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In Copake: Where there’s smoke, there’s agreement

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COPAKE–The night was downright balmy following a day of 80-degree temperatures, and the Town Board generated some heat on its own at the April 8 meeting.

At the start of a 7:15 p.m. public hearing about the town’s contract with Charter Communications to provide cable television service, an ear-piercing screech was suddenly broadcast by the meeting room’s loud speaker system.

“Whoa, something’s on fire,” Town Clerk Vana Hotaling said as she batted away smoke rising from the system control unit under the counter of the dais, where she and the board sat at the front of the room.

Deputy Supervisor Joe LaPorta, an electrician, leaped up from the audience to see what was going on and announced his diagnosis: something had “cooked the amp.”

As the stench of scorched circuitry filled the room and the fumes irritated Councilman Bob Sack’s asthma, Councilman Daniel Tompkins opened all the windows and doors that weren’t already open, and Mr. LaPorta wheeled the offending machinery out of the room on a little cart, noting, “There is nothing like the smell of fried electronics.”

Councilman Linda Gabaccia jokingly attributed the incident to Ms. Hotaling’s “electrifying personality.”

As the regular meeting got underway, Supervisor Reggie Crowley launched a pre-emptive apology to his two Democratic colleagues, Mr. Sacks and Ms. Gabaccia for a statement he made in The Columbia Paper’s April 8 front page story about Housing Resources of Columbia County’s intention to sell the 122-acre property adjacent to the Town Hall.

The property was the proposed as the site for the controversial housing project called Copake Green, and the objectionable part of Mr. Crowley’s statement to the newspaper drew a connection between the Republicans opposition the project and the victories of the GOP candidates for the board in the 2007 election.

Mr. Crowley said he was quoted accurately, but the thought he was trying to convey didn’t come out correctly. At last week’s meeting he acknowledged that everyone on the board, including the Democrats, had opposed the project.

Though Mr. Sacks and Ms. Gabaccia accepted the supervisor’s apology, later during the public forum, George Filipovits criticized the supervisor’s statement to the newspaper, saying Mr. Crowley owed the entire town an apology and that he “missed the boat” with his “political grandstanding” when he could have taken the opportunity to extol the ability of residents to unify for a common cause. The decision by Housing Resources to back out of the project “is one of the best things” to ever happen to Copake, said Mr. Filipovits.

Mr. Crowley again acknowledged that he had “phrased [his statement] wrong,” saying, “I think we can all agree that 99% of us were against it.”

Harvey Weber, a member of the Friends of Copake, the community group that led the project protest, thanked everyone for their involvement and noted that the Friends group had a membership of several hundred people and raised $40,000 to pay for legal representation in their challenge. And Jeff Nayer praised the efforts of Diana Wilson, the group’s president.

Addressing another point of contention, Mr. Nayer, a police commissioner and the Zoning Board of Appeals chairman, told the board that all town departments have been forewarned that they have to stay within their budgets. He said that the two town justices should know that, there will not be any reallocation of money to make up shortfalls.

Though it is the prerogative of each judge to keep his own court clerk, Justice Brian Hermans’ clerk essentially works full-time, while Justice John Spencer’s clerk works part-time.

Deputy Supervisor LaPorta, the town’s budget officer, said that at the rate court clerks are currently working, by the end of the year the justice court will have spent “way in excess of the budgeted money.”

Supervisor Crowley noted that the Town Board has set a budgeted amount for court clerks ($22,000) and makes the appointments of the court clerks based on the requests of the judges. “It’s up to them how they schedule their people,” he said.

John Belfonte pointed out that the full-time clerk doesn’t just make an hourly wage, but receives medical benefits through the town valued at between $7,000 and $7,500.

Councilwoman Gabaccia said she did not want to rehash the whole court clerk debate, but noted that board members had agreed to wait until June “to look at the numbers” and said that “other issues are involved here.”

Later in the meeting, when Supervisor Crowley called for a vote on court clerk appointments, and while it seemed like a split along party lines might result, everyone voted in favor of Janet Glover as the part-time clerk and Margaret Hosier as the full-time clerk per the judges’ letter of request.

Councilman Tompkins said, “I’ll vote to support the letter as long as they stay within their budget.”

Another vote that was unanimous was the one authorizing the purchase of a fire extinguisher for the town hall meeting room. It was noted during the earlier odoriferous equipment malfunction that there is not one in the room.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com.

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