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The Editorial Board: Adversarial politics still dominate the Williamsville Village Board, to no one’s benefit

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Williamsville Village Special Election (copy)

The Williamsville Village Board on Tuesday fired a three-year employee with little explanation.

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It seems those who had hoped the Williamsville Board of Trustees was back to calmly prioritizing village business might have been premature in their optimism.

During a yearly reorganizational meeting on July 25, conflict was back on the table as the trustees voted 4-1 to unexpectedly eliminate the position of an employee who had been doing a variety of jobs for the village for more than three years.

Director of Community Development Keaton DePriest was in charge of grant applications, social media, community liaisons and public relations duties since he was hired in June 2018.

At last month’s meeting, when a standard agenda item for DePriest’s reappointment came up, the staffer instead found himself out of a job. Reasonable justification was given, with citations of less village commercial activity to promote and a need for fiscal prudence. That’s something any nonprofit organization – governmental or not – can understand these days.

But most other organizations would have considered conducting this layoff in a less public manner and in a less humiliating fashion. As it was, there was an argument, with Mayor Deb Rogers, who cast the minority vote, heatedly objecting to the position elimination during the public meeting. It seems heated objections over matters that don’t really call for them is the way this board likes to do its business, whether the topic is mask mandates over which it has no control or personnel situations that deserve a more tactful approach.

As far as we know, DePriest performed his duties professionally. If this was all about the proper management of village finances, then blindsiding the employee and the mayor wasn’t necessary or preferable.

It’s unfortunate that so much of what this village board does has to play out in an adversarial context. In this case, as part of his duties, DePriest had to send out statements from the mayor that other trustees did not support. Those trustees are now part of the majority that eliminated DePriest’s position.

Does anyone come out of this looking professional? Not really. The mayor should not have used her position and the services of a staff member to spread her personal political views. If zeroing out the staffer’s position was part of the majority trustees’ vengeance against the mayor, that’s not appropriate behavior, either.

We hope that DePriest will find another position and that this village board will find a way to get out of the sandbox.

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