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Hilltowns Archives The Altamont Enterprise, December 1, 2005
Fire district pays Ackroyd
By Matt Cook
BERNEThe Berne Fire District will pay a residents court fees for a lawsuit he brought against the district a year ago.
Mary Alice Molgard, vice president of the commissioners of the Berne Fire District, told The Enterprise that the district will pay $550 to Edward Ackroyd at the next meeting of the commissioners, Dec. 13. Molgard, however, offered harsh criticism of Ackroyds methods.
Last fall, as the fire-district election approached, Ackroyd sued the district for not providing absentee ballots. Ackroyds son, Wade, was away at college, and wanted to vote for fire commissioners and on the purchase of a new quarter-million dollar firetruck.
In the chambers of the New York State Supreme Court last December, Judge William McCarthy, the Ackroyds, and the fire district reached an agreement to release absentee ballots and reschedule the election to accommodate them. In open court, McCarthy ruled to allow the settlement and authorized the commissioners to move the date of the elections. He also waived a legal requirement to release the new absentee ballots at least 60 days before then elections.
The election went on without incident; however, Ackroyd and his lawyer, Michael Rhodes-Devey, believed Ackroyd was entitled to have his court fees paid by the fire district. In an Aug. 10 letter to the fire district’s attorney, Rhodes-Devey requests payment, and, in a Sept. 27 follow-up, he cites section 8101 of the New York Civil Practice Laws and Rules: "The party in whose favor a judgment is entered is entitled to costs in the action, unless otherwise provided by statute or unless the court determines that to so allow costs would not be equitable under all of the circumstances."
Payment was delayed as the fire districts attorney, William Young, investigated whether or not what happened in court last December qualified as a decision. McCarthy had written nothing and said nothing about Ackroyds court fees.
"We didn’t drag our feet," Molgard said. The fire district simply didn’t want to pay money unless it was sure it was obligated to pay, she said. "The original judgment says absolutely nothing. From a financially prudent standpoint, there’s no reason for us to pay his court fees," Molgard said.
After researching the issue, Young sent a letter to the fire district, dated Nov. 18, saying he has found that the district is responsible for Ackroyds costs, Molgard said.
"We will comply with the instructions," Molgard said.
Young told The Enterprise that he learned from McCarthys clerk that an official order had been entered.
Molgard has been frustrated with how Ackroyd handled the situation from the beginning. He never made his argument about the absentee ballots to the fire commissioners, she said; instead, Ackroyd went straight to the courts.
"We were never informed about any of this," Molgard said. "If he had requested this of us, we would’ve considered it."
Ackroyds lawsuit ended up costing the fire district three to four times what it would have if Ackroyd had pursued it through the board of commissioners rather than the courts.
"We ended up spending a lot of taxpayer money that could have been easily avoided," Molgard said.
Molgard pointed out that Berne is not the only fire district that traditionally holds elections with little advertisement and no absentee ballots.
"It’s not just Berne, it’s all over the place," she said.
Last week, Ackroyd, a member of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board, told The Enterprise he has been giving copies of his legal documents to district Supervisor Steven Schrade to pass on to the high-school government teacher to be used in a lesson on local government.
"If that’s the case, I hope Mr. Schrade and the government teacher resist the tampering of their curriculum by a member of the school board," Molgard said.
In response to Molgards comments, Ackroyd said this week that the costs are the fire districts fault, not his.
"If they were doing their jobs, I wouldn’t have gone to court in the first place," he said.
Ackroyd said its true he never appeared before the commissioners.
"Personally, I don’t even know when the commissioners’ meetings are," he said.
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