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Village eyes town court as just way to go


CHATHAM – Mayor John Howe spoke to his board about abolishing the Village Court during the Village Board online monthly meeting December 14.

Mayor Howe also acknowledged a letter of resignation from the village deputy clerk and a letter of the “intention to resign” from the village clerk.

As for the court, Mayor Howe said that when he was elected in March 2019 he talked about looking at the “cost versus the benefits” of the Village Court. He said that some of the paperwork for the court was seized by the state during the Comptroller’s Office ongoing investigation of the village for not making payments on certain payroll taxes to the state and federal government in the past. Mayor Howe also said that since the court shut down for a time due to the pandemic, the financial numbers for this year were affected.

The cost in the past for the court compared to the funds it has brought in are “pretty much a wash,” the mayor said. And he pointed out that the village pays for two police officers to be at court when it is held.

The Village Court meets in the Tracy Memorial/Village Hall as does the Town of Chatham Court. The two municipal courts also have the same justice, James Borgia-Forster. Part of the village lies within the Town of Ghent, which has its own court at Ghent Town Hall on Route 66.

Village Attorney Ken Dow, who is also the county Democratic Election Commissioner, said that there are some conflicts with state election law and village law on the timing for dissolving the court if it has to go on the village ballot. “The timing gets a little tricky here,” he said during the meeting.

The Village Board could pass a local law to dissolve the court. But, as a permissive referendum, the board would have to give residents 30 days to petition the board’s decision. If 20% of the village residents sign the petition the question of dissolving the court would go on the village ballot in March of 2021.

Mr. Dow also pointed out that the village cannot dissolve the court in the middle of a the village justice’s term. Judge Borgia-Forster’s term is up on April 1, according to Mr. Dow. Mayor Howe said that Judge Borgia-Forster is willing to run again for the village justice in March. In June of this year, Village Judge Walt Simonsmeier resigned and the board appointed Judge Borgia-Forster to the position.

Mr. Dow told the board that abolishing the court is a local law unless someone “petitions it.”

His advice to the Village Board was,“Basically you have to have it done pretty soon” due to the timing of the elections and the justice’s term.

Mayor Howe said the board would discuss the issue further at the January meeting. He stressed that the decision on the court would made by the board.

The Village of Valatie dissolved its court in 2010. Court cases in the Valatie now go to the Town of Kinderhook Court. The Village of Kinderhook, which is also in the Town of Kinderhook, has its own court as does the Village of Philmont.

As for the clerks, the board voted on a motion to authorize current Village Clerk Debra Meyers to “advertise for the village clerk position.” The mayor then said that the board was going into executive session, which is not open to the public. He also said at the end of the public part of the meeting that the board did not plan to pass any motions after the executive session.

‘Basically you have to have it done pretty soon.’

Village Attorney Ken Dow

Village of Chatham

Also at the meeting:

• The mayor and Mr. Dow will look into the contract with Black Dot for the cell tower lease. The company pays to lease space for a cell tower for AT&T on village property, for about $38,000 a year, according to Village Clerk Meyers. Mayor Howe said the company wants to cut the payment in half. The mayor said the board would look into the contract and the options for the village

• During the police report, Deputy Chief Joe Alessi said police are ticketing cars for overnight parking on some streets in the village.

The board also appointed Crystal Cooliage as part-time officer in the Police Department. On the agenda were letters of resignation from police officers Kevin Goold and Emmitt Callahan

• During the Fire Department report, Chief Eric Barnes said he thought the holiday event held by the department on December 12 “hit it out of the park again.” The event, like an event at Halloween, was held with Covid-19 safety protocols

• Stephen Piazza talked to the board about having the village’s large clock looked at. He has been working on maintaining the clock, housed in the tower of a building on Main Street, for the village. Mayor Howe said there was some issue with who owned the tower, and he was going to talk to the owner of the building. “We need to figure out who owns what,” the mayor said.

The next board meeting will be January 11, 2021. Information on attending the meeting will be online at villageofchatham.com

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com

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