ANCRAM—This is not the only place where numerous women have not been treated with respect, but it wants to be an example for how to deal with this unacceptable behavior swiftly and effectively.
At the January 20 Ancram Town Board meeting, the board got an earful from Jack Lindsey, who had received 15 phone calls over the past year and a half as Ethics Board chair and had numerous additional conversations with Ancram residents, women and men, expressing concern about “dismissive, sometimes hostile or inappropriate treatment of women who serve the town or come to the Town Hall for constituent services…”
The improper treatment has come at the hands of certain men presently serving the town, Mr. Lindsey said.
Some of the residents who spoke to him “experienced the behavior directly,” while others observed it happening “during town or committee meetings.”
Mr. Lindsey said, “Ancram has a significant number of residents who feel that there is ongoing, unfair and disrespectful treatment of women.”
At the board’s February 17 meeting, Supervisor Art Bassin wasted no time telling those present online and in-person, that the town has hired an attorney with the Albany law firm of Hinman Straub to investigate the issues that Mr. Lindsey raised last month.
The attorney, Elena DeFio Kean, has interviewed a dozen people so far and expects to speak to 6 to 10 more before she is done.
He said the attorney’s report is expected to be available prior to the April meeting. The supervisor suggested that the Town Board discuss its options but not make any final decisions until they see the final report and understand the full extent of what the attorney has found after speaking with those closest to the situation.
Councilperson Amy Gold made it clear that the Town Board is taking the disrespectful behavior issue “very seriously.” Ms. Gold took her seat on the board in January after winning election last November to the position vacated by Madeleine Israel, who retired
Ms. Gold said that she and Councilperson Bonnie Hundt, with the assistance of an ad hoc committee, had been researching best practices for towns and businesses over the past month. She said the town’s current employee handbook does not adequately address civil discourse, or procedures for lodging complaints or disciplinary procedures. She said changes to the handbook will be recommended based on the research. Other changes may or may not involve the formation of a town Committee on Respectful Behavior.
‘Now that we know the issues… we can all together figure out how to move ahead..’
Councilperson Bonnie Hundt
Ancram Town Board
Ms. Gold said the town is required to investigate the allegations brought forward by Mr. Lindsey. She said the town will look at potential policy improvements in the areas of ethics, harassment, civility and respectful conduct.
“This kind of conduct is not unique to Ancram, but as anyone who picks up a newspaper or listens to the news knows, it is running rampant throughout the country,” she said, adding that Ancram wants to be “a model for progressive movement” on dealing with it.
Councilperson Hundt spoke about the diversity of the committee she and Ms. Gold are working with, calling it a good “brainstorming group.”
“Now that we know the issues,” said Ms. Hundt, “we can all together figure out how to move ahead.”
Councilperson Hugh Clark said, “What are the facts? is point number one. The investigator has no ties to the community, is objective and professionally experienced and well-qualified in both the law and investigative techniques. That ultimately will provide us with some lessons learned.”
He said that even before the board has a full report, “I think we’re already at the stage that there are some corrective actions that can be taken, so there is no wasted time, no wasted effort.”
“I think we’ve got a dialog going and for the first time in a very long time something that was whispered about for many years is in the open, we’re talking about it, we’re going to deal with it. It is no longer hidden behind the bushes,” said Supervisor Bassin.
“Now that we’re talking about it I think we’ve got an extremely good chance of making this kind of behavior go away… we will be able to provide ways to avoid that kind of behavior and call it out as soon as it occurs,” he said.
Mr. Bassin asked the board to table action on the creation of a Committee on Disrespectful Behavior until next month, let the investigation play out and “get some good insights” from it.
He said a valuable part of the investigation is that the attorney is asking everyone she talks to how to resolve this problem in addition to describing what it is.
On a related matter, the board heard from Ancram resident Hayden Geer, who voiced her concern about racist comments and symbols she has heard and seen in the area. A recent transplant from South Carolina, Ms. Geer spoke emotionally about seeing Nazi and Confederate flags along with many “F**k Biden” signs and the changing of “Black Lives Matter” signs into “White Lives Matter” signs.
There is a problem with racism and white supremacy in this community, she said, noting these are “ugly words” and she was sorry to be saying them. She said she was initially shocked when she read the January 27 story in The Columbia Paper, “Witnesses call out Ancram officials.”
But, she said she should not have been because research has found that “racism and misogyny overlap all the time.”
While she appreciated that the board was trying to get a handle on the sexist, misogynistic issues, she wanted to make sure racism was folded into the discussions.
“We shouldn’t allow people to be comfortable with dangerous beliefs because silence emboldens people and things will get worse,” Ms. Geer said.
Mr. Bassin thanked Ms. Geer for her comments
The next town board meeting takes place March 17 at 7 p.m.
To contact Diane Valden email