GreeneLanders who vote on November 2 will be faced with a choice between two would-be successors to a long-serving and much-esteemed County (and Surrogate, and Family Court) Judge, Daniel Lalor. Each of the contestants has made a point, on several public occasions, of voicing warm praise for the other.
Standing for election on the Republican line (plus the Conservative and Independence lines) is Charles (“Chip”) Tailleur, who is the county’s Chief Assistant District Attorney. Mr Tailleur, 43, started practicing law in 1993, in the Coxsackie office of his sister Joan Tailleur. He then took up an appointment to the District Attorney’s office, and he has been Chief Assistant under successive district attorneys (Ed Cloke, Terry Wilhelm) for 14 years. He gained the Republican judicial nomination back in May after a close contest with two other candidates: Ted Hilscher (lawyer, former prosecutor, historian) and Peter Margolius (veteran, lawyer, Town Justice). Both of the out-polled candidates congratulated Mr Tailleur and praised his aptitude for the job.
The Democratic (and Working Families) nominee is David Woodin, 55, who for the past 28 years has been law clerk for GreeneLand county judges (Fromer, Battisti, Pulver and then Lalor). The “clerk” title does not convey the nature of the appointee’s duties. A judge’s clerk must be a lawyer. He or she is called upon to investigate points of law that pertain to impending cases and to assist in composing the texts of decisions. In addition to performing that work, Mr Woodin has taken as turn as president of the local bar association and has contributed substantially to State-wide projects aimed at guiding judges on sentencing and on instructions to jurors.
Both candidates can be regarded plausibly as ‘natural’ successors. Before Judge Lalor ascended to the bench, he was GreeneLand’s district attorney. The current district attorney, Mr Wilhelm, decided not to run for the Lalor seat, thereby clearing the path for his deputy. On the other side, Mr Woodin’s career has consisted of operating as a judge’s chief assistant.
Mr Tailleur’s main pitch for preferment is the fact that he has the greater experience “in the trenches,” preparing and presenting cases before judges and jurors. Mr Woodin cites his years behind the bench as “ideal preparation” for judicial service. He also suggests that Mr Tailleur’s endowments of talent plus “youth and vitality” make him eminently suitable for judicial office at a later date.
Some GreeneLanders have encountered recently, at traffic intersections, a man brandishing a sign urging “Vote No on Tailleur” and alluding to “Corruption.” The agitator is Robert Meringolo of Greenville, who distributes unsigned literature dwelling on matters about which he has been agitating since 2006. (For a refresher, see The Daily Mail of 4/27/06, The TimesUnion of 7/30/06, and Seeing Greene blogs of 8/23/06, 3/2/07 and 10/5/07). The Meringolo agitation is wholly independent activity. It is categorically disavowed by Mr Woodin, who told Seeing Greene“I have nothing to do with it; I wish he’d stop.”
GreeneLand’s rival candidates for County Treasurer have waged contrasting campaigns. Peter Markou, 70, the Republican nominee, dwells on the extensive, relevant professional training that he has acquired in the course of a long working life. That training (apart from military service in Vietnam) includes a full career as professor of accounting and finance at North Adams State College, followed by stints as director of economic development for Greene County and for the City of Hudson, and then by election in 2007 as Catskill Town Supervisor. Upon being installed as Treasurer, Mr Markou says, his first move would be to strengthen the county’s defenses against cyberfraud. He also would instigate “financial condition analysis,” putting the county’s budget in the context of local incomes, poverty levels, welfare client numbers and real estate sales and prices.
Alan Pavese, 44, the Democratic nominee, has built his campaign upon expressions of alarm about the fiscal state of GreeneLand. In talks, in press releases, on his campaign web site (http://alanpavese.com) and in a full-page advertisement, Mr Pavese warns of a looming budget deficit (of $5-10 million), emphasizes the evaporation in recent years of reserve funds, and foresees a prospective drop in the county’s credit rating and with it an increase in its borrowing costs. Although GreeneLand’s property taxes are “way too high”--12th highest in the State, measured in relation to average incomes of residents--the revenue has not sufficed to match outlays. “We have gotten into a big financial hole” and need “new and different ways to help us get out.”
Such strictures have aroused resentment on the part of some county legislators as well as the recently retired Treasurer. In the words of county administrator Dan Frank, (Daily Mail letter of 9/30/10), the Pavese “political rhetoric” is “a slap in the face” of current county leaders. While contending that “our county desperately needs to get spending under control,” Mr Pavese neglects to give due credit for economies that were effectuated in 2009-10, to the extent of nearly $5 million in “reduced spending.” The current leaders “have substantially improved the way our county government works.”
Coupled with that rejoinder is the contention that Mr Pavese is hammering at matters over which the Treasurer exercises no control, thereby diverting attention from his meager training for the actual work. The prime qualification for Treasurer is usually regarded as accountancy. To that work, Mr Markou brings abundant experience, as did Mr Vermilyea. Mr Pavese’s vocational history, prior to his arrival in Greenville as a full-time resident in 2004, includes an electrical engineering degree and work for General Electric, followed by a Masters degree in business administration from Columbia University and eight years of work for Wall Street firms (Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse First Boston) as an equities analyst.
