Friday, May 17, 2013

Anywhere but New Paltz?

The topic of the moment in New Paltz is . . . where do our elected leaders live?

It's not exactly a new topic, but it was hashed over again at the May 15 New Paltz Village Board meeting.  (The entire meeting is four and half hours, but this link is cued up for when the action begins.)

Take a look at the whole section, if you're interested.  If you're not, skip past Mrs. Rhoads explaining that she didn't challenge Mr. West's right to vote by asking the Board of Elections to have the sheriff check it out.  Zip over Mr. West explaining that his lease ran out and that he's been living out of the village since mid-January.  Ignore Mr Kimbiz using this as an opportunity to get offended at the very idea, and Mr West pointing out that he's lived outside of the village for less time than Mr Kimbiz was out west, not attending meetings or otherwise doing the work he was elected to do.

Actually, that's a good place to start paying attention -- it's right here.  If you think smackdowns are appropriate for public meetings, it's a good one.  And right afterwards, listen carefully as Mr Eriole, village attorney, and Mr West explain the residency laws, and exactly what the village attorney was asked to do.

First of all, the distinction between one's right to vote as a resident, and one's requirement to be a resident in order to serve in a public office, are quite muddled.  It may seem like the legal standards are the same from this conversation, but that isn't likely.

In fact, from what Mr Eriole explains, he consulted with Mr West about what he should do to respond to a potential challenge to his right to vote.  His right to vote, not serve.  In other words, Mr West consulted the village attorney -- who is paid by village taxes to advise on issues affecting village government -- about his personal enfranchisement.

The fact that this same attorney told me close to a year ago that village resources couldn't be used to benefit individual residents boggles my mind, but I suppose attorneys will do what their clients tell them to do.

So what we actually have here is our mayor admitting that he used village resources to explore his ability to vote.  Perhaps Mr Eriole should set up a table at the fire house, and advise any resident how to proceed in the case of a challenge.  Or perhaps Mr West shouldn't be using the village attorney for personal problems, and Mr Eriole, admitted to the bar in New York, Connecticut, the Federal and Supreme Courts should have known better and advised Mr West as such.

Despite the egregious lack of judgment Mr West shows here, I agree that we have a trend towards elected officials moving on out.  I'm tired of loopholes, like people with enough money to rent an apartment doing so to establish residency.  Loopholes, in my opinion, happen because most legislators are lawyers, and lawyers are trained to build in loopholes that they can they argue in court.

We need to get some solid, common-sense, intelligent, educated, non-attorney legislators in every level of government.  Attorneys are marvelous arguing the points of law, and I have been grateful for mine every time I have ever needed one, but they should not be writing the very laws that their colleagues then argue in court.  (I'm also not so sure about attorneys as judges, but my resolve is not so strong on that point and I would be more easily swayed on that count.)

Until that happens, we can have people like Susan Zimet, Stewart Glenn, and Jason West moving to anywhere but New Paltz and still serving, so long as the ambiguous standards are successfully argued in court.  But what Mr West did, essentially coopting the village attorney for his personal use, is clearly unacceptable.  That's exactly why I resigned from the ethics commission -- I was concerned one of these five people would do something stupid and I would have to judge them.  Now, it's not my problem to judge, but I will continue to ask questions.


mike252 said...

Terence - Are you saying that the Mayor doesn't have a right and duty to investigate possible voter disenfranchisement if an individual brings such a complaint to him?

If the Mayor does have this right and duty, then the same applies if that individual happens to be himself.

Terence Ward said...

I am certainly not suggesting that, Mike. In fact, by calling the sheriff and determining why deputies showed up at his home, I believe the mayor performed that duty admirably.

Perhaps you gleaned something from the comments that I did not, or you have information which I don't. My understanding is that the village's attorney did two things in this case:

1 - he prepared the village clerk for the possibility of a citizen's right to vote being challenged, and instructed her as the protocol she should follow.

2 - he coached Mr West on what to expect, should his personal right to vote be challenged at the polls.

The first is definitely something a village attorney should do -- at least you'll get no argument from me on that count.

As to the second, mike252, are you saying that the village attorney's services are available to any village resident who needs advice on enfranchisement? Or am I missing your point? I am your tabula rasa -- please teach me a thing or two.