MASSENA - A simmering feud between members of the Massena Volunteer Fire Department and Mayor James F. Hidy heated up Tuesday when nearly three dozen volunteers showed up at the village board’s monthly meeting.
Fire Chief Ted Krywanczyk said members of the Massena Volunteer Fre Department were in attendance at Tuesday night’s village board meeting looking for answers from village officials on why the village is sending two paid employees - including Department of Public Works Superintendent Hassan A. Fayad to South Dakota on Monday to inspect its new truck.
Massena Fire Department Foreman Ken McGowan, a paid fireman; volunteer David Sedlock and former Fire Chief Thomas C. Miller, a volunteer, will also be making the trip.
The company that is building the truck will fund the costs associated with the trip for the two paid employees and one volunteer. Massena Volunteer Fire Department officials say they will pay the cost of the second volunteer since village officials had opted to send two paid employees on the trip.
The village is spending nearly $475,000 for the new pumper to Spartan ERV, Brandon, Vt. The contract called for the company to pay the cost of four representatives from Massena to travel to South Dakota to inspect the truck during various phases of the project.
Volunteers were upset when Mayor Hidy selected Mr. McGowan to make an earlier trip suggesting the community’s expert on fire trucks is long-time volunteer David Sedlock. They said last month Mr. Sedlock was unwilling to take the trip with Mr. McGowan, indicating there was a personality conflict between the two men.
During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Krywanczyk asked Mr. Hidy how he selected the three men that will be taking the trip. The first public comment period came to close with no answer given.
When the question was again asked by Mr. Krywanczyk during the second public comment period, Mr. Hidy’s answered he would be willing to answer the volunteer’s question if he visited his office.
It was a response that drew the ire of former Massena Mayor Charles R. Boots.
“Jimmy, that’s bull (crap),” Mr. Boots said with his voice growing louder and louder with each sentence. He expressed frustration that the mayor repeatedly refused to answer questions at meeting but has crafted answers in the newspaper articles the day after the meetings. “I don’t know how you run your meeting, but a lot of the people here know how I ran mine,” he said.
Mr. Hidy replied, “Yeah, I’ve heard,” later adding that from what he’s seen and heard Mr. Boots isn’t one who should be advising people on how to run meetings.
“I’ve seen clips on YouTube and heard stories about Mr. Boots’ meetings,” he said in his office after Tuesday night’s board meeting. “Mr. Boots can rant and rave all he wants about debating and answering questions in the middle of our meeting. Apparently he has not read the NYCOM manual, although he probably should have, that directly states public comment itself is permitted, but not mandatory.”
When asked if Tuesday’s incident may lead him to eliminate public comment from future meetings, Mr. Hidy said he had no intention of doing that, but stressed he continues to feel that public comment is not time to engage in debate with members of the community.
“We allow members of the public to participate in our meetings, but we are not going to debate anything all night long,” he said. “That’s not what these meetings are for.”
Mr. Boots, who regularly attends village board meetings, said coming to meetings in recent years has been frustrating and somewhat unfulfilling.
“It’s frustrating coming to these meetings,” he said. “People want to be informed. That’s why they come to these meetings.”
Mr. Boots also pointed out that he had noticed the presence of two uniformed police officers at the meeting.
“I’ve noticed you have a police officer at this end and on the other end. You must be afraid,” he said.
Mr. Hidy replied, “Of you.”
Mr. Boots then replied sarcastically, “Yeah, you are,” before sitting down.
Following the meeting, former Fire Chief Thomas Macaulay confronted the mayor in a quiet, but heated discussion that ended with Mr. Hidy yelling, “Don’t touch me,” and walking away from Mr. Macaualy.
Mr. Hidy said that Mr. Miller, Mr. Krywanczyk and other members of the public in attendance at the meeting were welcome to join him in his office following the meeting to get answers to their questions.
Mr. Macaulay initially told the mayor he was planning to do so, but other members of the fire department were able to convince him to return back to the fire hall with them.
Mr. Krywanczyk noted in his comments that the volunteers spent “hundreds of hours” working to get the new truck, with paid firefighters only becoming involved after the specs had been completed.
“The truck is almost done, and we feel like we should have a big part of inspecting this truck,” he said.
Although Mr. Hidy did not explain during the meeting why he chose to send Mr. McGowan and Mr. Fayad, Mr. Hidy suggested it was part of the fire department foreman’s responsibilities to inspect equipment and said he was sending Mr. Fayad due to his engineering background and his expertise in writing and reviewing specs.