Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Resident scandal

Jason West, it turns out, lives across the street from the village he is tasked with running.  It's the latest chapter in the continuing story I like to call Game of Chairs, until I realize that I'm not funny enough to be making up names for things.

The drama does have all the elements of fun political fight, though:  a charismatic mayor who inspires strong feelings one way or the other, a cadre of retirees seeking a return to the glory days when they were in power, a district attorney on the case, dueling legal arguments, elected officials too focused on their dislike of each other to ever get around to governing . . . who likes popcorn?

I've never met Ms Danskin -- I wouldn't know who she was if she cut me off with a shopping cart in Stop & Shop.  I do know that she counts herself among a group of people who never forgave Mr West for winning his 2003 election, people who have sought ways to get rid of the guy ever since.  And he's practically gone out of his way to give them the chance, it seems:  breaking the law early in his first term, getting ousted after only one term, fighting consolidation with the town . . . and now, by leaving the village entirely, albeit "temporarily," in his words.

Residency requirements seem like they shouldn't be too tough to enforce, but once you ask lawyers to write the very laws they will one day argue in court, nothing is simple.  An attorney I was once friends with taught me that if you don't want to have to commit to something, put it in writing.  Simple laws could be simply enforced, but time and again we've seen that the residency requirements for elected officials are slippery.

  • Brian Kimbiz wandered off for three months, justifying it by not taking pay, and the board found that booting him would be more trouble that it's worth.
  • Stewart Glenn bought a new house in Gardiner, and rented an apartment in the one he sold until his term expired.
  • Susan Zimet had her house for sale before she ever ran for her present stint as supervisor, and uses an apartment in the village to fulfill her residency requirement.
Common sense says that a person either lives here or doesn't, but common law is an entirely unrelated concept.  So the desire to chase after the mayor, when these other recent examples have been largely unchallenged, is clearly fueled by a dislike of the man or his policies.

Okay, I get that.  Mr West has described himself as impatient and short-tempered, qualities which have inspired no small number of allies to abandon him, at least temporarily.  I share those qualities with him, meaning that my clash with him was all but inevitable.  If you're a short-fused jerk in public office, you make enemies.  And if you make enemies of a landlord, and then move into a place outside of the village, expect your enemy to find out about it.

But the extra wrinkle here is the dimension of voter residency.  That's the part that actually got the Mr West targeted.  Voter law, says the village attorney, hinges on whether the relocation is temporary or not.  That's why we have absentee ballots, and mechanisms to allow homeless people to vote.  He signed candidate petitions, and voted, using his old Church Street address.  According to at least one attorney, that's okay.

On the other hand, we have the argument that using his old address is tantamount to fraud.  If and when he returns to a village address, it won't be that one, so isn't it a lie to claim he lived there when he didn't?

This is where we return to fun with attorneys, the game that everyone not wearing a Brooks Brothers suit loses.  West has, finally, retained his own counsel; based on past history and the mayor's current pay level I suspect it's a pro bono arrangement.  The village attorney is likely to continue to represent the village clerk and board, so he will probably be diverting some of his tax-funded time to this issue.  The district attorney's office, also paid for through taxes, will also be devoting energy to this investigation, which will surely take up the time of a judge or two along the way.

My guess is that, a year from now, we will know if Mr West will be allowed to complete his term of office or not.  What a utter waste of my tax dollars.

To Ms Danskin, Mrs Rhoads, Mr Dungan, and the many, many people who wish to see Jason West removed from office:  there is a tried-and-true mechanism to achieve your goal, called democracy.  Please use it.  I completely sympathize with your desire to get Mr West out of this village, and I understand that he keeps giving you opportunities to try again, but seriously, stop it.  This is wasting my money on a legal case that is by no means clear, because we keep letting lawyers write the laws.  I'm sorry you haven't gotten him out of office permanently, but if you'd find a decent candidate, I and many others would line up to help.  But don't grind my village government to a halt, and pick my pocket, because you don't like him.  Be a grown-up, and use the electoral process to unseat him.  If you can't get behind a single candidate in 2015, maybe it's time to find a new hobby.


Martin McPhillips said...

My old friend Gino, who was the host of a salon here in New Paltz back in the 1970s that went by the name The Zen Hotel, liked to say, "I know that when I die I'm going to Hell, because I've already been to Heaven, New Paltz, New York."

Anonymous said...

Well said, Sir,,,
Thank you


Terence Ward said...

A former West supporter remarked to me today that one cannot treat one's fellow trustees like crap, commit a crime, and then expect not to be held accountable for it.

I agree, I just wish we could do this at election time, and resist the temptation to waste time on money on this case, but in retrospect, memories are short, and if it doesn't happen now, he may well win a new term despite it all.

C'est la vie. I don't like it, but I definitely understand it.