By KIM SMITH DEDAM
---- — RAY BROOK — The new chief counsel for the Adirondack Park Agency is a familiar face.
Former APA commissioner James P. Townsend has been hired to replace John Banta, who retired in April 2012 after three decades with the agency.
The position is salaried; Banta earned $105,694 in 2008, according to the New York State Public Payroll 2008 Times Union database.
The incoming counsel’s salary was not announced in a statement issued by APA, which operates with a $5.7 million annual budget, reduced by $105,000 for this fiscal year because of union concessions made with the onset of the current contract.
A Rochester attorney, Townsend previously served 11 years on the APA’s Board of Commissioners.
He was appointed to the post by Gov. George Pataki in June of 1999 and held the seat until May of 2010.
In that time, Townsend chaired several APA committees: Legal Affairs, Regulatory Programs and State Land, and he also worked on high-profile issues as part of the administrative, enforcement, and Local Government Services committees.
The hire was recommended by APA Executive Director Terry Martino and approved by the Board of Commissioners.
‘THE RIGHT PERSON’
Townsend will begin working at APA on Jan. 29.
He is currently a partner with the Rochester law firm Remington, Gifford, Williams & Colicchio LLP.
“APA staff eagerly looks forward to Mr. Townsend assuming the helm as agency counsel,” Martino said in the statement issued as APA met on Thursday.
“As we enter the 40th anniversary of the APA, we are poised to undertake a meaningful review of our regulatory programs to ensure we effectively address our statutory mandate. Mr. Townsend is the right person to guide us forward.”
APA Chairwoman Leilani Ulrich said in the news release that the APA was delighted to welcome Townsend back.
“For more than a decade, Mr. Townsend worked tirelessly on complicated Park issues and has a proven track record of accomplishments on behalf of the Adirondacks,” she said. “His unique skill set will be a tremendous asset for the Agency.”
LOWS LAKE DECISION
The Adirondack Council responded favorably to the hire, recounting a notably difficult land-use decision the former commissioner helped craft a few years ago.
“Townsend helped guide the APA to approve the removal of seaplanes from Lows Lake,” Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said.
“He successfully urged fellow commissioners to classify the bed and waters of Lows Lake as wilderness, to prevent further motorized access by the public.
“The APA board later reversed this decision, over Townsend’s and others’ objections. It (APA) was quickly sued by a group of environmental organizations. A state court agreed with Townsend and reinstated the original decision to treat Lows Lake as wilderness.”
‘ALWAYS LEGAL ETHIC’
The council believes Townsend is a good choice as APA’s chief attorney.
“He has a rare combination of legal expertise and skills, as well as experience in Adirondack issues and a strong conservation ethic,” Sheehan said. “We expect him to make an excellent legal adviser to the executive director and the Board of Commissioners.”
Attorney Fred Monroe sits in on APA Board meetings as chairman of the Local Government Review Board.
“He definitely has a comprehensive knowledge of the APA Act. He’s known for doing his homework,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “And he knows a lot of the history of the APA.”
“Lead counsel’s role is to give legal opinions and help defend the APA if they do get into trouble. I think we’ll be pleased with this choice. My experience in seeing Mr. Townsend in action is that he always has a legal basis for what he does.”
Townsend thanked Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the opportunity and said in a prepared statement that he would work diligently to promote and protect the Adirondack Park.
“Since my departure from the agency board my passion for the Adirondacks has only increased. It is with a profound anticipation that I look forward to joining staff to work with all stakeholders to address the future of one of the world’s most remarkable places.”
Email Kim Smith Dedam: email@example.com
In addition to a decade of service on APA's board, James Townsend also lists the following professional affiliations:
▶ Current member of the New York State Bar Association's Committee on Professional Ethics.
▶ Current member and former trustee, Monroe County Bar Association.
▶ Current member and former chair, Monroe County Bar Association, Business Law Section.
▶ Current board member of the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake.
▶ Current Board member and president of the Shingle Shanty Preserve and Research Station Inc.
▶ Current chair of the Monroe County Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club.
▶ Member of the 46ers (climbed New York State's 46 "High Peaks").
▶ Nominee for Nathaniel Award for recognition for improvements to the legal system, 1998.
▶ Admitted to Western and Northern Districts of New York, Massachusetts, U.S. Tax Court.
▶ Townsend earned a Juris Doctor from Albany Law School and a Bachelor of Arts in government from Trinity College.