By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO May 20, 2003 Late last year, the Sullivan County Legislature, in an effort to cut the budget, eliminated several jobs within the county. Two positions that were eliminated due to a lack of funding were the deputy clerks in the Board of Elections.
Both the Democratic (Timothy Hill) and the Republican (Fran Thalmann) elections commissioners implored the lawmakers not to make the cuts. Their reasoning centered on the busy year coming up with redistricting and Legislature elections, among many other races.
The vote was 7-2, with only Democratic Legislators Chris Cunningham (District 1) and Kathleen LaBuda (District 2) opposed to the move. Afterwards, Hill filed a lawsuit against the county to get the positions reinstated.
Sullivan County Supreme Court Judge Nicholas Clemente has ordered a hearing for June 19 to determine whether the Legislature needs to restore funding to the Board of Elections.
Topics relating to the Board of Elections were discussed at the Legislatures General Services meeting on Thursday, May 8.
Committee Chair Jodi Goodman asked the commissioners how the redistricting was going. They replied that the person doing the redistricting, Phillip Chonigman from GeoPolitical Strategies, had yet to submit the redrawn lines.
Former Committee Chair Cunningham reported that he spoke to Chonigman and there was an issue with his contract. It was reported that he had been paid in full but was looking for more compensation based on his work. Assistant County Attorney Lynda Levine had gone over the contract and was working the problems out with Chonigman.
Once that was cleared up, District 5 Legislator Rodney Gaebel proposed allocating $15,000 to hire temporary, part-time workers in the Board of Elections to help with redistricting.
Redistricting has created more of a workload, Gaebel stated. They have funding in place for some help. This will add to that. This will be by their discretion.
Im confused, Hill responded. I never got money I didnt ask for. I find this interesting that it comes after the interim decision.
The Legislature does this on a regular basis, remarked County Attorney Ira Cohen. The Legislature allocates additional funds when needed. This has nothing to do with the litigation.
We have had an ongoing discussion about funding, Gaebel commented. This is not complicated. Put a proposal together. I was just offering some help.
This resolution caught Cunningham by surprise. He argued back and forth with the committee, looking to get some clarification on what they were doing. In the end, the resolution passed 4-1 in committee, with Cunningham opposed.
After the meeting, Gaebel pointed out that both Thalmann and Hill were asked by County Manager Dan Briggs to submit a report in writing on what they needed and how it was going. While Thalmann complied, Hill did not.
After the meeting, both Cunningham and Hill clarified their positions.
It was a bad move back in December, Cunningham commented. It reeked of politics. It was not a prudent move. It is unfortunate that cooler heads did not prevail. They should apologize and reinstate the positions. Putting the money in is a step in the right direction. We all make mistakes. They should admit it, apologize, and do the right thing.
My lawyer [Perry Meltzer] advised me not to answer, Hill said in reference to Briggs request. There will be a response. [The resolution] was a way to mitigate damage. I did not start this. They can blame whoever they want. It will be back in front of the judge. No one talked to me [ahead of time]. They blindside me when they can. It was done in response to the court decision.
We knew all along they would need help to cover the workload, Gaebel said in response to Hills comments. The $15,000 is temporary to get over this. In the Board of Elections, there is not an even workload throughout the year. There is a big difference between hiring temporary help and having to pay a full salary and benefits.
They have the ability to hire as many people as they want as long as it fits under their cap, Gaebel continued. With his [Hills] not responding, I wonder what he is hiding. It was a simple request what the workload is and what do you need.
The resolution was before the full board at their meeting on Thursday, May 15. It passed 7-2, with Cunningham and LaBuda opposed.