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Clerk Issue Prompts
A Policy Rewrite

By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO — January 17, 2003 – The presence of a former county employee who’s still working at her job – technically as a volunteer – caused the county legislature yesterday to review a stiffer volunteer policy that restricts access to sensitive info.
Even though her job as Sullivan County Board of Elections Senior Clerk is no longer funded, former Democratic Elections Clerk Mary Jo Oppenheim has continually come to work.
Her boss, Sullivan County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Tim Hill, is fighting the county about the cut in court. The case was scheduled to be heard before Sullivan County Supreme Court Justice Francis Clemente Friday at 9:30 a.m. However, Hill’s attorney, Perry Meltzer, asked for more time to prepare his case and was granted a week. The case will now be heard on Friday, January 24 at 9:30 a.m.
On January 2, County Attorney Ira Cohen informed both Hill and Oppenheim that, since she is not getting paid, she would be considered a volunteer.
Hill, in submitting paperwork for the payroll period, requested Oppenheim get paid for the first three days of January (the end of her last pay period). That was denied by the county. It is unknown whether or not Hill will continue to seek pay for Oppenheim.
At the first hearing of the case last month, Meltzer threatened Oppenheim would take legal action if she did not receive pay for her work.
In the midst of all this, County Manager Dan Briggs discovered there is no firm policy in place regarding volunteers. This led to a quick attempt to fix the loophole. The matter came up yesterday afternoon at the Sullivan County Legislature’s Executive Committee meeting.
“Recent events at the Government Center have caused us to reflect and come to the realization that we do not have a written policy authorizing and regulating access to government records and offices; but we do have some good, common-sense principles and ideals that have been guiding us in the past,” Briggs told the legislators. “I am today asking the Sullivan County Legislature to adopt these principles as official policy of the county.
“Access to government records and property is an activity we would like to ensure and protect,” Briggs continued, “and we recognize the necessity to do so in a way that guarantees public access while protecting property and information whose accessibility should be regulated.”
The resolution specifically spells out the policy. It was approved 8-1 in committee (Chris Cunningham opposed), but it must still go before the full board at its monthly meeting this Thursday, January 23.

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