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Five legislators pass the torch

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    Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, is sworn in as chairman of the Greene County Legislature on Wednesday night.
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    Jack Keller, R-Catskill, takes his oath of office Wednesday night.
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    Patricia Handel, R-Durham, takes her oath of office Wednesday night.
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    Sarah Trafton/Columbia-Greene Media Gregory Davis, R-Greenville, takes his oath of office Wednesday night.
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January 3, 2019 04:01 pm

CATSKILL — Members of the 2019 Greene County Legislature took the oath of office on Wednesday night for three-year terms — some familiar faces, others new.

One big change takes place at the top, where Legislator Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, takes over chairmanship of the legislature, replacing Kevin Lewis, R-Greenville. Lewis did not run for a new term.

Republicans expanded their control over the legislature on Nov. 6 by picking up four seats — going from 8-6 to a 12-2 majority. Five of the legislators are new to the board.

Legislator Jack Keller, R-Catskill, replaces Kevin Lennon, D-Catskill, who did not seek re-election.

“I’m very excited,” Keller said, referring to his new position. “I’m new and have a lot to learn. I’m extremely excited and enthusiastic.”

Keller has been regularly attending committee meetings, he said.

“I want to do the right thing for the constituents,” Keller said. “I plan on attending committee meetings so I can be informed about the big picture and make wise and educated decisions.”

Lennon could not be reached for comment by press time.

Legislator Ed Bloomer, R-Athens, replaces Lee Palmateer, D-Athens, who did not seek re-election.

“We have a good series of legislators,” Bloomer said. “All 14 of us, we can work with. I’m very optimistic.”

Bloomer plans to focus on economic development and keeping the county’s budget low.

“We’re in excellent financial condition,” he said. “It’s a high priority to maintain that.”

Palmateer hopes Bloomer will use his best judgment.

“To Mr. Bloomer, my advice is to do what he thinks is in the best interest of the people of Athens and Greene County,” he said. “And to exercise independent judgment of matters, which I know he will do.”

The former legislator also had parting words for his constituents.

“To the people of Athens and Greene County, it was an honor to represent you for the past year and I did my best,” he said. “It feels good to have participated in the legislature for one year. It was great to get to know the legislature and the professional staff. I have complete faith and confidence that the county is in good hands going forward.”

Palmateer also commended Linger on his appointment as the new legislature chairman.

“I wish Pat Linger the best as chairman of the legislature,” Palmateer said. “It’s a big responsibility.”

Linger was nominated by Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo. The nomination was seconded by Legislator Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie. All legislators supported the resolution. Linger recused himself from the vote.

Linger possesses many good qualities that the county wants in a leader, Lawrence said, citing Linger’s steadiness, calm demeanor and integrity as examples.

Legislator Gregory Davis, R-Greenville, replaces Lewis, who was elected as Greenville town justice in November.

“I’m looking forward to serving the citizens of Greenville,” Davis said. “We have a jail to build and a lot on the plate.”

Lewis could not be reached for comment by press time.

James Thorington, R-Windham, replaces Lori Torgersen, D-Windham, who withdrew from the race in October.

Thorginton is feeling good about starting his term, he said.

“I’m excited to be here and represent the mountaintop,” he said.

Thorington plans to take a thoughtful approach to the office.

“I’m going to feel my way in and see how things go,” he said.

Torgersen wished Thorington the best.

“I encourage him to be an independent thinker and offer his best judgment and best outlook for Greene County,” she said. “He should approach the position with the utmost integrity and he will do a great job.”

Torgersen wants her constituents to know that she will continue to pursue their best interests.

“I promise I’m going to be involved in Greene County and have a positive impact,” she said. “I have a passion for this community and my home and ideas about how to brighten our future. I will continue to do that — just from a different seat.”

Torgersen will continue to attend meetings.

“I’ve dedicated an inordinate amount of time as a legislator,” she said, “I’m figuring out a new path.”

Although she will miss serving her community, Torgersen believes she made the right decision.

“It was the right decision for me not to run again,” she said. “I loved the opportunity to get to know the constituency in the district. I will miss the opportunity to problem-solve on their behalf.”

Legislator Patricia Handel, R-Durham, replaces Aidan O’Connor Jr., D-Durham, who ran for assemblyman in the 102nd District and lost to Republican Chris Tague of Schoharie.

Handel has served on the legislature before. She completed an unexpired term in 2011 and was elected in her own right in 2012 to a three-year term.

