In what amounted to a protracted exercise in damage control, a few members of Batavia City Council and the acting city manager on Monday night accepted some responsibility for miscommunication with the Deer Management Plan Committee that has spent the past nine months working on ways to reduce the deer population in the city.
Council as whole, however, stopped short of approving the plan, instead opting to table it for further discussion and a possible vote at its Sept. 14 Business meeting at City Hall Council Chambers.
Council Member Robert Bialkowski’s question, “We’re there some changes made that didn’t include the committee?” triggered a 20-minute discussion – mostly a back-and-forth between Council Member and committee liaison John Canale and Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr., with some input from Acting City Manager Rachael Tabelski.
Bialkowski’s query stemmed from a story on The Batavian last Friday indicating that the five-member committee believed that changes to the plan they had largely crafted were made without its knowledge or involvement.
Speaking for the committee in that story, Russ Nephew said they had been left out of the loop, and accused management of going behind closed doors to modify wording in the 21-page document. Other committee members are Samuel DiSalvo, Fred Gundell, Gus Galliford and Kent Klotzbach.
Phone Call to Committee Member not Returned
For his part, Canale said that he didn’t return a phone call from Nephew to provide an update, action that could have prevented hard feelings.
“To Bob’s point, this (the process of city management and attorney review and insertion of legal wording) was all going on and I had not gotten back to one of the committee members (Nephew) who has taken on one of the lead roles of the committee,” Canale said. “Because of that, and I had all intentions of calling him on the weekend, but what came up is I got a call from The Batavian, asking for comment on this because one of the committee members, Russ Nephew, had called and felt that they were being left out of the process.”
Reportedly, the committee took exception to not being informed of the following changes that were outlined in an Aug. 4 memo from Tabelski:
- Nobody other than city employees who qualify for the program will be allowed to hunt in areas 4 and 5, which are predominantly city-owned parcels located near the wastewater treatment plant and yard waste station.
- While supporting approval of the plan, “all activities related to (its) implementation” will be prohibited “until schools in Batavia are fully reopened.”
School Situation Changes Things
Canale addressed the school situation, stating that he brought the Batavia City School District’s hybrid schedule – some days in school and some days learning remotely at home – to Tabelski’s attention, putting safety first, and recommended holding off on any culling activities.
The plan stipulates that hunting in any of the five identified zones could take place only when school is in session.
“The wording as it stands now will not allow us to do the hunt,” Jankowski noted.
As far as the communication issues, Canale said he takes full blame “because I did not have the opportunity to get back to the committee and let them know what was going on.”
“It was also part of Rachael and I trying to work this thing out so we could get this thing approved and get it in motion,” he added.
Bialkowski said he wasn’t looking to blame anyone, but felt that the deer committee should have the opportunity to discuss the revisions.
Jankowski said he spoke to DiSalvo and Nephew earlier Monday.
Different Takeaways from Conversation
“He (Nephew) said he got a little overzealous and he got angry and went to the paper (The Batavian) instead of calling one of us and finding out what was going on,” Jankowski reported. “So, he was sorry about that, and said that he made a poor choice there. But he didn’t want that to cloud the issue of all the important work they have done.”
Contacted this morning, Nephew disputed Jankowski’s interpretation of their conversation.
“I did not say that I was sorry, I did not say that I made a poor choice in calling The Batavian and I never got emotional,” Nephew said. “Jankowski said, 'Gee Russ, I wish you would have called me first,' and I said "If you remember right, I did call you about John Canale not calling me back and you did nothing. And that’s why I went to the paper and I would do it again.' ”
During last night’s meeting Jankowski put forth two options – voting for the plan and amending it later, or tabling it.
“They (the committee) have a meeting scheduled for Thursday of this week (9 a.m. at City Hall),” Jankowski advised. “That was going to be more of an implementation meeting, but now it could be a ‘clean up that wording’ meeting, and all the miscommunication can be aired out at that meeting. Then we can bring it back to Council and have the final product then .. or we can vote on it now and amend that wording so that it works.”
Jankowski said that hunting will not be allowed until school “goes into a full-blown normal mode” (all students in the school buildings),” adding that no one knows how long the hybrid schedule will be in force.
Bialkowski: Stick with Our Committees
Bialkowski said his priority was to make sure committees comprised of city residents were treated with respect.
“My bigger concern is that when we appoint citizen committees we stay interactive with the committees and follow the committees through,” he said, citing past instances where committees worked hard and made progress before suddenly being disbanded by management.
As he did in the previous story on The Batavian, Canale explained that the committee did its job, and now the time had come for Tabelski and City Attorney George Van Nest to do theirs “for legal purposes and operational purposes.”
“(Former City Manager) Martin Moore would have had to do that same thing at some point and time … and that is what Rachael did in conjunction with George, the attorney. I explained that to Russ,” Canale said. “Unfortunately, it was Rachael Tabelski, a new player in the picture … and the appearance was she was making changes to the plan without notifying them.”
Canale said the committee will continue to be a “key player” in the city’s effort to thin the deer herd – charged with reporting back to Council with the plan’s progress – but Jankowski interjected that would be the case “at least in the beginning.”
“Eventually, we will need to take it over,” he said. “This can’t go on indefinitely.”
Nephew, responding today, said that the deer committee is designed to be a perpetual group, unlike other city committees.
“I told Jankowski that this is a committee that continually serves, year after year,” he said.
Areas 4 and 5 for City Employees Only
Tabelski said that she had set up the Thursday meeting with the committee to start implementation work.
“We are in a quiet period between legislative matters between one meeting to another – it’s a quiet period, nothing happens, and I think the committee, and maybe I didn’t communicate that well enough, but nothing happens right now,” she said. “This plan, Council looked at it in Conference, it’s coming to Business, we’ll move that forward and then will work on implementation.”
She said that there is only one change from the draft plan – the part about deer management areas 4 and 5, which are largely city property.
“… this plan would allow for city employees who qualify for the program to access the city-owned property only. So that is the only change, to be clear, in the actual plan document,” she said. “Originally, there was no intent of having anyone hunt on city property, so this is actually expanding the ability to hunt on that property.”
Jankowski said he communicated that to committee members on separate occasions.
“I talked to them tonight about it and they were OK with it. Like you said, it was a misunderstanding. I know they were warned in May or June about that but somehow ‘in one ear, out the other,’” he said. “They didn’t click on that and when it came down to the implementation and they read it, they said, 'Where did this come from?' ”
He said he hoped that things will get ironed out on Thursday at the meeting, which he plans to attend.
An Oversight or an Afterthought?
None of the deer committee members were at last night’s meeting, but all are expected to take part in Thursday’s meeting. But even that became a bone of contention as Nephew believes his group was invited as an afterthought.
“I found that there was going to be a meeting on August 13th at 9 in the morning, so I called John Canale and also wanted to ask him if he heard that and if the attorney and Rachael were going to allow just city employees to hunt on areas 4 and 5,” Nephew said. “He said he didn’t know about that.”
Nephew said that Canale shared the email that he had received about the meeting on Thursday.
“He sent it to us and we weren’t included on the email; it was only Canale, Van Nest and Lisa Casey, their secretary. I emailed Lisa and she said your names were not on there. We will be sending an email to invite you,” he said.
“When somebody sends an email and it’s only two people, you would also say, "Let me know if you can make it.' I would think that you would send it to everyone and ask if they can make it. That’s the normal thing to do.”
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