in consolidating both town and village governments.
“My client believes that the trustees acted in bad faith when they changed his salary,” Sussman said. “We’re anticipating on having a hearing some time in the future to see whether the courts feel the same as we do.”
Village Trustee Ariana Basco said the decision to reduce the mayor’s salary had “nothing to do with consolidation,” but instead was because of an unwillingness to communicate and work with other members of the board, along with not meeting the same standards he had met during his first year as mayor in 2011.
“When he started I thought he was a true leader who was committed to getting things done and making the village a better place,” she said. “But it was noticeable last year that his lack of cooperation was hindering his ability to be a good mayor.”
When West’s tenure as mayor began in 2011, his salary was pegged at $22,500. That salary was later increased to $35,000 in 2012 after 4-1 approval from the board. West wanted to raise his salary by $13,000, but village trustees voted 4-0 to bring the mayoral salary down to the original 2011 salary.
At the end of budget meetings in April, West’s salary was not the only village employee to receive a paycut. The positions of deputy mayor and village trustee were brought down along with the mayor’s salary.
Although West said he wanted to raise his salary due to the amount of hours he was clocking in, Basco said that there are no specified hours needed for the position.
“The pay isn’t about being full-time or part-time,” Basco said. “It’s about getting the job you need to get done done. There are a lot of hours that need to be put into these positions, but that isn’t what our salaries are based on. It’s about working together as a team to do what’s best for the village.”
West said he had sent an email to village trustees proposing a salary raise to $48,000 before budget meetings began. Sussman said one of the mayor’s concerns is a FOIL request he (West) had filled out in order to find out whether or not village trustees broke Open Meeting laws. While Sussman said he and his client have not yet heard anything, Basco said that village trustees had sent every email they had exchanged with one another to the village clerk.
Basco and Sussman both said that the mayor’s departure from office is for medical reasons and has nothing to do with recent disagreements between the mayor and the board.
Even though the mayor is still on the mend to better health, Sussman said he believes the leave will not result in a permanent departure from the position.
“I expect him to be back when he said he will be back,” Sussman said. “He’s very focused on taking care of his health and all signs point to him coming back.”
Basco said she hopes the mayor will make a full recovery but that once he comes back he will be more willing to work with other members of the board.
“He’s recently stood as an obstacle to get things done,” Basco said. “I’d do anything to get things done the way they used to be, but that will take willingness to cooperate from everyone on the board.”