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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, January 31, 2008


Remembering Anthony Hill
Drawing and dinner to raise funds for scholarship

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — An annual fund-raiser for a scholarship honoring a deceased student will be held at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School next week.

On Senior Night — Tuesday, Feb. 5 — the third annual Spaghetti Dinner for the Anthony Hill Scholarship Fund will be held in the high-school cafeteria from 4:30 to 7 p.m.

The cost for a dinner, beverage, salad, and dessert is $5.

A drawing will also be held for donated items, which include: an MP-4 player, the fifth season of 24 on DVD, a homemade baby quilt, gift certificates from Jaycee’s Pizza Depot and Hoffman Car Wash, and a one-year membership to BJ’s Wholesale Club.

Anthony Hill, who attended BKW, died in December of 2005, during his senior year, after a three-and-a-half year battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 17.

"We would love to see everyone come out to support the scholarship and remember Anthony," said Laura Mileto, a special-education teacher at BKW.

Mileto tutored Hill at school and at his home throughout his illness.

Last year, four scholarships of $500 were awarded to BKW graduates.

Scholarships are awarded to graduating seniors who are bound for college or tech-school and have shown academic success through emotional or financial adversity. The criteria for the scholarship also includes a student who would not normally get athletic or academic scholarships and shows thoughtfulness and compassion towards others in and outside of school.


Would law prohibiting nepotism leave 38 town jobs vacant"

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — At its first board meeting of the year, Rensselaerville’s town clerk looked up the definition of "nepotism" in a dictionary and read it to a large crowd at Town Hall.

In this small, rural town, nepotism — "favoritism shown to relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs" — has long been a contentious issue.

"The town, obviously, has gotten their teeth into the issue," Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg told The Enterprise this month.

If a nepotism policy or a conflict of interest policy "where nobody could be related" is put in place, there would be 38 open jobs in the town, said Councilman Gary Chase, whose family has been at the center of the controversy.

"In my opinion, it’s hard enough to get people to volunteer for jobs on top of trying to find 38 new people to some of these jobs," he told The Enterprise. "I’m all for canvassing and putting the names out there, but, you know, we’ve got people who have been in there for quite awhile."

Nickelsberg countered, "The 38 number is irrelevant." Those who are in power, doing a job now for the town would be grand-fathered in, he said.

"We’re not even focused on that. We’re focused on going forward," he said.

At the end of 2007, as the Republicans held a majority on the town board, the board drafted a bill on nepotism and conflicts of interest, requiring anyone seeking employment in the town who is not required to take a Civil Service examination to sign an affidavit.

Throughout his two years in office, Nickelsberg has objected to appointments where he saw a conflict of interest. Most notably, he would not re-appoint the highway superintendent’s wife, Joyce Chase, as his clerk, a job she had done for years.

Joyce Chase is the mother of Councilman Gary Chase as well as the wife of the highway superintendent, G. Jon Chase. She had held the post before Nickelsberg, a Republican, was elected; the Republicans abolished the post on Nickelsberg’s first day in office in 2006. This New Year’s Day, Joyce Chase was reinstated to her former job. Nickelsberg and Republican Councilman Robert Lansing voted against the appointment but were outvoted by the Democrats.

Two years ago, Councilman Chase called the Republicans’ cutting the position held by his mother "a political stab in the back."

Councilman Chase said his grandfather had been highway superintendent for 30 years and his grandmother had worked as his grandfather’s clerk.

Many members of the Chase family work for the town in elected, appointed, hired, and volunteer positions. On New Year’s Day, the town board appointed many members of the Chase family to town positions. The Democrats appointed Bradley Chase to the board of assessment review and Roger Gifford to the zoning board of appeals in addition to Joyce Chase, as the highway superintendent’s clerk. The Republican supervisor and council member voted against the appointments.

Last year, as Republicans held a majority on the town board, Democratic council members Gary Chase and Sherri Pine attempted to appoint Bradley Chase to the board. Republicans voted against the appointment. Nickelsberg asked Chase if he should recuse himself. He again asked Chase if he should recuse himself on New Year’s Day when appointing Roger Gifford to the zoning board of appeals. The councilman did not.

Gary Chase said in his re-election campaign, "I have no problem with nepotism. It’s what the town was founded on."

