Measure allows people to hold dual offices in Rensselaer County

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B4

Date: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

TROY -- Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen Jimino approved a new county law Monday that will allow county legislators to also serve on town boards.

"I'm going to let the people decide who they want to represent them at the town level and the county level,'' Jimino said.

Jimino's action came at the end of a 30-minute public hearing attended by 11 people, including county Legislators Mike Cristo and Lou Desso, who lost their town board seats earlier this year.

"Usually, no one comes,'' Jimino observed about the turnout for public hearings.

County Democrats sued successfully in January in state Supreme Court, arguing that local county law and the county charter did not permit dual office holding. The state Appellate Division affirmed the ruling in February.

The ruling resulted in three Conservatives, county Legislators Cristo and Philip J. Danaher, who were on the East Greenbush Town Board, and Desso, who was on the North Greenbush Town Board, not being able to hold both posts.

The three Conservatives are closely aligned with the County Legislature's Republican majority.

The law signed by Jimino, was approved on a party line vote at the legislature's April meeting.

Desso and Cristo both spoke in favor of the legislation during the hearing. None of the 11 attendees opposed the measure.

"People in our town and East Greenbush are upset that their votes were taken away,'' Desso said.

Daniel Ashley, a former Democratic member of the county Legislature, submitted a letter read at the hearing urging Jimino to veto the measure.

Ashley stressed that there could be conflicts of interest from a person serving both on the County Legislature and a town board, as well as raising issues among voters.

"The perception created by allowing county legislators to serve on town boards creates the appearance of greed, of double dipping into the public trough and the state's retirement system,'' Ashley wrote,

The East Greenbush Town Board still has only three members, two Democrats and one Republican. The North Greenbush Town Board has four members: two Democrats, a Republican and a Conservative.

In each town, a majority of three is necessary to name a replacement to fill vacant offices until an election is held.