KINDERHOOK – The Town Board voted 3 to 1 Monday to solicit resumes to fill the open town justice position, with plans for the board to appoint a new justice next month, despite the fact that the state will pay for a replacement until a new judge is elected and takes office next January. If the board left the position open, the town could save about $6,250 on approximately five months of the justice’s salary.
The vote fell along party lines with Republican council members Michael Kipp, Patsy Leader and Glenn Smith voting to move forward to appoint a replacement justice, and Democrat Peter Bujanow voting to leave an acting judge in place until a new justice can be elected in November. Town Supervisor Pat Grattan recused himself from the vote, saying he had several conflicts-of-interest, including recently heading the Legal Committee of the county Board of Supervisors.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to rush out and appoint a new justice so close to the election,” said Mr. Bujanow. “The acting judge is being paid per diem by the New York State Office of Court Administration. The town does not have to pay. That would be a cost savings for the town and we could reallocate those funds.”
Mr. Kipp said the justice’s salary is already in this year’s budget and that appointing a replacement as quickly as possible, “is the best thing for the community. This doesn’t affect the election coming up,” he said. “Anyone, including this appointee, has the right to run for the position.”
“Money is important, but the money between now and the election is minuscule,” said Mr. Smith. “I’d rather somebody local get in there and then the election can go its course.”
After former Town Justice Judge Archie Williams resigned effective July 1, an acting judge from Ancram was appointed by the state.
“I think we should appoint someone local,” said Ms. Leader. “But we need to get this going.”
Mr. Bujanow also noted that if a layperson is appointed to the position, state training for that new justice is not available until December, so that effectively excludes anyone who is not a lawyer or trained judge from being appointed.
Some Kinderhook residents said after the meeting that the board’s vote appeared to have political overtones. “It seems pretty obvious they have someone in particular in mind, because it makes no fiscal sense to appoint someone right before the election,” said resident Sean Morton. “Then that person can run with the power of incumbency.”
“It seems to be a political decision,” said resident Allison Clifford. “So they can get whoever they want into office.”
In other business this month, after meeting privately in executive session, the board voted unanimously to retain the law firm Tabner, Ryan and Keniry, LLP for possible litigation against Certified Public Accountant Len Vona, who failed to detect major fraud by the town’s bookkeeper.
Earlier this year, former town bookkeeper Pegeen Mulligan-Moore was sentenced to 3 to 9 years in prison for stealing nearly half a million dollars from the Towns of Kinderhook and Greenport over a five-year period. Mr. Vona had reviewed Ms. Mulligan-Moore’s work in late 2008 and verbally reported back to the board that all was in order and there was nothing suspicious going on with the town’s books in 2007 and 2008. Upon his recommendation, the town obtained its own credit card, which Ms. Mulligan-Moore later used to commit more fraud.
Earlier in the meeting, the board heard a petition from attorney Bill Better to rezone a parcel. Mr. Better represents the Empire Property Group, which owns about 15 acres at 3143 Route 9 in Valatie. The property includes a large former industrial building that now houses a gift shop, a gymnastics studio and a fabric outlet among other things. Mr. Better requested that the current zoning of the property — light industrial in the front and residential/agricultural in the back — be changed so that the site falls within a single zoning category. He said having the property rezoned will allow the owners to move forward with donating 3.5 acres there to the Valatie Rescue Squad, which plans to construct a new building to house its emergency rescue vehicles. Supervisor Grattan said the board will discuss the matter at its August meeting and that a public hearing will also be required prior to the board vote on the proposed change.
The board also voted unanimously to institute a “zero tolerance” policy for the use of profanity and other demeaning language, including sexist and racist language, at its public meetings. Mr. Grattan introduced the measure saying he was “very, very embarrassed” by some words spoken by members of the public at the June board meeting.