JUDGE SAYS LEGISLATORS CAN'T HOLD TOWN POSTS

Decision affects three Republican Rensselaer County lawmakers

BOB GARDINIER STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Saturday, January 23, 2010

TROY -- A state Supreme Court judge said Friday that three candidates elected in November to both county Legislature and town board seats must vacate the town positions.


In December, lawyers representing Democrats formally requested that three Republicans elected to the Rensselaer County Legislature be removed from town councils on which they already serve because the law does not allow them to wear two hats.


Michael P. Cristo Jr. and Philip J. Danaher were elected to the legislature but are also members of the East Greenbush Town Council. Louis Desso was elected to the Legislature and serves on the North Greenbush Town Council.


''There is no express language in the charter or the local laws adopting redistricting plans providing for dual office holding by a county legislator,'' state Supreme Court Justice Michael C. Lynch wrote in his decision. ''As such, the defendant candidates are eligible to serve as county legislators, but are not eligible to simultaneously hold the office of town councilman.''


Lawyers for the candidates had not decided whether they will appeal.


The three lawmakers-elect said they intended to keep their positions. Desso took his oath of office for the county seat but waited for the court's ruling before taking the town oath. Cristo also took the county oath. Danaher has not taken any oaths.


All oaths must be taken by Feb. 1 before their positions face nullification under state law.


"Democrats cannot win an election, so they are resorting to legal trickery and obscure technicalities to try to undo the will of the people" Desso said.


Last month Democratic lawyer James E. Long argued that under County Law 411 no one elected to a county post can simultaneously serve in a elective town post.


But the charge has been unsuccessfully made at least twice before in the county -- and Democrats were the targets both times.


In 2003, the state Department of State issued a ruling in a case involving complaints against Democrat Keith Hammond, who served for several years as a county legislator and Poestenkill town councilman.


The Department of State at the time said an opinion from the attorney general's office notes that a county can pass a local law that will supersede it and that Rensselaer County did just that in 1969.


From the late 1980s into the 1990s, Democrat Ginny O'Brien served on the county Legislature and on the East Greenbush town board.


Bob Gardinier can be reached at 454-5696 or by e-mail at bgardinier@timesunion.com.


BOX:


Other dual-office cases over the years in Rensselaer County include:


Art Dell -- Democrat appointed to the county Legislature in the 1980s when he was a member of the North Greenbush Town Board.


Jane Doughney -- Member of the Democratic caucus who, in the 1980s, was on the Brunswick Town Board and elected to the county Legislature.


Phil Herrington -- Republican on the Brunswick Town Board when he was appointed to the county Legislature in the 1990s.


BOX:


Wearing two hats


Other dual-office cases over the years in Rensselaer County include:


Art Dell: Democrat appointed to the county Legislature in the 1980s when he was a member of the North Greenbush Town Board.


Jane Doughney: Member of the Democratic caucus who, in the 1980s, was on the Brunswick Town Board and elected to the county Legislature.


Phil Herrington: Republican on the Brunswick Town Board when he was appointed to the county Legislature in the 1990s.