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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 28, 2010
Jobin-Davis named acting judge
By Jo E. Prout
VOORHEESVILLE The village board here swore in an acting justice Tuesday, bringing back former village attorney and former trustee Camille Jobin-Davis to serve when the sole elected judge is unavailable.
The board also responded to questions from the public about the contract dispute with the Voorheesville Ambulance Squad, which remains unresolved.
The board voted unanimously on a resolution to appoint Jobin-Davis acting justice when Justice Kenneth Connolly cannot hold court.
“Good choice,” said Trustee William Hotaling.
“Thank you. It’s an honor,” Jobin-Davis said.
After unanimous approval of the board’s resolution to accept the mayor’s appointment, Jobin-Davis read the oath of office.
Jobin-Davis, a former village resident and trustee who now lives outside the village in the town of New Scotland, works for the state’s Committee on Open Government.
“If anyone’s a stickler for the Open Meetings Law, she’s the one,” said Robert Freeman, the executive director of the committee, on Wednesday.
He noted that any discussion of the position as opposed to candidate interviews or talk of who might be the best candidate should be held in public.
Mayor Robert Conway told The Enterprise that the board had openly discussed several times the need to fill the acting justice seat, vacated by Kris Jackstadt two years ago.
“It had become more of an issue last year,” Conway said. Since Jackstadt’s exit, town judges had filled in when Connolly was unavailable, Conway said. “There was concern that they wouldn’t be readily available,” he said.
Conway said that he did not hold interviews before the appointment, but that he considered several people for the position.
“Given her experience with the board, her name certainly floated to the top,” Conway said.
Jobin-Davis told The Enterprise that the mayor contacted her in September about filling in for Connolly this autumn while the justice is out of town.
“I said I would,” Jobin-Davis said. She said that she expected to fill in for Connolly for two dates in December, and possibly one date in November.
“The law requires a one-year appointment, which is what they did,” Jobin-Davis said.
Asked if she saw herself in the position long-term, Jobin-Davis said that she was not sure.
“I’ve been observing at the village court and at the town of New Scotland. There’s a lot to learn. I’ll see how this goes,” she said. “At this point, I’m just trying to learn as much as I can before I sit on the bench.”
Conway said that Jobin-Davis’s residency outside the village did not matter.
“The other town justices were not residents of the village,” he said of the justices who filled in previously. Conway said that he considered those who were “qualified and had the right demeanor, and I think Camille certainly fits that bill.”
Jobin-Davis said that her position as assistant director for the Committee on Open Government did not conflict with her new role as acting village justice.
“The jurisdiction of the village court is criminal [acts] within the village, vehicle traffic, and small claims under $3,000. The village court has no jurisdiction over Article 78 proceedings, which enforce the Open Meetings Law,” she said.
Jobin-Davis stepped in as village attorney more than seven years ago when former Village Attorney Donald Meacham resigned. Meacham’s wife, former village clerk Lauren Meacham, was not reappointed clerk by a board that included Jobin-Davis as a trustee.
“We’re very excited about having Camille take on this job,” Conway said. “I’m sure she’ll do a tremendous job for us.”
“It’s an honor to be asked to serve,” Jobin-Davis said.
The board reported at its 6 p.m. workshop that the attorney for the ambulance squad had not yet returned an interim contract to the village, to cover the squad and its bills through December. The village’s contract with the Voorhesville Area ambulance service ended in May and the two parties have not been able to agree on a new one.
In 2008, the ambulance squad moved to a revenue recovery system in which insurance companies and Medicare are billed for the cost of patients’ ambulance rides. The volunteers had initially voted against the change but the municipalities persevered, eager to reduce their budgets. At that time, the ambulance service answered about 400 calls annually and the budget totaled around $100,000.
A survey of other area ambulance services showed that they generally charged a flat rate of $300 to $400, along with an added mileage charge. Voorheesville’s squad captain at the time, Larry Pakenas, estimated it would take at least until the end of 2009 to get a sense of how much money would be collected and, in turn, how much would need to come from taxpayers.
On Oct. 14, Captain Robin Shufelt and Ray Ginter, chairman of the board for VAAS, wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor, stating, “The main issue is that the village has decided that not signing a standard contract and not making payment for services is the way to do business. Why is VAAS, a voluntary ambulance service, suddenly the target for this unprofessional conduct?”
The letter praised the way the town of New Scotland, which usually accounts for about 60 percent of the ambulance budget, handles the matter, stating, “The town of New Scotland itemizes the cost for emergency medical services and fire services line by line on its tax bills sent to residents every year. Since VAAS started to collect revenue from transported patients’ health insurance companies for ambulance services the annual cost for VAAS has dropped for town residents by 66 percent.”
Mayor Conway said at Tuesday’s workshop that he had contacted New Scotland Supervisor Thomas Dolin, again, about letting the town take over the ambulance contract and budget exclusively without the village involved.
“They were not interested in taking over the ambulance for the village,” Conway said at the regular meeting.
At the village board meeting two weeks ago, Shufelt said that Dolin was interested in having the town take over from the village. Dolin told The Enterprise then that such a decision would be up to the town board as a whole. “The town board’s the boss here,” he said. “The village wishes to continue the relationship. I doubt if the town board would be interested in interfering with that. As I understand it, they’re still talking.”
“We have received nothing about the contract,” said Trustee Richard Berger at Tuesday’s meeting. “We have no contract from them, yet.”
“Has the ambulance situation been resolved?” asked audience member Marie McMillan.
Trustee David Cardona, the board’s budget officer, said that the village has received a report about the number of runs the squad made, but not the required annual report.
McMillan said that her husband has been transported by ambulance three times this year, with each trip billed to their insurance.
“Why is public money needed if billing is taken care of?” she said.
Conway said that the village is unsure if insurance billing covers the whole cost of an ambulance call. He said that the village subsidizes the ambulance service so the squad is not left without operating expenses.
“I’m not in favor of handing off any taxpayer dollars,” McMillan said.
“That’s the position the board has taken at this time,” Cardona said.
“I appreciate the service and the people who do that, but I just think the books have to be open,” McMillan said.
“We need to have transparency,” Conway agreed. He said that he, also, appreciates the ambulance squad members. “I’m sure we’ll be able to resolve this,” he said.
Trustee John Stevens, a driver with the ambulance squad, said that the squad owes the village its 2009 annual report.
“We need them from last year. It’s that simple,” Stevens said.
In other business, the board:
Agreed to accept ownership of Francis Lane, which, Village Attorney Anne-Jo McTague said, will be useful as a turn-around for village trucks. The acceptance of the donation is contingent on the village’s learning the entire amount of taxes owed on the property;
Agreed to award sewer expansion work to Lash Contracting, of Latham, with a low bid of $81,900. Bids received were between Lash’s bid and $137,000.
“We’ve worked with Lash Contracting in the past,” said engineer Richard Straut, of Barton and Loguidice. “They’re very well qualified to do this work.”
Straut advised the board to award the bid contingent on receiving the three remaining easements needed for the project;
Considered imposing a benefit assessment fee on property owners who have requested sewer access, but who have not yet hooked into the system. Conway said the village would enforce a deadline or assess a fee for those spots because other property owners are asking for space on the system.
A fee would solidify true interest, and defray the ongoing cost of the maintenance system, Conway said; and