“I’m definitely excited about starting my new term,” Handel said. “I’m looking forward to working with the legislators.”

Handel expects she will focus on the jail and chairing the Health Services Committee.

O’Connor wished Handel well.

“I wish all the best for Ms. Handel and this legislative body,” he said. “I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve Durham and Greene County. I’m looking forward to catching up on life and spending time with loved ones.”

O’Connor is especially proud of the work the legislature put into emergency services during his term.

“We have 30-plus automatic defibrillators in the field and our paramedic funding is the highest it’s ever been at $1.2 million.”

O’Connor will continue to make himself available as a resource to the legislature and to the public.

“I think this group of legislators has its work cut out for them,” O’Connor said. “There are projects and decisions that will alter the future of the county, for good or for bad.”

Lawrence, who was sworn in for his 13th term, offered words of advice for the newcomers.

“I commend the new legislators for winning the confidence of the constituents,” he said. “Since my first swearing-in, I’ve been sworn at a lot. I offer this advice: Don’t take it personally.”

In addition to appointing the chairman, the legislature also designated Lawrence as the majority leader, Legislator Harry Lennon, D-Cairo, as the minority leader, Legislator Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie, as the budget officer and Larry Gardner, D-Hunter, the parliamentarian.

Legislative committees were also appointed.

The County Resources Committee will be chaired by Legislator Michael Bulich, R-Catskill, and includes Legislator Linda Overbaugh, R-Catskill, Davis and Thorington; County Services will be chaired by Bloomer and including Overbaugh, Legislator Matthew Luvera, R-Catskill, Keller, Handel and Gardner; Economic Development and Tourism will be chaired by Overbaugh and includes Bulich, Gardner, Handel, Bloomer and Thorington; Finance will be chaired by Martinez and includes Hobart, Gardner, Overbaugh, Bulich and Davis; Government Operations will be chaired by Luvera and includes Martinez, Overbaugh, Legislator Thomas Hobart, R-Coxsackie, Davis and Keller; Health Services will be chaired by Handel and includes Davis, Luvera, Hobart, Bloomer and Keller; Public Safety will be chaired by Lawrence and includes Martinez, Bloomer, Handel, Gardner, and Thorington; Public Works will be chaired by Thorington and includes Martinez, Hobart, Bulich, Handel and Keller.

Delusional... the budget went from 113 million to 119 million this year. Each year we press the 2% property tax cap by as many accounting tricks as possible. By my count there are. Sheriff “Satellite” offices making this a police county - the highest paid public jobs here.

The $119 does NOT include the monster behemoth moral attrocity called the County Jail in Coxsackie. The costs for that horrendous moral insult is $90 million+ over 30 years... construction, loan interest, operation, maintenance... With 691 empty human cages in the adjoining counties the jail is not justified - at all. Ignoring the fine work of the Alternatives To Incarceration Committee (“ATI”) is as stupid as it gets. Lori Torgersen has a PhD in psychology and 20 years of experience in the criminal justice system. ATI noticed that RicciGreen lied in creating the monster in Coxsackie, which BTW contains a gym for the staff (a YMCA is across the street).

Current number of detainees is 51, 40 are detained in Ulster, but all of them could be detained in Columbia, which makes it easier for counsel to defend them. Sheriff Greg Seeley and Jail Superintendent Michael Spitz (why is there a triple dipping jail superintendent when our jail is closed?) ran the 80 Bridge Street facility into the ground - significantly harming all detainees in the process.

Closing 80 Bridge Street saved $1.2 million as of November, making the point that a shared/regional jail is cost effective.

The county is NOT in good financial shape. No significant new money business exists in Greene County, almost no tech, and no plans to change this dismal path. The retirement and health accounts for the public employees is being robbed by Peter Markou and Shaun Groden to reduce the principal of the monster in Coxsackie. Treasurer Markou knows that the unfounded mandate for this is around $42 million and as high as $120 million. The county owes as much as it has, and more. There is essentially no reserve - actually.

No hospital, no new money businesses... The actual sales tax numbers are flat for the past 4 years. Do the math. NO one predicts the economy will improve in the next 2 or 5 years. So how will we pay back the $90 million for a monster in Coxsackie? We can’t, and it’s not justified.

Of the 50 current detainees 10 will be removed as adolescents aren’t incarcerated with adults anymore. Many more will leave because bail reform passed. The Public Defender got $500,000 to adequately defend people, which will lower the number further. With 7 Sheriff Department satellite offices, each with temporary holding cells, the behemoth in Coxsackie is not justified.

