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Orchard Park abruptly ousts its planning coordinator

A proposal to build a hotel, houses and retail on 91 acres in Orchard Park is just one of the projects on the town's busy planning agenda.

But last week the town told its planning coordinator, who had been involved in town planning for more than 30 years, that his job was done.

"He's not available in the building enough," Town Supervisor Patrick Keem said of John P. Bernard. "We have to go in a different direction."

Bernard had been a member of the Planning Board for 27 years before being appointed to the part-time position of planning coordinator in 2015 after the coordinator, Remy C. Orffeo, was appointed town clerk.

Bernard said he does not know why he was let go, but he acknowledged that the planning coordinator serves at the pleasure of the Town Board. He said he usually worked one to two days a week, as well as evenings and weekends.

"I had no previous discussions about activities, needs or wants," Bernard said. "It's hard for me to tell you because I really don’t know much."

He had been re-appointed to the position in January.

Bernard met with the supervisor late Thursday afternoon, and said he was told not to attend that evening's Planning Board meeting. A Planning Board member said board members were surprised when Orffeo showed up to the work session and told them he was filling in because Bernard had resigned.

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When Orffeo became town clerk and the Town Board interviewed potential replacements, Bernard was the best of the top three candidates, the supervisor said. He said Bernard told the board he was going to retire soon from his full-time job as a chemical engineer at Praxair.

"That was three years ago and he still hasn't retired," Keem said. "We need somebody here more."

He said Orffeo will continue as town clerk in addition to being part-time planning coordinator.

"He's going to work as needed," Keem said. "I'm sure he can adjust his scheduled to be up here."

Keem said the town has heard from developers and others that Bernard was not in the office enough, and that Orffeo will be in the planning office more often, which is on the second floor of the Municipal Center. The town clerk's office is on the first floor.

Bernard was paid $28,500, but Keem said he did not know how much Orffeo would be paid.

It's not the first time the Town Board has abruptly changed planning coordinators. Sarah DesJardins, who had been the planning coordinator for 12 years, was told in January 2006 the board was going in a new direction. That's when the board hired Orffeo.

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