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Jeanne Sager | Democrat

CALLICOON OFFICIALS FOR 2008 include, sitting, council members Charlie Schadt and Howard Fuchs. Standing, from the left: Town Clerk Janet Brahm, Supervisor Linda Babicz, councilmen Tom Bose and Dave Kuebler and Highway Superintendent Dave Erlwein.

Personnel Issues Dominate Callicoon

By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE — January 8, 2008 — The second bite at the apple came up sour for the Town of Callicoon Board.
After a fractious reorganizational meeting Wednesday evening, the board reconvened in an unusual Friday night meeting.
Expected to be an informal work session to hash out appointments tabled at the behest of new supervisor Linda Babicz, the tables were quickly turned when Councilman Tom Bose asked that the board call a formal special meeting.
Boards cannot legally vote or convene in executive session during a work session, but Bose said he’d just received notice that would require a closed door meeting.
The facts where “of the utmost importance concerning the financial aspect of this town,” he said.
“I apologize for any inconvenience,” he told the crowd – a much smaller showing than the loud standing-room-only audience of two days prior.
“It’s that important,” Bose said.
With Babicz stating she knew of another matter that related to personnel and would require an executive session, the board agreed, directing Town Clerk Janet Brahm to draw up a form for each member to sign waiving the notice rules.
New as she is to the role of supervisor, Babicz said she’d recently been told there are eight reasons a board can go into executive session to discuss personnel.
“Does anyone know what those are?” she asked.
“No,” the board responded.
“Will you tell us?” Bose asked.
“No,” Babicz responded to a smattering of laughter. “I don’t know!”
Although it lightened the mood, the discussion inside the executive session evidently turned south. Shortly after the board had disappeared behind closed doors, Babicz returned, deeply concerned.
She asked to speak with newly named Deputy Supervisor Joe Cullen – whose powers to sign town checks had been a bone of contention Wednesday evening – and Ron Litchman, a Youngsville resident and attorney as well as a member of the Town of Callicoon Democratic Party.
Although board members cannot reveal the issues discussed during an executive session, Cullen had already told the crowd he knew the board was discussing him.
“Can’t you tell, they don’t want me,” he said, as audience members debated the legality of the closed session. “Imagine all this for volunteering.”
The Democrat has since learned that at heart of the session was Cullen’s residency.
The address on record with the board of elections – which Cullen used to make a run for council last year – is on Route 52 in Youngsville, right in the Town of Callicoon.
His STAR exemption, however, is on a home he owns in Briscoe, right over the town line in the Town of Bethel.
Although a deputy supervisor does not have to be elected, the person chosen by the supervisor must meet the same requirements of an elected official – that includes residency within the township.
Contacted yesterday, Cullen said the STAR exemption is indeed on a home in the Town of Bethel, a home he co-owns with his wife.
But, Cullen said, he lives in Youngsville on property he owns there – property where he was raised.
He can’t change the STAR exemption, he said, without his wife’s permission.
Cullen, who faced a challenge in November when he was suddenly told his candidacy might cost him his job as a policeman in the Village of Monticello, said he’s frustrated by the confusion.
Out on disability because of a job-related injury, Cullen learned at the height of election season that taking a council seat – even if he gave up his salary – could be construed as employment.
By the time Cullen heard from an attorney who specialized in worker’s compensation claims that the council seat would likely have nothing to do with his disability claims, it was too late.
Cullen lost the election, but he said he was told he could still be a volunteer.
“That’s all I’m trying to do – I’m just trying to volunteer,” he said. “I never thought the town would get this petty.”
When the board finally exited its executive session more than an hour after it started, Babicz called for a vote many thought had been made on Wednesday evening.
Although paperwork had already been signed authorizing Babicz as supervisor to sign town checks and Cullen as her deputy, Babicz said the vote never took place.
The matter had been brought to a motion by Councilman Charlie Schadt and seconded by Bose – who spoke against a non-board member signing town checks, but said he understood the need for town business to run smoothly.
New to the job, Babicz did not realize she then had to ask for a full vote from the board.
She asked Friday night, and the motion carried with only Bose dissenting.
Although the board had announced no public comment would be allowed because Friday’s session was not a regular meeting, the change in the process prompted Barbara Gref of Jeffersonville to begin asking questions about the call for an executive session.
“Personnel is not a kosher reason for going into executive session,” Gref said, challenging the legality of the closed-door meeting.
Board members answered that both matters discussed related to a question of qualifications.
Babicz also publicly answered the question posed by Bose Wednesday evening in front of the huge crowd of onlookers regarding her choice of Cullen as her deputy.
Babicz gave a brief reason for not choosing each of the other board members Wednesday evening, but opted not to share a portion of her reasoning against Bose.
“I did not want to publicly embarrass you, although you didn’t have any problem with embarrassing Joe Cullen,” Babicz told Bose Friday evening.
“I told Joe Cullen I did not have anything against him,” Bose responded.
Cullen said the board’s arguments during the reorganizational meeting made him feel “like a thief,” but Bose said his only concern at that point was that Cullen had attended just one meeting while running for council and was not well-versed in town business.
Bose pushed Babicz once again to announce publicly her reasoning – especially after she’d indicated during a one-on-one meeting with him that she’d be making the councilman her deputy.
“I feel you betrayed a confidence,” Babicz revealed.
During their one-on-one meeting, Bose said the two discussed Babicz’s desire to replace Code Enforcement Officer Kevin Zieres with Eric Johnson.
Babicz denied having a specific person in mind, but admitted she did want the appointment reviewed.
“We both agreed in some instances he needs a fire lit under him,” she said.
But Babicz said she never intended the conversation to be shared with Zieres.
Bose said he didn’t feel he could lie when asked by Zieres if he’d been a subject of conversation with the supervisor-elect.
But Babicz said Bose’s decision sealed hers for deputy supervisor, prompting Bose to ask if the board could discuss her choice of deputy supervisor.
“No,” Babicz responded. “That’s for the other room.”

