Gaebel Moves On to New Post in County
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO February 27, 2007 Come Saturday, one of Sullivan County’s best-known politicians will leave 15 years of elected service to begin his first as an appointee.
In characteristic fashion, the 50ish Rodney Gaebel would likely snort in derision at being labeled an “elder statesman,” but he’s the closest thing the county’s got to it.
A decade before the turn of the century, Gaebel was already serving on the Jeffersonville-Youngsville school board, succeeding in his first taste of what would become eight elections.
He won every single one, with a public evidently quite amenable to naming him Town of Callicoon Supervisor and later District 5 County Legislator.
It is from that latter position that he will step down this Saturday to begin his tenure as Sullivan County’s Republican Elections Commissioner, an appointment he’ll share with current Democratic Elections Commissioner Tim Hill, per state law.
He leaves in anticipation of new challenges, but with a sense of loss.
“I have very mixed emotions about stepping down,” said Gaebel, one of the first to serve on the then-new County Legislature in 1995 (fresh from a four-year stint on the prior governing body, the Board of Supervisors).
Until Republican Elections Commissioner Fran Thalmann announced her retirement late last year, Gaebel was planning to run for another four years as county legislator this November.
“The job was challenging in that you deal with so many issues,” the Youngsville resident said of his legislative tenure, thanking his constituents for many years of unwavering support.
Proud as he is of helping to maintain the county’s agricultural base while at the same time promoting economic development, Gaebel saw an opportunity to take on new challenges.
“It’s kind of a critical time for that office,” he observed of the Board of Elections, referencing the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and the resulting push for new electronic polling equipment and revised operating procedures. “It’s not going to be an easy task to move forward.”
But it’s one he wants to take on, and a job he admits pays a heck of a lot better $56,000 a year than the $20,000 he annually earned as a legislator. (Although much went into this decision, Gaebel acknowledged pay was naturally a consideration.)
It’s also a job his predecessor believes he’s well-qualified to do, especially considering Gaebel served 10 years as an elections custodian in his home township of Callicoon.
“He’s got a background that’s very good for that job,” said Thalmann, who’s been teaching Gaebel the ropes since his bipartisan appointment by the Legislature last week.
“He’s very enthusiastic, very dedicated. He has been in everything he undertakes,” she added.
“I don’t know of a more dedicated public servant than Rodney Gaebel,” agreed Chris Cunningham, the Democratic chair of the Legislature. “His efforts and commitment to Sullivan County should be an example for anyone who wants to serve in public office.”
In that spirit of bipartisanship, Gaebel offered best wishes to his successor, whom Cunningham confirmed will likely be former Sheriff candidate and Town of Fremont resident Frank Armstrong, a Democrat. (He already has Cunningham’s vote, the chair said Monday.)
If appointed by the Legislature at a special meeting Monday, Armstrong will succeed Gaebel as the county-level representative of the townships of Fremont and Callicoon and the western portions of Liberty and Delaware. Like the rest of the legislators, he’ll have to run for a full four-year term in public election this November.
“Just keep the taxpayers in mind,” Gaebel advised whomever becomes his successor. “And be prepared to do a lot of work. In my mind, it’s not a part-time job.”