More over, local justice reform includes the move to a regional court system, ending the need of local judge biasing (Wootten, Pazen...) and the end of waiting for a village or town court to meet in a week or two or 4. Again, this lowers the number of people detained.

We wasted the armory, wasted the hospital, the college is week - frankly -, and we haven’t reformed how we treat each other.

Wake up Greene County. Linger is pro jail, but inexperienced, and nominated by Lawrence, who is pro jail. All of this means these arguments likely need to go to court.

Recently Judge Lisa Fisher recused from cases involving local politics. This means I have leave to the big boy courts in Albany and perhaps Ulster County. I am lobbying USDA not to lend money for a jail here because it’s not justified, that the justification was fraudulent, etc.

Thanks Daily Mail for the 1st class coverage. I appreciate the details and the reporting. Now, people of Greene County... do your homework and stay alert AND active. Stop this monster in Coxsackie... Complete the overhaul of our local justice system. Encourage new money businesses and tech.

38% public sector jobs is unsustainable.

Happy NEW Year.
Jack Keller, R-Catskill
Ed Bloomer, R-Athens
Gregory Davis, R-Greenville
James Thorington, R-Windham January 7, 2019
Patricia Handel, R-Durham
Greene County Municipal Building
411 Main Street
Catskill, NY 12414

Re: Any loan or construction for a new jail in Coxsackie
is the most irresponsible act any legislator can do

Dear new legislators:
Thank you for your willingness to participate in Greene County government.
This letter discusses the jail issue, but it’s really about the need for local justice reform.
It’s essential that we don’t build a new monster prison/jail in Coxsackie. This only reinforces the horrible behaviors of Sheriff Greg Seeley and his staff.
The Worst Offender’s Report from the Commission on Corrections identified the behavior of Sheriff Greg Seeley and Jail Superintendent Michael Spitz as the problem. Like Rikers, which is closing, it’s the management not the architecture that needs an overhaul.
Greene County has a horrible history of poor local justice. Here’s the short list: Judge Spargo was sent to Federal Jail for taking bribes on the bench. Sheriff Richard Hussey was removed for being a perpetual drunk. Judge Pulver removed himself from my case after I provided evidence of bribes, land abuses and various illegal pictures on his chambers computer. I made certain Charlie Bucca didn’t inherit the position as District Attorney. Replacing Sheriff Greg Seeley and firing Michael Spitz are priorities.
I have considerable firsthand knowledge. Greene County caused 10 false arrests. Each of the convictions was reversed on appeal, which shows they were false arrests. The experience, and the dismissals, provide “standing” in court.
As a result, I’ve initiated several law suits against the county. I asked the federal court to allow Greene County as a defendant because of “habit and custom.” This is necessary because the county has not fixed the underlying problems. In fact, we’re making them worse.
When I forced a pause in the jail project an Alternatives To Incarceration (“ATI”) panel was formed. It met each week for 20 weeks. The ATI final report was largely ignored, which is a reason Lori Torgersen resigned as a legislator. A couple of legislators “dropped in” briefly for a couple of meetings, but otherwise didn’t participate. It’s critical that we fund ATI as a standing committee.
The Town of Hunter Supervisor Daryl Legg recently brought Mr. Groden to Hunter to explain the jail boondoggle. But none of Mr. Gardner’s constituents at the meeting agreed with Mr. Gardner. The Town of Hunter is represented by Legislator Larry Gardner, who made the enabling 10 – 4 super majority vote allowing the loan application.
It’s clear that the Coxsackie prison/jail monster was sized using false and fraudulent research by RicciGreene. When this became clear RicciGreen was fired. The jail project is just a large fancy clubhouse that includes a gym for staff and other amenities that are just ludicrous. There’s no need for the facility, we’re handling our security needs with a shared/regional jail already.
The effort to shave costs of the 98 bed jail largely failed. I attended every minute of these meetings., The site is inappropriate. The clay means an 6 foot hole has to be dug, filled with gravel, and the building floated. There are no utilities there. Breaking ground costs $8 million. Legislator Michael Bulich substantively participated in these engineering sessions, but no other legislator came for more than a drop by, including Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Lubera.
The inability to reduce costs caused Mr. Groden to pull $8 million from reserves to lower the loan principal. But these reserves are necessary for the county’s retirement and health care funds. Treasurer Peter Markou reports that the unfunded retirement and healthcare mandate is around $42 million, and as high as $120 million by some models.
The 80 Bridge Street site, now closed, has utilities and is in Catskill. County Law §§ 216 and 217 require the Sheriff’s Office remain in Catskill. The laws make no distinction between the civil or criminal portion of the Sheriff’s Office.
We have 50 detainees at this time. Teenagers will no longer be housed in a county jail, which removes about 8. Bail reform means people won’t usually be detained just because they don’t have small bail, which removes another 10 or so. The Greene County Public Defender recently received $500,000 a year so they will be at all court appearances, which means better defense, and removes another 5 to 10 detainees.
Almost all of the detainees are housed in Ulster County. But Columbia’s jail is closer. Sheriff Greg Seeley doesn’t want to reinforce the shared/regional jail solution with Columbia. But placing them in Ulster means longer travel time for defense attorneys and the relatives of the detainees.
The legislators, famously, failed to fund the shared/regional jail study – a mere $5,000. We’re already using the shared/regional jail solution, which everyone agrees is legal. Greene County saved $1.2 million “boarding out” since the jail closed on April 20, 2018. As importantly, we’re fully meeting our security needs.
The county administration acknowledged they're at the top of the 2% property tax cap, and this is true for the past 4 years. Groden pushes the 2% ceiling on excuses of “required” projects… watch when he discusses the 2019 budget on November 5th. My editorial in last weekend’s Daily Mail asks us to replace Mr. Groden.
There’s no construction company in Greene County that’s capable of bidding or building any aspect of a Coxsackie jail. Ricci-Greene, SMRT, Pike, Delaware – the money simply leaves Greene County. All interest payments to USDA simply leaves the county.