Board Defends Semenetz Appointment

By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE — The salary’s off the table, but chances are the name up for reappointment to the deputy code enforcement officer’s position Monday night will be that of former Supervisor Gregg Semenetz.
The Town of Callicoon Board faced hefty criticism from a contentious crowd during its reorganizational meeting early this month, with accusations that members created a position for Semenetz after he lost the election.
Leading the charge was new Supervisor Linda Babicz, although she was careful to focus her criticism on the $10,000 salary and its accompanying benefits rather than on Semenetz himself.
At Friday night’s board work session, convened after an emergency special meeting, board members answered the public’s concerns with a number of facts not recently disseminated.
As Councilman Tom Bose pointed out during the Jan. 2 reorganizational meeting, deputy code enforcement officer was not a position created for Semenetz.
Although the former supervisor held the position for the past several years, opting not to take a salary, the position itself goes back to Pete Lillo, who requested a deputy building inspector in the early 1990s.
Councilman Howard Fuchs then took the floor for what became a lengthy presentation on the job of a code enforcement officer.
Responsible for code enforcement in the Town of Delaware, Fuchs said he was concerned with the some of the figures Babicz presented in a chart to the public during the first meeting of the year.
Fuchs contended the cost of the Town of Callicoon’s building department – with a salary for the deputy and a newly created clerk’s position – was not fairly contrasted with that of the towns of Delaware and Rockland because it included the cost of benefits and FICA.
Although Babicz said she clearly separated the salary figures, she didn’t have the chart on hand to clear up the confusion.
Fuchs also expressed concern that the Town of Rockland’s building permit figures were elevated because of recent flooding – which Babicz answered with a breakdown provided by Rockland.
Comparing revenues is unfair, Fuchs noted, because each town has different fees.
Besides, he added, the town is not in the business of making money.
“Either the job is necessary or it’s not, how much it brings in should not be brought up,” he said.
Fuchs then launched into an in-depth review of his job – including Town of Delaware Supervisor Jim Scheutzow’s contention that a deputy might be needed to get the job done correctly.
“None of this is rocket science,” Fuchs admitted. “It’s just very time consuming; it’s hours of work.”
State and federal mandates are increasing, and certification requirements keep the position from being filled by a volunteer as was suggested at the reorganizational meeting.
Board members also explained the clerk’s position – with Councilman Charlie Schadt’s frequent assertions that it will likely be eliminated in the future.
At a cost just over $6,000, the board is looking to put a clerk in charge of inputting more than two decades of data to a new computer system for the building department.
When that work is done, Schadt said the clerk won’t be needed.
Returning to Semenetz’s status, Schadt said he’d be willing to do away with the $10,000 figure.
But, he said, Semenetz’s tenure on the board – between his time spent as supervisor and councilman – already entitles him to yearly compensation from the township in the form of partial health insurance payments.
“By doing nothing, he’ll be getting half,” Schadt said.
Schadt suggested the town pick up the remainder of the benefits package to reimburse Semenetz for his services.
“We don’t want anyone to do work for the town for nothing per se,” Bose said.
Babicz suggested combining the part-time code enforcement officer and the deputy’s position into one, making a full-time slot.
But Fuchs and Bose spoke out in turns against the proposal – in part because a full-time civil service position would take away the town’s power to make an appointment of its own choosing.
The candidate would come off of the civil service list, and the process of yearly appointments would be circumvented.
Besides, Fuchs said, there’s a difference of about $3,000 between employing one full-timer or two part-timers with the benefit of the town retaining its power to hire and fire.
Babicz’s next proposal was a delineated separation of duties to ensure there is no duplication of work in the department.
As a businesswoman, Babicz said she knows that two people doing one job can create inefficiencies, she said.
Fuchs said his experience tells him that decision should lay with the code enforcement officer – only he knows what needs to be done on a given day.
“I don’t think it’s cut and dried; it’s going to depend on the load,” Schadt said. “They’re going to have to work that out themselves.”
The debate over the code enforcement officer took up the bulk of the work session, with Schadt and Bose finally asking if the problem lay in the proposal or the person.
Babicz herself said she’d recommend Semenetz for this type of position, Schadt said, but Semenetz has been drawing a lot of criticism. “I know maybe his personality rubbed people the wrong way,” Schadt said. “I think it was his downfall.
“But I think if it was someone else, I don’t think it would be as hard.”
“I think the issue here is because of the person,” Bose noted. “I know you say it isn’t, but that’s what I think.”
If Babicz pursues her certification and wants to take on the deputy’s slot at no charge – as Semenetz did – Bose said he’d be more than happy to appoint her to the position next year.
In the interim, the majority of the board made clear their feelings that a deputy code enforcement officer and clerk should be named at the meeting Monday, Jan. 14.

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