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Callicoon Board Still Conflicted

By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE — January 15, 2008 — It was expected to be a short session, but the third meeting of the year for the Town of Callicoon had a particularly abrupt ending.
With the planning board scheduled to meet in the same room at 7 p.m., board members nonetheless set their meeting for 6:30 p.m.
With an executive session expected, the board agreed there would be ample time.
More than half an hour after entering a room at the back of the town hall to discuss “employment history,” the board had yet to return.
The planning board members opted to move out into the larger room of the hall, and the town board finally returned well after the 7 p.m. mark.
There had been signs that the board and new Supervisor Linda Babicz were starting to come together.
Calling for her deputy supervisor to attend the executive session, Babicz began reading state law that allows a non-elected deputy to take part in closed-door sessions.
“We don’t have an objection,” Councilman Tom Bose interjected, stopping Babicz from reading the entire law.
But when the board returned to regular session, members seemed surprised that Babicz intended to continue discussion items from the workshop held the Friday before.
Fresh from a training session in Albany for new supervisors, Babicz had a new list to add to her objections against naming her predecessor as the town’s deputy code enforcement officer (CEO).
First, she stated she’ll be reneging on her offer to pursue code enforcement certification and serve as deputy CEO at no charge to the town – which former Supervisor Gregg Semenetz had done for the last several years of his tenure.
That’s because, Babicz said, the actions were completely illegal.
“The attorney general and State of New York said it’s an absolute no-no,” she explained. “One job is subjugate to the other, and there is a direct intersection of jobs.”
It’s a moot point now, with Semenetz out of office, but Babicz had more on her list.
She charged the board with illegal action in attaching a $10,000 salary to the deputy’s position at a December meeting.
With the budget set in November, Babicz said her understanding is that state law precludes any changes being made until January.
Town Bookkeeper Joe Anne Baker, asking to clarify the issue, said she spoke with the state before the board passed the December resolution.
She’d been told a budget amendment can be passed – as long as it doesn’t take affect until January.
Councilman Dave Kuebler said the New York State Comptroller’s Office told him the same thing.
With conflicting opinions – apparently from the same office – Babicz and Kuebler agreed to track down the same person in the comptroller’s office in an attempt to get the same answer.
Next on Babicz’s list was an objection against the board’s most recent proposal for Semenetz’s appointment.
Giving way on the $10,000 salary, board members asserted at the Friday, Jan. 4, work session that Semenetz could simply be paid a benefits package, half of which he’s entitled to anyway because of his longevity with the town.
That, Babicz said, would also be illegal – because a town employee can’t be paid with just benefits.
Bose said he’d already asked Semenetz if he’d be willing to take a salary of $1, making him a legal part-time employee who would automatically be entitled to personal health benefits based on the town’s employment policy.
But Babicz wasn’t done.
She turned next to the state’s revolving door policy, referring to a Senator Alphonse D’Amato scandal around the time of his departure from office.
The New York State Ethics Commission refers to the revolving door restrictions in terms of state positions only.
“The Public Officers Law prohibits all former State employees from ‘appearing or practicing’ before their former agencies for two years after they leave their State jobs,” the commission review states. “The restrictions of the two-year bar apply to appearing, practicing or working on matters only before an employee's former agency.
“They do not prohibit any activity involving other agencies of State government or any other government.”
Town Attorney Marvin Newberg said the policy essentially prohibits an official working on a particular project for the state from leaving, then returning to appear in front of the state representing someone else on the matter.
The policy does not apply to a supervisor who lost the election working as a deputy code enforcement officer, he said.
Based on the facts, Eamon Moynihan, a spokesman for the department of state, concurred.
“You also told me you wanted to have Gregg stay on,” Councilman Charlie Schadt pointed out to Babicz.
Babicz said she never said that, and eventually moved on to the code enforcement clerk’s position which has also been a bone of contention since the year turnover.
After a short back-and-forth over the position and the board’s proposal that Court Clerk Kim Klein – who Schadt said is doing a good job – get the appointment, Babicz was cut off.
Kuebler moved for the meeting to be adjourned, which was quickly seconded by Councilman Howard Fuchs.
With “ayes” from Schadt and Bose, the board walked away, leaving Babicz alone at the table.

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