Mr Pavese acknowledges that the County Treasurer does not take part directly in setting tax rates, borrowing money on behalf of the county, or deciding how public funds shall be spent (except for his role as a member of the board of the Industrial Development Agency). At the same time he pledges to combine the Treasurer’s regular duties with the role of “financial traffic cop” or “watchdog” who would “make sure that taxpayers are informed about the legislature’s choices and whether they are fiscally sound.”
Mr Frank also accused Mr Pavese of being complicit with Governor David Paterson in the matter of the dispute (reviewed below) over the interim Treasurer appointment and the hold-up of funds. To that direct attack Mr Pavese responded with a full-page “Open Letter to Greene County” (Daily Mail, 10/23), categorically denying Mr Frank’s charge and accusing “incumbent county leaders” of using the governor-legislature quarrel “to promote their political goals in the Treasurer’s race.” Those leaders “appear ready to do whatever it takes to retain non-transparent use of taxpayers’ money…and to distract voters from their poor track record in managing our county’s finances.” Those leaders “approved budget deficits” over the past 7 years of $2.5 million,” drained the county’s “Rainy Day Savings Fund” in the course of five years, “exploded our county’s debt” by $10 million in the past three years, and “are committed to even further increases in our taxes next year, by as much as 25-50%.”
Entangled with the contest for Treasurer is a dispute between New York State’s governor, David Paterson (or his immediate staff) and GreeneLand’s legislature (or the Republican majority of thereof). The dispute concerns authority to choose an interim county treasurer, in the event that the office falls vacant before the incumbent reaches the end of his official term. That dispute almost broke out last November when the sitting Treasurer, Willis Vermilyea, announced his intention to retire at the end of 2009 rather than at the conclusion of his current term (at the end of 2010). But then Mr Vermilyea, alerted to the possibility that Governor Paterson (a Democrat) would try to fill the interim post by his appointment (of a Democrat, on the advice of the GreeneLand Democratic committee), pre-empting local appointment by the (Republican-dominated) county legislature, decided to remain in office.
On July 13 of this year, however, Mr Vermilyea re-announced his retirement, to take effect on July 31. Eight county legislators responded promptly by invoking what they construed as local-government authority to appoint an interim Treasurer. Over objections by three Democratic members to this version of legal propriety, they appointed Tom Tracey, administrative services director in the Treasurer’s office. Governor Paterson also objected. Maintaining that relevant State law puts responsibility for filling interim vacancies in county Treasurer offices (among others) in his hands, he proceeded to pick his own appointee:Alan Pavese.
The dispute over legitimacy did not produce immediately visible consequences. Mr Pavese did not force the issue by trying to occupy the Treasurer’s office; he stayed away. Staff members in the Treasurer’s office continued to do their jobs. But on October 19, an officer of the county’s Department of Social Services called the Governor’s office to ask why a routine claim for pass-through Federal money to cover June payments, a matter of $546,000, had not arrived. According to a Daily Mail report, the answer consisted of saying that the reimbursement was being withheld because of the legislators’ usurpation. That reported response triggered protests, from Democratic as well as Republican county legislators. The governor, they complained, was improperly, illegally, callously withholding money from needy DSS clients. Also triggered were threats of legal action, and communications from the county attorney, Carol Stevens, to the Governor’s legal counsel, Peter Kiernan.
The next stage of the dispute consisted of a disavowal. The governor’s communications director, Jessica Bassett, denied that the pass-through funds were being “withheld.” Instead, the delay was necessitated by an ongoing “review” aimed at determining whether the claim for reimbursement of funds expended in June by the GreeneLand DSS was signed properly, by Mr Vermilyea, or improperly, by an impostor. That message was followed a day later—October 21--by word from Mr Kiernan that the claim for June funds, dated July 26, had indeed been signed by Mr Vermilyea, just prior to his formal retirement. Mr Kiernan said it was necessary “to ensure that the duly elected Treasurer made that certification.”“Inasmuch as such claim was certified by the duly elected Treasurer of Greene County, such claim will be processed and paid.” But “a legal issue involving an important government principle is still alive,” he added, and it precludes payment of subsequent claims signed by Mr Tracey as putative interim treasurer. According to a press release from the county legislature, the unpaid July-through-August claims on behalf of the Social Services Department amount to $3.7 million.
No reference was made by Mr Kiernan to the disparity between the sum claimed for June outlays by the DSS($546.000) and the sum promised was offered.
Neither was an attempt made to explain why it took 81 days to identify a signature at the bottom of a piece of paper.
One more development came out of the dispute: the Governor promised to appoint as Greene County Treasurer, whoever wins the November 2 election. The chairman of the county legislature, Wayne Speenburgh, indicated that his colleagues will perform the same act of appointment. Those deeds (one of them? both?) mean that there will be a new County treasurer starting in early November, recognized as the legitimate signer of claims for reimbursement in advance of the start, in early January, of his elective four-year term.