COPAKE—A new court clerk local law that repeals an old one was adopted by a 3-2 vote at the December 13 Town Board meeting.
The new law, which makes both court clerks part-time–one is now full-time–follows a reduction in court clerk hours to go along with cuts made last month in funding for the Town Court in 2013.
Town Supervisor Jeff Nayer introduced a proposal to cut the full-time court clerk position to part-time at the board’s November 3 budget meeting. He based his proposal on statistics that show that dissolution of the town’s police force as of January 1, 2012 has resulted in a 42% drop in court cases so far and a 46% decrease in the number of defendants.
The 2013 budget, which also passed by a split 3-2 vote last month, cuts the allocation for the full-time court clerk by 49% from $22,892 to $11,500. Funding for the part-time clerk goes from $9,108 to $8,300, a 9% cut. Margaret Hosier is currently to full-time court clerk to Justice Brian Herman and Janet Glover is currently the part-time clerk to Justice John Spencer. Ms. Hosier fills in for Ms. Glover as needed. The budget cut proposal sparked a contentious debate at the November meeting.
During a public hearing on the new local law prior to last week’s meeting, Planning Board Chair Marcia Becker told the board: “A Copake citizen shouldn’t lose their livelihood because a Town Board member doesn’t like them, there’s a political debt to pay, or because they are a Democrat and a woman.” She said the action by the majority of Town Board members to “decrease the status and the work of the Copake Court is an example of the Town Board further eroding the standing of the town.”
She asked the board to reconsider both the funding cut to the court budget and the decision to repeal of the 2009 law that established the full-time and deputy court clerk positions.
Town resident Vicki Dodson said she understood the funding cut for the full-time court clerk position, but did not understand the need to repeal the law. She said if the idea of the consolidation of services among towns has any merit, to abolish the full-time court clerk post will jeopardize the town’s standing in that consolidation. She asked the board to “give it a year” and continue to evaluate the situation, rather than go forward with this “knee jerk” reaction.
Resident Lindsay LeBrecht said it’s not a Democratic or Republican issue but one based on “good business practice” and reflects the 42% decrease in court cases.
When the board took up the issue during the regular meeting, Republican Councilwoman Kelly Miller-Simmons moved the approval of the new local law to repeal the old one. Supervisor Nayer, an Independence Party member, seconded it.
Democratic Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia said admittedly the caseload was declining, but there has been confusion between caseload and workload. After a review of the data and “listening to the people performing the job,” she said she could not support the repeal.
Democratic Councilwoman Susan Winchell-Sweeney said she also spoke with everyone involved with the courts and said the action was “premature” and she would not vote to repeal the law.
Mr. Nayer restated his position that the budget adjustment was made because both the caseload and the workload were down. To avoid a threat of being sued, the supervisor said he wanted to “clean up” the law so the town can move forward without a problem.
In the end, Mr. Nayer, Councilwoman Miller-Simmons and Democratic Councilwoman Jeanne Mettler voted in favor of the new law, Ms. Gabaccia and Ms. Winchell-Sweeney opposed it.
In other business, the Town Board heard from Grant Dinehart “Mike” Langdon of Penfield, Monroe County who, with his son, travelled to the meeting to ask the board to support a resolution to be brought before the Columbia County Board of Supervisors seeking an apology to Mr. Langdon’s son, Frank. Mr. Langdon said his son was wrongfully charged in 1988 with the 1987 arson of a barn at Bull Spring Farm, Copake. The charges against Frank were eventually dropped before a trail, but his son’s reputation had been irreparably damaged, said Mr. Langdon.
The Bull Spring barn was one of three owned by Mr. Langdon that was the target of one or more arsonists who were never brought to justice. The torching of the barns was all part of a larger arson spree that plagued Copake for several years.
Mr. Langdon believes that an apology from the Board of Supervisors will serve to clear his son’s name.
The Town Board, on advice of Town Attorney Ken Dow, took no action on the resolution. It’s the job of a legislative body to make laws, said Mr. Dow, noting, it is not the purview of the a legislative body to say the court got it wrong, assign guilt or liability in this matter.
The board’s yearend meeting takes place Saturday, December 29 at 9 a.m.; the organizational meeting is set for January 2 at 7 p.m.
To contact Diane Valden email .