Tearing down 80 Bridge Street wastes the entire resource. 80 Bridge Street was built at the same time and with the same methods as the Catskill Library and Courthouse. The lot has considerable resources, such as the utility services that Coxsackie lacks.
Greene County has a profound history of wasting its resources. We wasted the armory, the hospital, and opted to tear down the Day’s Inn rather than negotiate for their success.
This is a police county. There are 7 Sheriff satellite stations, with a new one in Coxsackie. Each has booking and some holding cells.
There are 691 empty jail cells between Albany, Columbia and Ulster counties. Law prohibits county jails use for Immigration and Customs Enforcement - ICE.
Sheriff's Office must remain in Catskill. It can’t be moved without the success of a public referendum. A public referendum will fail of course, which is a reason wasn’t on the November ballot. As USDA notes, the plans for the Coxsackie monster thoroughly incorporate the sheriff's office (likely violating County Law).
There is no money here. There’s no credible expectation the economy will improve, the federal reserve’s raised rates 3 times in a year. There’s no way for Greene County to pay back the HUGE federal loan. And, there is no plan for creating new money, non-seasonal, for-profit, jobs or industry.
We must formalize ATI as a standing committee and give it authority to administrate our social and justice systems. We must complete the shared/regional jail solution with Columbia County. We must reform local justice rather than construct a new huge prison/jail that will only serve as a clubhouse for more terrorism by our Sheriff and his deputies.
Any other solution is irresponsible at best.

Scott Myers
414 Main Street
Catskill, NY 12414
(518) 291-8169

C.c. Brenda L. Smith
Community Programs Director
USDA Rural Development
441 S. Salina Street, Suite 357
Syracuse, NY 13202
Phone: 315.870.2497

Hon. Janet DiFiore
NYS Chief Administrative Judge
20 Eagle Street
Albany, NY 12207

Hon. Thomas Breslin
District Administrative Judge
3rd Judicial District
2500 Pond View, Suite 210
Castleton-on-Hudson, NY 12033

Allen Lundgren
Chairman, NYS Commission of Correction
8O South Swan Street 12' Floor
Albany, NY 12210

Shawn Groden
Greene County Administrator
411 Main Street, Suite 408
Catskill, NY 12414

Ed Kaplan, Esq.
Attorney for Greene County
411 Main Street
Catskill, NY 12414
(518) 719-3540

Joe Stanzione
Greene County District Attorney
411 Main Street, Suite 301
Catskill, NY 12414

Angelo Scaturro
Greene County Public Defender
411 Main Street
Catskill, NY 12414

Greg Seeley, Sheriff
Greene County Jail
80 Bridge Street
Catskill, NY 12414

Kira Pospesel
Commissioner, Dept. Of Social Service
411 Main Street, 238
Catskill, NY 12414

Members of the Greene County Legislators
Members of the public and the press