Dems grapple in New Leb

NEW LEBANON–Incumbent Town Supervisor Margaret Robertson faces a challenge from within her own party when town Democrats caucus June 9. In a letter appearing in this edition of The Columbia Paper, two-year Town Board member Allen Livermore has announced his candidacy for the office.

   Town Democratic Chair Leonard “Rocky” Brown said this week that he doesn’t know which candidates are running. But incumbent Town Justice Shaun McHugh charges that Mr. Brown has held “a couple of closed-door, invitation-only meetings,” with potential candidates–to which neither he nor Supervisor Robertson were invited. 

   Mr. Brown could not be reached for further comment before press deadline. But  Ms. Robertson said she had learned about one of the meetings and attended uninvited. She said Mr. Brown called it a platform meeting but  that she said that required  a public notice, adding that a platform should be decided by “the 523 registered Democrats in town.”

   Mr. McHugh said he told Mr. Brown “long ago” that he is running for reelection, as did Ms. Robertson, who served on the Town Board for 12 years before running for supervisor two years ago. “If he wants to run a democratic election, let him do it democratically, not behind closed doors,” Mr. McHugh said.

   Mr. Livermore says one reason he’s running stems from an ethics complaint made by Philip Brown, son   of  party Chair Leonard Brown and husband of Diane Brown, the deputy justice court clerk. He wants the complaint to be made public; under present law it is confidential.

   The Ethics Committee’s findings are public information, however, and describe a troubled local court system and considerable strife between the legislative and judicial branches of town government.  In part, the committee concludes: “If change is not brought about immediately, we further recommend the closing of the local court and the referral of all cases to the nearest court. The current operation is in an uncontrollable state and does not appear that it can continue to function with the current employees,” the Ethics Committee report says.

   Justice  McHugh and Supervisor Robertson declined to discuss the committee’s findings other than to say only that there is an “ongoing investigation” and that the findings should be revealed shortly.

   Mr. Livermore also charges he is aware of a complaint against another town official reported to police.

   Ms. Robertson said that she became aware of a situation that she believed needed investigation and emailed all members of the Town Board and Town Attorney Jason Shaw for guidance. “I was disappointed that I received no response from board members,” she said.

   Mr. Shaw turned the matter over to the sheriff for “inquiry,” she said, and the matter was cleared up.

   The two New Lebanon justice courts cost the town $18,000 a year, Supervisor Robertson said.  Mr. Livermore is among those calling for sharing services between the New Lebanon court and that of Canaan, which costs that town $12,000 annually, according to figures obtained by Ms. Robertson.

   But sharing services would mean only “sharing a building, alternating nights,” Ms. Robertson said. Everything else would remain the same. Only the “carbon footprint” would decrease, she said.

   Mr. Livermore also cites a “double-digit increase” in salary for Town Clerk Colleen Teal. “I voted against that,” he said. “We need to control government spending.”

   Ms. Robertson said that the town clerk’s hours were increased from 30 to 40 per week in response to increased demand for services. “Naturally there was an increase in salary, but that increase spread over the 40 hours was 3%,” Ms. Robertson said. “It’s important to encourage employees, to retain them. For new people to learn jobs takes a long time. I may have to take a pencil and paper to the caucus to show people the math,” she said.

   Mr. Livermore believes that the  caucus will probably endorse Cherie Lane-Smith for town clerk. Ms. Lane-Smith ran against Ms. Teal in the last election, losing “narrowly,” he said.

   Monroe (“Monte”) Wasch said he is not running for reelection to the board.

   Among potential candidates for the board cited by Mr. Livermore are Trina Porte and Phyllis Hulbert. “We used to have trouble finding candidates,” he said. “Now we have lots of people interested in running.”

   The caucus begins at 7 p.m. at the Immaculate Conception Church hall, Route 20.

   To contact Gail Heinsohn email gheinsohn@ColumbiaPaper. 

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