LAKE GEORGE -- Lake George Park Commission Director Dave Wick has been put on paid administrative leave as the governor’s office pushes to have him removed despite local support for him and his leadership in protecting the lake.
Several sources have told The Post-Star the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a representative on Tuesday to the Park Commission to meet with members of the commission’s board about Wick. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from the governor’s office and because the board has not yet decided what to do.
Wick has led the fight against invasive species in Lake George, particularly through the establishment this past summer of a mandatory boat inspection program.
His job performance draws praise from local officials and environmentalists.
A Park Commission employee at the office Tuesday said she did not know who was attending the meeting with Cuomo’s representative. She would say only that it was an “administrative meeting,” and the full board would not be present. She said it was not a public meeting and did not require the board to enter executive session. No meeting of the public body was advertised.
A public meeting of the commission board, listed as a “special executive meeting,” is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday at the legal offices of Bartlett, Pontiff, Stewart and Rhodes in Glens Falls.
Wick reportedly has refused to resign, and commissioners have refused to ask for his resignation.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Bruce Young declined to comment.
Wick was not in the office Wednesday, and Young is reportedly handling Wick’s responsibilities in his absence.
Cuomo’s press office was first contacted by The Post-Star on Monday and a spokeswoman, Emily DeSantis, returned a call Wednesday, but requested that questions be submitted by email. Answers to several questions about Wick were not answered. DeSantis did respond by email to general questions about the Lake George Park Commission with text from Environmental Conservation Law Article 43, which concerns the commission.
A call to state Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, was not returned. Messages left with several members of the commission’s board were not returned.
Commission board members are appointed by the governor for nine-year volunteer terms. The board includes the Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner and nine members, with at least two from Essex County, two from Warren County, two from Washington County and three members of civic, protective or service associations in the Lake George area.
Sources have said several small — mostly bureaucratic — incidents led to the discontent with Wick in the governor’s office.
Although DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens is on the board, DEC spokesman Tom Mailey said the agency had no comment on the situation because the Park Commission is a separate entity.
Warren County supervisors who have worked closely with Wick were caught off guard by the news the governor’s office was trying to remove him.
Kevin Geraghty, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said he had been told the governor’s office was “trying to force him (Wick)” out but it was unclear why. He said Wick has always worked well with the county board.
Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe, also executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, said Wick has the support of local officials.
“In my opinion, he’s done a super job in that position in the Lake George Park Commission. I don’t know what is behind this. I’d hate to see him go. I know he has tremendous support among the stakeholders who are concerned about invasive species throughout the Adirondacks and certainly has support of the local government,” Monroe said. “I hope we find out the reasoning. I hope it’s something that can be avoided if possible.”
Monroe said Wick has been a leader in preventing the spread of invasive species, which threaten the water quality and environmental health of the lake.
“I see invasive species as the most serious threat we’ve ever faced in the Adirondacks. It has the potential to devastate the tourist economy if the water quality of our 3,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams deteriorate. I would be very sad to see him leave that position,” Monroe said.
Punished for success
The Lake George Park Commission launched a two-year pilot boat inspection program in May. The first of its kind east of the Mississippi, the program decontaminated more than 1,000 boats of aquatic invasive species over the summer alone.
Lake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky also spoke highly of Wick’s record, saying he “came in at a critical time” in 2012.
“He did a very good job at outreach to all constituents, that being the supervisors, the residents and visitors and businesses around Lake George. Without his leadership, that process (the mandatory boat inspection program) would not have been nearly as successful,” Navitsky said.
The $700,000 program — privately and publicly funded — placed inspectors at six launches around the lake. Navitsky noted it is a pilot program, so losing its leadership at the mid point would be worrisome.
“The concern is that it is on a sunset period. This is its first year. After next year, it sunsets and we need to make sure that program goes forward and Dave’s leadership goes forward. We need to make sure that happens,” Navitsky said.
Like other officials, Navitsky was puzzled by the push to remove Wick.
“It’s frustrating because I don’t know all the details, but it seems like he’s somebody that has not done anything wrong as far as I’ve seen. He’s done nothing but raise the level of the Park Commission. That should be respected,” Navitsky said.
Fund for Lake George Executive Director Eric Siy said he is “mystified by the situation.”
“Dave has been tireless in his role as executive director and his commitment to take charge of the commission, and he has carried out, to a very admirable degree, the mandate of the commission. So this is catching a lot of people off guard and raising a lot of questions that need answers,” Siy said.
Peter Bauer, who leads Protect the Adirondacks! and formerly was executive director of the Fund for Lake George, said Wick’s leadership has been groundbreaking.
“He put together one of the best prevention programs for invasive species in the country. We should all be grateful for his good work,” Bauer said. “It appears that you have someone who is being punished for his success.”
Lake George Mayor Robert Blais said Wick has a record of working well with the village, dating back to his 18 years as district manager of the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.
“He’s always been available for us and very helpful,” Blais said of Wick.
He has led the Lake George Park Commission since 2012. The state agency was established in 1961, with a mission to preserve and protect the lake. It also has a marine patrol. There is no other commission like it in the state.
“He’s a man you can depend on. When he says he’s going to do something, he does it. When he states something, you can depend on that being the truth and being factual,” Queensbury Supervisor John Strough said. “Not too many people like Dave Wick come by this way very often.”
Strough said he was stunned by the idea Wick might be removed from the position.
“I can’t believe it. I think if that’s the case there will be a regional uproar and it won’t be silent,” Strough said.