Democrat Photo | Jeanne Sager
In Callicoon, Cullen Faces Tough Choice
By Jeanne Sager
JEFFERSONVILLE November 2, 2007 Joe Cullen’s got slim pickings for choices.
He has two months left to have surgery to repair leaking disks in his back.
If he can’t get surgery and he wins at the polls next Tuesday, the Democratic candidate for Town of Callicoon’s council will have to decline.
Otherwise, Monticello Police Chief Doug Solomon said, he faces termination.
Cullen is one of two candidates put up by the Democrats in the Town of Callicoon this year he’s running for one of two seats in the at-large election.
Also running are two Republican candidates.
According to Solomon, Cullen’s been on disability from his job as a member of the Monticello force for the past three years.
His injuries are job-related the result of an auto accident while on duty.
According to Cullen, there’s a procedure called an IDET that will repair the discs in his back.
But the equipment for the surgery can’t be brought to Catskill Regional Medical Center unless there’s a group of at least four patients in need.
So far, there are just two Cullen included.
The village put in the papers for his retirement from the state on grounds that he’s disabled and unable to work.
“It could come through tomorrow or, knowing the state, could come through in two years,” Cullen said.
By then it will be a moot point. Cullen will be eligible for his retirement in Sept. 2009 anyway he’ll have logged 20 years on the force.
The case is part of an argument Solomon has been having over the retirement system for police officers in the State of New York.
“I don’t know how much you know about the retirement system in New York, but it’s weighted against the municipality,” he noted.
Solomon can’t replace Cullen on the force because he’s still drawing a salary, but he’s not allowed to retire him either.
Because of his disability, which has dictated he’s in no shape to work for the department, Cullen can’t legally do the job of a councilman either, according to Solomon.
In other words, if his still disabled when elected, he’ll have to decline.
If not, Solomon said it would change the status of his disability.
Cullen didn’t know the rule when he accepted the Democratic nod for this year’s election.
He didn’t find out until yesterday.
“This just all came about in the last day,” he said, his voice cracking from the obvious stress. “I’m shocked.”
Village officials have known he was running since March, Cullen said he even got a “good luck” last time he saw Mayor Jim Barnicle.
“Everyone knows I’m running, I’m not hiding it!” he said.
The only proviso he thought was that he would have to turn any earnings as a councilman over to the village.
Officers out on disability can’t hold down alternate employment while still collecting their salary, and Cullen was OK with that.
The news that he’d lose his job if he became a councilman came out of left field, he said.
He pondered whether the person who researched the issue was a felon with a grudge.
Cullen is hoping to have his surgery within the next month which would enable him both to serve in January and to go back to work.
Sullivan County Board of Elections Commissioner Rodney Gaebel said his name will remain on the ballot.
“There’s no way to change that,” Gaebel said. “It’s too late.”
If Cullen wins the seat and declines, Gaebel said the town board would have the ability to appoint a replacement to serve in his stead.
The person appointed would serve for one year, Gaebel said, and be required to run in next year’s general election to fill the remaining three years of the term.
With one sitting Republican on the board and one sitting Democrat and three seats open, including the supervisor’s seat, what will happen is anyone’s guess.
If Cullen is elected and declines, the seat could still end up in the Democrat’s hands if both the supervisor’s seat and second councilman’s post go to a Democrat swaying what is now a Republican majority on the town board.
But if even one Republican wins on Tuesday, there would be a political stalemate with two representatives of each party in town government.
That could mean an open seat on the board for another year.
A precedent has been made for that sort of thing the Town of Bethel just recently went a year with four board members when current Supervisor Harold Russell vacated his councilman’s post.
Cullen hopes it won’t come to that.
“I do hope to win, and I do hope to serve,” he said.