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Schafer has no plans to resign from planning board

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MASSENA - Village Planning Board Member Brian Schafer said he has no plans to resign from the board following allegations of impropriety made against him by local developer Richard E. “Dick” Maginn and his attorney, Mark Snider, as well as Planning Board Chairman Frank Hutt.

“I do not plan on resigning from the board,” he said.

Mr. Schafer’s actions on the board became the center of attention when the planning board met on June 26 to discuss approval of plans for a Nice N’ Easy convenience store in Massena to be built at the corner of Main Street and East Orvis Street.

At that meeting, Mr. Maginn’s attorney noted that Mr. Schafer had reached out to his client prior to the meeting, something that Mr. Schafer acknowledged doing, but said was not an effort to get money from either Mr. Maginn or John P. and Edward J. Valentine, who are working to build the store downtown.

“I didn’t expect to get anything from Dick or the Valentine Brothers,” Mr. Schafer said. “What went on between Maginn and me, there was nothing there, n-o-t-h-i-n-g, nothing.”

When asked to respond to the allegations, Mr. Schafer released a three-and-a-half-page statement that he says came after a great deal of internal debate.

“The decision to proceed with your comment offer was made at my home while reviewing documents to keep or throw away when a document with a gold embossed state seal by the Supreme Court of the State of New York that Milton Schafer (my dad) was admitted to practice law as an attorney and counselor of law.”

When seeing that document, which was from June of 1932, Mr. Schafer said he knew he had to respond to the allegations and defend himself.

“That brought back memories of him telling me, ‘Brian, in this great country of America an individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty by the Constitution of the United States,’” he said. “Since I do not believe that your front page article from June 28 meets that criteria, hopefully the information below should allow your readers to reach their own conclusions.”

Mr. Schafer noted that he received a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maine in 1963, after spending four years as a “civil engineering aid for a large municipality and consultant.”

He then spent 39 years working at Alcoa “doing plant engineering, including many multi-million dollar modernizations/consolidations as engineering and construction project manager.”

After retiring from Alcoa, Mr. Schafer accepted an appointment to the planning board.

“I have enjoyed the last 10 years working with other planning board members that included teachers, a union president, brick mason, designers, fireman, and tradesmen with some very different backgrounds that typically results in a strong board with many improvement recommendations before final approval is granted,” he said, noting his involvement with Mr. Maginn began simply as an improvement recommendation.

After spending the past 30 years making near daily visits to the post office, where parking is problematic, Mr. Schafer said he could not, in good conscience, allow the construction of two more driveways on Main Street.

“A short time ago a school bus dropping off many children at the day care created a traffic back up and there was a “close call.” The week before a little boy ran around a van picking him up at day care and another close call occurred,” he said. “Under the circumstances I could not in good conscience approve the Nice N’ Easy proposal submitted due to the two wide entry-exit locations on Main Street combined with a potential twofold to threefold traffic volume increase from Nice N’ Easy thus exacerbating the existing problem and creating a much more hazardous safety problem.”

Looking back at his time at Alcoa, Mr. Schafer said that if he didn’t do something to help alleviate the problem, he would feel guilty if anything disastrous were to happen near the store.

“In a couple of the safety seminars I attended the leader stated that if you observe a condition where there have been many ‘close calls,’ safety statistics confirm that sooner or later a serious lost time accident results and you would be complicit at letting it happen if action was not taken to prevent it,” he said. “Three planning board members, including Frank Hutt, along with a greater number of citizens also had serious concerns with the two new Main Street entry-exits.”

After hearing those concerns, Mr. Schafer said he took it upon himself to design an alternative plan.

“At this point I had initiated an action plan to eliminate the two Nice N’ Easy entry-exit locations on Main Street and create an alternate plan for two entry-exit locations on Orvis Street similar to those now in use at the Mobil Mart on South Main Street,” he said, noting he alerted other planning board members of what he was going to do. “I indicated the alternate action plan being created was being done with all expenses being paid for out of my pocket.”

Mr. Schafer said his design plans were completed in time for the June 26 meeting, at which point he presented them, following a presentation of Nice N’ Easy’s original plans by their own architect.

He also noted this was not the first time, he’s spent money out of his own pocket, as he worked hand in hand with former mayor Ken MacDonnell to design Massena’s community center.

“The new Massena Community Center were in all of the preliminary engineering and designs, including complete floor plans, building design and site plans were furnished by me using a design subcontractor at no cost to the village over the best part of a year,” he said. “During that period meetings were held during the day with three women, Sheila Benn, Elaine Eggleston, an AEIOU lady and the cook (whose names he did not recall). I usually met with Ken MacDonnell during the evenings sometimes as late as 10 to 11 p.m. in at the town hall to update him on progress and get his input.”

