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Chatham assembles panel to rethink policing

At least the village puts safety first. The Village of Chatham has posted signs alerting the public that wearing masks on Main Street is required, using money from a grant for Covid-19 related safety equipment. But the village installed the signs on state Department of Transportation poles. So state workers removed the signs and posted a photo of them on their Facebook page with a warning about posting “advertising, decorative or civic banners and signs on DOT property” without a permit. The one thing the state didn’t do was notify village officials that the signs had been removed. The signs are now attached to village streetlamp poles. Photo by R. E. Lindmark

CHATHAM—Mayor John Howe said the board was going to think about the future of the village court at the Village Board meeting on August 10.

The board held the meeting online for what Mayor Howe pointed out was the fifth month in a row. The board meets on the Webex meeting platform due to the pandemic. The board had planned to meet at the Tracy Memorial/Village Hall but changed the forum to online when the governor extended the executive order that open meetings could be held online until September 4.

The board also discussed the committee that would review police policy in the village in response to another order from the governor. Mayor Howe said that there has been a lot of interest from a diverse group residents in joining the committee.

“I’m really excited about that,” he said.

After the meeting, mayor finalized the committee. He asked board members Peter Minahan and Jaimee Boehme to sit on the committee with Village Police Chief Peter Volkmann and an officer from his department.

The governor issued an executive order in June telling municipalities to “develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies and programs in their community based on community input. Each police agency’s reform plan must address policies, procedures, practices and deployment, including, but not limited to use of force. Police forces must adopt a plan by April 1, 2021 to be eligible for future state funding.”

Mayor Howe said the process will be transparent and open to the public.

As for the court, Mayor Howe said before the pandemic the Village Court took in enough funding to support itself but now he said the court is “going to start costing us money.” Mayor Howe said the Village Board would have to take a look at the expenses. The village can dissolve the court and use the town courts of Chatham and Ghent. In 2010, the Village of Valatie dissolved its court and all cases now go to the Town of Kinderhook court.

The Chatham Town court meets at the Tracy Memorial/Village Hall on the second floor, and both the village and the town currently have the same judge.

Mayor Howe said that that judge, James Borgia-Forster, is very passionate about having a lift put in the Tracy Memorial to improve access to the second floor courtroom. There is currently only a long staircase. If there is an issue with access, the court proceedings move to the smaller meeting room on the first floor. Judge Borgia-Forster has told the village there would be grant money for a lift.

At the meeting on August 10, Mayor Howe said that the board had previously told the judge a few times that there would be no lift. But the board is moving forward with plans to upgrade the Tracy building, and the village has already been awarded grant money for the upgrade. A later phase of that plan would add an elevator. They discussed but did not act on adding the elevator to an earlier phase.

‘I’m really excited about that.’

Mayor John Howe

Village of Chatham

Also at the meeting:

• After an executive session, the board approved the early retirement in February from the Department of Public Works of John Bartholomew

• The board discussed water rates. Village Clerk Debra Meyers said she was discouraged from looking at a flat rate by the village engineer since there is one water source for residents. “He said do not go the route of a flat rate,” said Ms Meyers. The mayor said the board was continuing to look at other avenues to relieve residents of the “financial stress” and that the board would continue to have a conversation about water rates

• The board agreed to not ask for any increase in funding for the fire company in the contracts with the towns of Chatham, Ghent and Kinderhook. Mayor Howe pointed out the towns’ budgets are struggling. “I think it’s the fair thing to do,” said Trustee Melony Spock of the keeping the fire contract flat this year

• Mayor Howe also said the signs that were removed by the state Department of Transportation will be posted again on Main Street. The village received a grant and had signs made about mandatory mask wearing and put them on posts with DOT signs. The DOT posted a picture of the signs on their Facebook page saying, “Reminder—in order to post advertising, decorative or civic banners and signs on DOT property, you must have a highway work permit to ensure the signs adhere to DOT policy as well as federal policies for advertising on highways. Otherwise, the signs/banners will be removed.”

The DOT removed the village’s signs and did not tell anyone, according to the mayor. “We were doing what we felt was proper,” he said of the signs. He said the signs will be posted again, this time on village light polls.

The signs say that masks must be worn in the area where the signs are posted along Main Street.

The next Village Board meeting will be Monday, September 14.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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