Legal questions

At its first regular town-board meeting, the town’s newly-appointed lawyer, Joseph Catalano, said that the state’s conflict-of-interest policy says that an official should recuse himself if he will gain financially from an appointment or salary. No salary had been set by the town board for the clerk to the highway superintendent at the time.

Currently, Democratic Councilwoman Marie Dermody and resident Erika Wernhammer are gathering information from other municipalities and organizations to be used for a law on conflicts of interest for Rensselaerville.

"I don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel," Dermody said this week, "And, if some of this preliminary work has been done by others, we need to take a good look at it, see what is a good fit for us and [what] isn’t, and then design a policy around that and make modifications as needed."

Dermody said she would like to see "a policy that’s appropriate for our township, based on the disparity of needs and interests.

"I realize we’re not going to please all of the people all of the time, but we have to find something that’s a decent, livable fit for this town."

At the January meeting, Wernhammer cited the appointment of Joyce Chase as the superintendent’s clerk. Wernhammer said her mother-in-law would have been interested in the position and listed her qualifications.

Wernhammer asked Councilman Chase if he felt he should recuse himself when voting on appointments for members of his family.

"No," Chase answered.

"Why"" Wernhammer asked.

"Because I was elected by a majority of the town," he said. In November, Chase was elected to a third term on the town board; in a four-way race for two seats, he received 463 votes.

At a special meeting last week, officials designated an amount not to exceed $10,000, and $10 per hour for Joyce Chase.

"We’re glad to have her back in there," Councilman Chase said this week. "She’s never really actually left. She’s always been there."

Chase said his mother worked on obtaining Federal Emergency Management Agency funds after she hadn’t been re-appointed in 2006, and together, she and his father, Highway Superintendent G. Jon Chase, brought a lot of money into the town. Chase was referring to funds the federal government sets aside to help municipalities after floods or other disasters.

Asked about the appointment and salary, Nickelsberg said this week, "It’s not legal, according to lawyers that we talked to, and we’re, obviously, in the middle of having to do something about that. It’s a real issue.

"I think you have to recuse yourself if it’s your immediate family, according to the Attorney Gerneral and according to the Association of Towns — lawyers that we talked to and previous counsel," he said, referring to William Ryan, whom the Democrats replaced.

Nickelsberg said an official should recuse himself when appointing or voting on pay for an immediate family member. And, he said, you cannot be a direct supervisor for an immediate family member.

"So there are a whole bunch of problems," he said. "A whole bunch of lawyers have weighed in with these opinions and are pretty adamant about the fact that they’re right, and our counsel won’t listen, clearly has not yet studied all of that."

"Probably the right way for the town to go about it is to have the town attorney write to the New York Attorney General’s Office and ask for a written opinion," Eamon Moynihan, a spokesman for the state’s Department of State, told The Enterprise earlier.

The issues in play would be who determines salary, which probably wouldn’t be an issue in the Rensselaerville case, because the town board, not the highway superintendent, sets salary, he said.

"And there would be questions about supervision," said Moynihan, "which could be a significant concern."

In June, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, Lee Park, had found just one relevant opinion on nepotism, handed down in 1993, to the town of Ticonderoga, based on General Municipal Law.

The opinion notes that local governments are required to enact code of ethics establishing standards of conduct of public officials.

"We conclude that, absent a prohibition in the local code of ethics, a person may be appointed to the planning board of a town even though his father currently serves on the zoning board of appeals," the opinion says.

Hiring

Councilman Chase said, "Everybody’s kind of focusing this on me. It’s not actually on me. There’s a lot of husband-and-wife teams [working for the town]." He said it would be hard to get other people to fill all the spots.

"The conflict-of-interest, nepotism rule would be if it’s an immediate family member, number one. Number two, it would be from this point forward — people chosen from this point forward," said Nickelsberg.

"My Lord, there are a number of people that want jobs in the town and a number of people who are highly qualified, be they volunteer jobs or be they paid jobs or be they elected jobs. We’ve never had a problem getting qualified people," he said.

"You want an even playing field so that everybody in town can take advantage of whatever job it is that we have. Because there are several jobs in town that, in fact, are decent-paying with good fringe benefits," Nickelsberg said. "So, you’d like to see that opened to the general population — you’d like to see it posted"Certainly, there are enough talented people out there, and they should all have the same chance at a job," he said. "It’s just democracy. Fairness."


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