Niskayuna supervisor won’t name bookkeeper

Yasmine Syed, right, then supervisor-elect, tours Niskauyna Town Hall in November. (Marc Schultz)Yasmine Syed, right, then supervisor-elect, tours Niskauyna Town Hall in November. (Marc Schultz)

NISKAYUNA — New Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed has dropped efforts to name her own town bookkeeper and will do some of the work herself.

Syed, in late January, withdrew the proposed appointment of Jay Nish, a former Poestenkill town supervisor and local business owner. The withdrawal came at around the same time town officials received anonymous mailings about decades-old debt proceedings filed against Nish, one of three people Syed sought to appoint to town posts in January.

At the time the proposed appointment was pulled, the Town Board had already twice delayed approving it, saying money for the position wasn’t included in the 2018 town budget. Board members also questioned whether the position was redundant with the bookkeeping already done in the town comptroller’s office.

Syed, a Republican political newcomer, is working with an all-Democratic Town Board after having defeated longtime Democratic supervisor Joe Landry in November. She took office Jan. 1, after running on a platform that emphasized her fiscal knowledge as a benefit to the town; she was previously a budget analyst at Albany Medical Center.

Syed she and others in her office can do the bookkeeping without adding another person.

“I had originally planned to split my time between Town Hall and Albany Medical Center, but after concluding my tenure at Albany Medical Center, I am now at Town Hall full time,” Syed said in an email Thursday. “As a result, I do not intend to appoint a bookkeeper at this time.”

She said the duties will be split between herself, Deputy Supervisor Stan Faminsky and her confidential secretary, Andrew Bigness.

Under state law, in towns like Niskayuna the supervisor is entitled to name a bookkeeper, but Landry had appointed town Comptroller Paul Sebesta as his bookkeeper rather than naming someone else. Sebesta had received no additional salary for the post. Two other bookkeepers work in Sebesta’s office.

Two of the Democrats on the Town Board said the situation surrounding Nish’s proposed appointment could have been handled better.

“We couldn’t object to the position. She’s entitled to them under law, but we never got a resume. We never got real qualifications,” said Town Board member Denise Murphy McGraw. “We already have four people in the comptroller’s office. We just had some questions about how we would pay for it.”

Initially, Nish’s proposed salary was $40,000 with benefits, though McGraw and Town Board member John Della Ratta said Syed subsequently offered to reduce the salary. The appointment was withdrawn soon after.

McGraw said the lesson she’s learned is that the Town Board should insist on seeking resumes of applications and asking questions. She said Nish’s name was already withdrawn before she saw the anonymous letter that highlighted a personal bankruptcy and debt liens Nish had in the early 1990s.

“I’m sorry that this happened,” McGraw said, acknowledging that she knows Nish “from around town.”

“It’s a small town, and we’re all neighbors,” she said.

Della Ratta said the Town Board should have seen a resume, but Nish and his qualifications weren’t the main issue.

“Our main objection was we hadn’t budgeted the $40,000, so we would have been going $40,000 over budget,” he said.

Syed indicated job applicants will be reviewed more thoroughly in the future.

“Regarding future hiring practices, I will follow the town’s usual practice and conduct a thorough review of any applicants’ qualifications and references,” she said.