BREAKING: City's deer committee resigns in 33 second meeting this morning
Update 11:40 a.m. with media release from Acting City Manager Rachael Tabelski:
The City of Batavia Interim City Manager and Police Chief will move forward to assess the draft City of Batavia Deer Management Plan and will make recommendations to the City Council in the near feature (sic) regarding how the City could move forward to evaluate and reduce the deer population in the City of Batavia. The Interim Manager and Police Chief will look to review the plan amidst the current COVID-19 circumstances, City liability considerations, and best practices as put forth by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
“The plan is a great start and we do not want to lose site (sic) of the City’s goals to evaluate and manage the deer population that is problematic to resident’s vegetation and quality of life,” said John Canale, City Council member, 3rd Ward, and liaison to the Deer Management Committee. “The City of Batavia would like to thank the members of the City of Batavia Deer Committee for their work.”
Update: 11:10 a.m. with Council Member Robert Bialkowski's comments:
"That was a surprise and I'm very sorry to see it happen. I've sat on a couple committees that all of a sudden were just disbanded, and it's a lot of work. It's bad, and I didn't expect it. Going forward, I suggest that we just set it aside for a little while and take a breath. Everybody calm down, and let's decide which way we want to go. I respect all the work that the committee did."
In a meeting that lasted 33 seconds this morning, the City's Deer Management Plan Committee announced that it was resigning, effective immediately.
Committee spokesperson Russ Nephew, in a prepared statement, said:
"For the past month and a half, the committee members consisting of Sam (DiSalvo), Gus (Galliford), Fred (Gundell), Kent (Klotzbach) and I have been used, disrespected, lied to and lied about. In lieu of this, we are removing ourselves from the Deer Management Committee as of this moment."
To which Acting City Manager Rachael Tabelski replied “Thank you.”
The four committee members at the meeting at City Hall Council Chambers (Klotzbach was unable to attend) did not sit down as Nephew spoke, and left right away.
The Batavian reporter asked Tabelski and City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. if they wished to comment. Both declined.
Others at the meeting included Police Chief Shaun Heubusch, City Attorney George Van Nest and Council Member Robert Bialkowski.
Council Member John Canale, the committee liaison, was on his way up the stairs to the meeting when he was told what had transpired. He, too, said he did not wish to comment.
In recent days, the committee has publicly claimed that it has been kept out of the loop regarding changes in the plan.
Today's developments are unfortunate along all fronts as the committee met more than 30 times over the past eight months and even walked the areas identified as hunting zones in the plan that they developed.
And now the city is faced with challenges of how to implement the plan to reduce the deer population without the guidance of a committee initially charged with monitoring its progress over a three-year period.
"We put in more than 300 hours," Galliford said afterward at Nephew's home on State Street.
"Every page of that plan (which has 24 pages) we hashed over, argued about and researched, making numerous revisions along the way," Gundell added.
DiSalvo, an experienced hunter and trainer, said recent changes in the plan were made without committee input.
"This is beyond disappointing," DiSalvo said, calling a change that allows only city employees to hunt on two areas of primarily city-owned property "a slap in the face to the Genesee County Federation of Sportsmen," members of the 12 clubs who, according to the plan, are the first priority when it comes to selecting those deemed qualified to hunt.
DiSalvo said the decision to exclude the Sportsmen club members from those zones, which he said was made by Tabelski and Van Nest, "is descrimination by the book."
"This goes against everything in the plan," he said. "I have looked at plans from Syracuse to Buffalo and Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania and none of them have those restrictions. What they have done is create a hunting preserve for city employees."
Furthermore, DiSalvo contends that Tabelski asked him to write something detailing the procedure for selecting the hunters and their unit, which he did, but that information did not end up in the plan.
Nephew has been vocal about the lack of communication from city management since former City Manager Martin Moore departed in late June. He said he requested a full committee meeting with Tabelski a few days after she moved up from assistant city manager to acting city manager, but was rebuffed.
"Her exact words were 'I don't have time for that. I'll just deal with you,' " Nephew said. "She basically slammed the door in our face from the word go."
Gundell said if Moore was still involved, the outcome would have been different.
"If Mr. Moore was here today, we wouldn't be talking about this," he said. "He was at every meeting and he even went to sportsmen club meeting because he wanted to learn more about them and what they thought. This committee is defunct because our two leaders -- Moore and Russ -- are done."
Committee members also said they were betrayed by Jankowski, who, according to Nephew, "threatened to shut the committee down if we continued to go to the press."
As it currently stands, the plan has yet to be approved by City Council. The board, at Monday night's meeting, tabled it until September's Business meeting.