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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 23, 2010
By Zach Simeone
BERNE A miscommunication between a town judge and the state’s retirement system has led to an election in Berne this fall that wasn’t required.
For 18 years, Kenneth Bunzey has served as a Berne town judge, and had also worked for years in the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District’s special-education department.
On July 1, Bunzey retired from his position at BKW. But when he looked into collecting retirement, Bunzey said he was informed by the New York State and Local Retirement System that he would have to also retire from his position as town judge.
“They said, in order to collect retirement, I have to resign from [being a] judge and then run in the next election,” Bunzey said. “These guys didn’t know what they were doing. They told me, because I’m retiring out of New York State Teachers [Retirement System], that I have to resign as judge.”
But, according to Mark Johnson at the Office of the New York State Comptroller, Bunzey did not have to retire from his position as judge.
“A member who retires from one New York public retirement system may not continue to accrue service credit in another New York public retirement system unless the member suspends their pension,” Johnson wrote in an e-mail to The Enterprise. So, when Bunzey retired from the teachers’ retirement system on July 1, “he could no longer accrue service credit in his NYSLRS membership. He had two choices: retire from NYSLRS, or suspend his teacher’s pension and continue earning service credit in NYSLRS. He chose retirement from NYSLRS.”
The e-mail goes on, “Retirement and Social Security Law allows an elected official to continue in their current term of office at the time of their retirement from another position from public service. As Bunzey retired from his teacher position, he did not have to resign from his elected position to retire in NYSLRS.”
According to Peggy Warner, who chairs the town’s Republican Committee, and Rudy Stempel, a former town supervisor who is active in the party, the Republicans have been unable to find an opponent for Bunzey.
“We haven’t been able to find somebody who wants to be a candidate,” Warner said. The Democratic Committee, on the other hand, has nominated Bunzey to keep his seat on the bench.
“I’m already starting to get the retirement checks in the mail,” Bunzey said.