Haines has a new borough manager. At a meeting Thursday, the assembly voted unanimously to approve Debra Schnabel’s employment contract. But, it wasn’t without some challenges.
In April, the assembly voted to hire Schnabel over interim manager Brad Ryan. Now, they have approved her contract and she’s set to start work on June 5.
That is a few days later than her job was supposed to begin.
Earlier this week, borough attorney Brooks Chandler released a memo that raised a complication with Schnabel’s employment as borough manager.
Her brother Roger is in the construction business and owns the company Southeast Roadbuilders. He regularly contracts with the borough. He also owns land in the borough.
The memo says that borough code prohibits Roger from contracting with the borough while Debra is manager.
Resident Don Turner Jr. addressed the memo.
“I think that Mrs. Schnabel has a big conflict of interest, apparently according to the attorney,” said Turner. “Rumors have been going around about changing code to accommodate that and I think that would be a very big mistake.”
The attorney’s opinion does say that code could be changed to allow the contracting to go forward. But, no direction has been taken on that yet.
The memo also says that borough code does not prohibit Debra Schnabel from being involved in land use permit matters involving Roger or his business.
The document raised questions for members of the public and the assembly.
Assemblyman Tom Morphet suggested adding language that would hinge awarding the contract on Schnabel filing a financial interest disclosure form suggested by the attorney. And, he said they should indicate land use issues involving Roger be delegated to someone else besides the manager.
Schnabel asked the specifics of delegating those responsibilities be left out of the contract and dealt with as a policy issue.
“I would prefer that the delegation of responsibility be allowed to be developed in policy and I will provide to the assembly at my earliest convenience a policy that is agreed to by the staff, that can better determine in terms of logistics, time, scheduling, qualification, that sort of thing, those issues,” said Schnabel.
Roger Schnabel said Debra has been put in a tough position, dealing with land use issues.
“What is she going to do when the borough comes back. Excuse me, the planning and zoning comes back, and staff is telling her no, we got to do all these things that are more harsh then what they recommend, what’s Debra going to do? If she’s consistent and she wants to do what’s fair, well she’s got a problem with staff and that’s favoritism to her brother,” said Schnabel.
Doug Olerud said Roger Schnabel is now at a disadvantage, and called out the assembly for not addressing the issue sooner.
“You’ve just made him a second class citizen with your actions by not addressing this before you hired Debra, had a plan before you hired Debra,” said Olerud. “This has been in the works for a couple months of interviewing Mr. Ryan, interviewing Mrs. Schnabel. Why didn’t somebody here look into this and formulate a plan and not get the information the night that you’re going to be making this decision.”
The assembly did vote to add language to the contract requiring Schnabel to file a financial interest disclosure form recommended by the attorney. That is stricter than they typical disclosure form required by borough code. Only Assemblyman Tresham Gregg was opposed. Schnabel will have 30 days to complete that form.
There’s still the question of what the assembly will do about Roger Schnabel being unable to contract with the borough. Morphet said that’s something they can try to work out with Debra as manager. If it doesn’t work out, they can terminate the manager contract.
“If we find that we can’t come to some resolution with Mr. Schnabel as a contractor and Ms. Schnabel as our manager, this agreement that’s been proposed to us is open ended,” said Morphet. “It’s not a year’s contract, there’s not term on this.”
Mayor Jan Hill said she still has one problem with the contract. That is, she thinks the salary is too high. But, she agreed to sign off on it anyway. The assembly voted unanimously to approve Schnabel’s contract. Haines will have a new borough manager starting Monday, June 5.