Personal vendetta in Hardenburgh

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To The Editor:
In order to understand Pauline Liu’s story in last week’s paper we must first regress in time to the August Hardenburgh Republican Town Caucus.

Unlike many other counties, which have primaries to choose party candidates, Ulster County uses the caucus method. There was a community Republican who had during the entire summer months been in contact with the party chairperson to be on the Republican slate. Their requests went unanswered until the eve of the caucus when a call came in stating that they would not be mentioned on the Republican slate.

This notification was given far too late for the potential candidate to campaign for the position and rally voter support. As a result, a Democrat was installed on the Republican ballot. This Democrat had already been considered as the Democratic nominee. What this did was deny all Republicans in our town from having a choice to vote for a Republican for this position. While the Republican chairperson owns property in our town, she isn’t a full-time resident. Is this legal? Yes. Is this moral and fair to our community? I’ll leave that up to you.

Also in August, the town board voted to require all part-time employees to pay 25 percent of their health insurance. This motion was lobbied and seconded by Councilman Odell, the brother of the Republican Committee Chairperson.

Wow, after 14 years of service, not even a “grandfather clause” protecting incumbents. Does this sound prejudicial to you? It was at this time that I chose not to seek another term as supervisor. Let’s not kid ourselves, there is a huge amount of animus between the Odell family and myself.
Our current town board has a new supervisor and council member. It was obvious that council member Odell, with the help of councilperson Sherry Bellows, “bullied” the board members into any decision they made. This was obvious as when they returned to the public meeting after the executive session, Odell offered most of the dialogue. There was absolutely no supporting town or highway laws offered in support of this decision.

On to the decisions. First, it is deeply ingrained in town and highway law that, “the deputy town superintendent of highways is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the town superintendent of highways.” The “conflict of interest” statement is ludicrous. Whether it is the superintendent or the deputy, it is the responsibility of the five-member town board to review all bills including highway bills through their monthly “audit of all the bills.”

On to the real conflict of interest issue that has been brewing since the passage of the 2012 budget in November. Councilperson Sherry Bellows was asked to abstain on a budget line item involving the highway employee mentioned in the article. The reason for the abstention request was that her mother receives thousands of dollars per year in rent from that particular highway employee.

The NYS Association of Towns opined that at the very least there was an appearance of conflict of interest and the abstention should be effected. Bolstered by Councilperson Odell, Councilperson Bellows refused to abstain. Councilperson Bellows was again vocal during discussions concerning the layoff of the same highway employee. Should she have abstained? Again, I leave it to the reader.

Highway and town law is clear who has authority over highway employment. Not only is the law clear, but also it is upheld by the court decision in Myruski v. Town of Goshen. This court decision says in part, “Section 140 of the Highway Law has constituted the Superintendent of Highways as an officer elected independently of other members of the town board with independent responsibility etc., and has conferred on that officer the power independently to employee and direct such persons as may be necessary to carry out that responsibility.”

It would seem to me that Councilperson Odell, whose family has a personal vendetta toward me and the highway department and Councilperson Bellows, whose immediate family profits from the highway employee’s rent monies, should have researched board involvement in highway business. Not once during all their conversations did I hear either of these council members express concern for our community and its taxpaying citizenry.

Councilperson Odell does not personally own any property in our town, but does own a residence in Dutchess County with he and his wife’s names on the assessment roll. When questioned on this, he stated that it was his “second home.” It is interesting to note that his son attended school in that school district, not ours.

Is his right to vote and participate in our town government legal? Again, I’ll leave that up to the reader.

Jerry Fairbairn,
Town of Hardenburgh Highway Bookkeeper