The Orangetown Town Council decided to table a vote on an agreement to make Town Attorney John Edwards full time through Dec. 2017 at a salary of $110,000 per year during Tuesday's meeting.
Residents Michael Mandel of Pearl River and Eileen Larkin of Palisades both spoke out against the agreement during public comments. Mandel questioned the legality of an agreement of over four years when the town code calls for a two year term for town attorneys.
Edwards said that while Mandel may not be completely wrong, he believed the move is legal.
Larkin questioned how Edwards could work full time for the town given his own private practice and his position as a town attorney in West Haverstraw. Edwards is a partner in Tracy and Edwards in New City and he has been village attorney for West haverstraw since 1994. He has been working in the part-time position as Orangetown attorney since 2004.
Both also questioned the expense of the move.
"The creation of a full-time position is a slap in the face to taxpayers," Mandel said. "We must have a job freeze. We cannot keep going like this."
"I can't afford this, Mr. Edwards," Larkin said. "Take pity on me. 'm getting elderly. I don't know the reason for this. I don't think it's legal. I think it should be tabled."
Councilman Tom Diviny pointed out that Edwards would no longer be village attorney in West Haverstraw as part of this agreement and he would not be taking full-time benefits. He added that the town did not hire a replacement when Barbara Gionta left the town attorney's office.
"He is going to 35 hours. This was already in the budget for 2013," Diviny said. "We discussed it in the budget meetings. This is not an increase in the town attorney's budget."
Diviny suggested tabling the matter while the town gets an opinion on the legal questions Mandel raised. Councilman Denis Troy agreed that the measure should be temporarily put aside.
"Having said that, I brought John in here with Tom Morr (nine) years ago and it was one of the best hires ever for this town," Troy said. "I think with the challenges facing the town, it's important to have a heavy duty attorney here.
"I believe having him full time would be a great benefit to the town. The fact that Andy (Stewart) is proposing that is a credit to him."
Stewart addressed the suggestion of a hiring freeze.
"The town board worked really hard to come under the two percent tax cap (for 2013)," Stewart said. "A hiring freeze could prevent us from having the person we really need. It doesn't make sense. It's not a smart way to control the budget. It's a blunt instrument. If our one IT guy leaves, are we going to have a freeze?"