Eventually the plans were completed and approved, although due to financial constraints they ended up being modified prior to completion of the project.

“I look at that as one of the most enjoyable period of my life where I gave back to the village of Massena at no cost for what the village has given to my family,” he said, adding he explained that story to Mayor James F. Hidy before informing him that he was working on alternate plans for Nice N’ Easy.

“I met with Mayor Jim Hidy with all of the community center drawings and told him the above story to let him know that this small engineering design for an alternate East Orvis St. proposal to eliminate future hazardous safety conditions was, with my experience, being done at no cost to the village, and would be done at my expense for any existing contracts or possible future contracts necessary for completion,” he said. I indicated that all the engineering work was done and prints were marked up with a few similar designs all showing two double entry-exit locations on Orvis Street in widths that were similar and had been approved for the Mountain Mark South Main Street location and the Sunoco Mart next to Nice N’ Easy.”

Sometime while he was in the process of doing his design work, Mr. Schafer said it was brought to his attention that Mr. Maginn was working with the Valentine brothers to help bring the Nice N’ Easy project to fruition.

“Since I had a great deal of respect for Dick Maginn and the work he has done in the community a call was made to Dick as there could possible be another potential way to resolve the Nice N’ Easy proposal for the two wide entry-exit locations safety issue,” he said, noting that is when he mentioned to Mr. Maginn that he wore two hats.

“Hat #1 involved proceeding with a plan now complete as an engineer on the village planning board with costs paid for out of my pocket. Hat #2 would only be considered if the Valentine brother would accept the alternate East Orvis Street plan prepared, that in any event, would delay the June 26 meeting and require a new contract for others plus future recusal on the board by myself,” he said.

Mr. Schafer said that after Mr. Maginn listened to his proposal he promised to get back to him soon and would later leave a message on his answering machine, that in Mr. Schafer’s eyes clears him of any wrong doing. A transcription of that message was included with his statement.

“I’ve had a conversation with the Valentine brothers this morning and they informed me they went to the planning board in Canton yesterday (June 13) and everything was approved there. At this point in time they are, I guess, just going to take the plan as is to the planning board meeting. So, as of right now, they are not interested in changing so I guess it’s perfect. They are the owners. I first wanted to let you know and I hope you get this message before noon (on June 14). I will be in my office if you need me.”

Mr. Schafer did not receive the message before noon and admitted to meeting with Mr. Maginn later that day (June 14).

“That meeting was brief and I thanked him and was very relieved in any event, as all alternate proposal were complete,” he said. “Since all the engineering/designs had been completed, committed and or paid for out of my pocket as an engineer for the village of Massena, the same as I had done for the all the preliminary engineering and design for all the floor and building plans over the best part of a year at no cost to the village out of my pocket for the community center, I fail to see any conflict of interest under any circumstances on this small job.”

Mr, Schafer also noted he was contacted by the police prior to the planning board meeting and asked to come down to the station.

“I stopped in to see my attorney Mark Snider (the same lawyer representing Mr. Maginn) to get some advice on the LaBrake (Lt. Mark E. LaBrake) meeting, but he was unavailable. In retrospect it was the worst legal mistake I made in my entire life,” he said. “On July 8 my 50th anniversary of moving to Massena occurred. In those 50 years I do not recall every being requested or transported to the police station.”

“He asked me, ‘Do you have any idea why you are here?’ I stated, ‘No, unless it might have something to do with an independent contractor situation. I asked him if it was Dick Maginn and he stated, ‘No,’” Mr. Schafer recalled. “Since I was under the mistaken belief that anything I said could not be used against me (If I had committed a crime, I would have been protected), I explained telling Dick Maginn during the initial visit that, ‘I could potentially wear two hats.’ He stated, ‘Can’t you see that represents a conflict of interest relative to your planning board job description?’ which I do not recall ever seeing.”

Mr. Schafer said he was then drilled with question after question about “hours, dollars and payments.” “I became completely confused exactly whom he was talking about and extremely nervous when it was now apparent I had just incriminated myself and was just digging a deeper hole in the process, making it much worse.”

Mr. Schafer then recalls Lt. LaBrake telling him he would look into the situation, contact the Chief (Timmy J. Currier) and get back to him soon.

The day after the planning board meeting when the allegations were made public, Mr. Schafer had to travel to Burlington, Mass. for a medical appointment.

“When I returned to Massena late Friday evening, June 28, one of my more humorous friends said, “Schafer you finally made the front page, looks like I’ll be visiting you in jail,” Mr. Schafer recalled. “I guess that says it all.”

Mr. Schafer said he feels like his description of events clears his name and shows there were no improprieties committed.

“I believe the above facts show that situation has been blown totally out of proportion to that which actually occurred.”

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