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A Good Deed Gone Bad

New, old council face off about placement of plaque honoring former mayor.

Does a newly-elected town council have any obligation to honor a decision made by its predecessor? Perhaps not in Clifton.

During a Town Council meeting Tuesday night, Councilmember Wayne Nickum wanted to discuss the recent installation of a tall plaque that was installed in the same plaza as the town’s historic train caboose. The plaque, honoring former mayor Jim Chesley for his 30 years of service, appeared overnight, he said, to the confusion of the current council.

“I noticed that the previous council didn’t approve where it was supposed to be placed,” Nickum said of the monument. “I don’t remember this council approving any particular siting. It just appeared.”

Referring to the minutes from the last council’s final meeting in June, Nickum read the council’s decision to approve the plaque at no cost to the town.

Councilmember Lane Johnston suggested the monument be removed and stored until a new location was determined. “We need to discuss this,” she said.

Mayor Tom Peterson said that while he had no desire to remove the monument, he'd prefer to give the Architectural Review Board and the Planning Commission of the town the chance to do their jobs and determine where the plaque would best be located.

"Removing this is not the right thing to do," said Councilmember Chuck Rusnak. "It's creating too much animosity. Visually, it's not the right thing to do either. I'm wary to move it."

CHESLEY, HIS wife Jennifer, and three members of the former council were at the meeting and were quick to express their disappointment.

Presenting the council with his own copies of the minutes from the June meeting, Chesley pointed out that the resolution was sent to Peterson on July 17, indicating that the previous council had selected the plaza for the plaque.

"We are not asking to rename the plaza because the person who was being honored thought it was a little too much," Chesley said. "Everything was done in accordance and approved by the council. The base it sets on is the same one that was used at the Hetzel House [another historic building in Clifton] and in front of the Sully District Station to honor the Garden Club. "

Chesley said he was also disappointed to find that the plaque has been vandalized — it appears someone had tried to pull the monument out of the ground.

"Honestly, you do what you want," Chesley said to the council.

Johnston made a substitute motion to move the plaque to the Ayre Square, adding that other mayors in the town's history should be honored in some way.

"This plaque approval shows we've probably neglected other mayors who deserve recognition," she said.

Nickum said that if the renovation of Old Town Hall had been completed already, there would be a place for the type of recognition deserving of all former mayors and council members.

"I'm not attempting to take away from what he [Chesley] did for the town, but it's a judgment call," Nickum said.

Former councilmember Michelle Stein asked the council if they were prepared to set a precedent in deciding to move the plaque, that any decision made by a previous council can be overturned by a sitting council.

"One of the reasons they chose that location is that plaza wouldn't exist if it weren't for Jim," said Jennifer Chesley. Her voice was choked with tears as she said the whole discussion was a shame.

"It's so wrong to put Jim through this," she said.

Peterson said his council would not "sit here and be attacked. If something is brought to this council, it will be discussed."

THE PROBLEM was more the "sudden appearance" of the monument, not its existence, Peterson said. "We're tying to follow the process and get this straightened out. I respect the previous council and all their efforts."

Steve Effros, a resident of Clifton, acted as the voice of reason by asking the current council to consider their actions and the consequences thereof.

"It's stuff like this that has torn this town apart," Effros said. "Stop wasting time and get back to the business at hand."

His comments were greeted with a round of enthusiastic applause.

The motion to move the plaque was dropped.

In other business, the council voted to request an extension to close a deal with developer Royce Jarrendt for the sale and restoration of the Old Town Hall, as Councilmembers Mike Anton and Pat Layden said they had not completed all the required legal documents to sell the property to Jarrendt.

The current deadline is Jan. 18. If Jarrendt, who has previously submitted a letter of intent to purchase the property from the town, accepts the request for an extension, the council will have until March 2 to finalize the deal.

Anton also told the council that Cox will begin to install its fiber optic cables underground on Main Street on Jan. 10. Work is expected to take about a week and should not cause any street closings, only minor traffic delays, Anton said.

The council also approved a charter for the town's finance committee, stating that the committee will help to secure new sources of renewable income, totaling $12,000 per fiscal year. The committee may be asked to help the council prepare a budget and work with other committees on their financial needs.