Town hall naming crisis continues

Photo by Dion Ogust

A compromise on a name for the Saugerties Town Hall proposed by Supervisor Kelly Myers failed to win a majority, so it’s back to the drawing board.

Here’s the issue: last month, the board unanimously voted to name the building after long-time supervisor Greg Helsmoortel, who left office last year. The next week, it learned a previous board in 2001 had named Town Hall after Roger Donlon, a Saugerties native and Green Beret who won the first Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War.

The compromise proposed at the board’s May 16 meeting  — to name only the newest part of the building after Helsmoortel — failed to receive a majority vote.  Myers and Councilman Jimmy Bruno voted for the amendment; Councilpersons Fred Costello, Bruce Leighton and Leeanne Thornton voted against it.

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Supporters say Helsmoortel was integral to the Town Hall effort, which consolidated several offices under one roof, and deserves to have the building bear his name.

“It took someone with the strength of character to stand up and serve this community, to locate the Town Hall there and to make the tough decision,” said councilman Fred Costello. “At this point I want to keep it named for Greg Helsmoortel.”

Aside from that, there is the issue of the legality of the former vote. Town attorney John Greco says it’s not legally binding because the town didn’t own the building yet at that time. But Bruno said an attorney with the Association of Towns said the motion was legal.

“How can we just ignore a vote that was taken 10 years ago?” said Bruno. “I’m sure if Greg was here, I like to think he would agree and say ‘you have to do what’s right and you have to go with the original vote.’”

Helsmoortel declined to comment on the controversy, other than to say that if political opponents who hate him succeed in preventing his name from being placed on the Town Hall, “they can’t take my accomplishments away, and I am happy about that.”

Roger Donlon’s response, according to Costello:

“I’ve been honored enough.”

A park behind the American Legion on John Street is named for Donlon, as is the auditorium above the Village Hall.  See accompanying article for more on Donlon.

 

More perspectives

Marie Post, one of the three councilpersons who originally voted to name the building after Col.  Donlon, said she would support naming the building for Helsmoortel and dedicating a section near the police station to all veterans.

“I didn’t support acquiring the building, but I do feel that Greg deserves credit for buying it and working to complete it,” she said. “But I also think veterans should be recognized; I have a son in Afghanistan flying Blackhawk helicopters. I think the veterans’ complex in the back of the Town Hall should be recognized as a veterans’ wing.” Her husband and brother were veterans of World War II, as well.

Post said she would like to see that display area named for veterans, and possibly expanded. “A lot of people don’t even know it’s there,” she said.

Councilman Bruce Leighton said he and Councilman Fred Costello had met with Col. Donlon, and Donlon had said he was unaware that the Town Hall had been named for him. “I think a high point for him was getting the park in back of the American Legion; he is so proud of that park and what it has become, and people use it – he says he’s humbled by that.”

Councilwoman Leeanne Thornton said that after the board was made aware that the Town Hall had been named for Col. Donlon, “one thing I could never figure out is why nothing happened after that decision was made by the former board.”

Costello said meeting Col. Donlon was an extraordinary experience, and he could understand his heroism. “One thing that strikes me is that his work didn’t end after he did what he did. He has been working hard ever since, and he was very proud when he talked about his work with a group of veterans opening libraries in Southeast Asia.”

The conversation brought home the importance of honoring all veterans, Costello said. He shares Leighton’s and Thornton’s wanting to do something on their behalf. “That being said, what we did for Greg was to honor him for what he achieved and for what he did for the Town Hall. None of us had prior knowledge of what had happened. “

Resident Gaetana Ciarlante said everything said about the issue was moot because “you’re breaking the law. You guys are breaking a law that was passed in 2001. Is this the example you want for your town?”

 

Surprise agenda item

Costello said he had no knowledge that the issue would appear on the agenda, “and there’s no documentation, there’s nothing, and we were presented with a motion and we’re discussing it.”

Myers said she wanted to clarify her reason for placing the motion on the agenda. “The opinion of the Association of Towns attorney was that the original motion was valid. I felt it was important to follow through on that. I also felt it would be a good compromise to name the renovated wing with the police department; it was a significant achievement. To bring the police departments together, to put a second story on the building, to name that after Mr. Helsmoortel I thought was a good compromise.”

If the board wants to do something else to honor both Helsmoortel and veterans, they can bring another motion back to the board, Myers said.

Following the meeting, Myers said she had hoped to find a compromise, but the board did not support the one she proposed. Further discussion will be needed to come to a decision on the naming of the Town Hall, she said.

There are 3 comments

  1. Bob Chappelle

    My thoughts……“It took someone with the strength of character to stand up and serve this community, to locate the Town Hall there and to make the tough decision,” said Councilman Fred Costello.” I should, but I do not follow Town government activities & I do not know Greg Helsmoortel, but having said that, There is no comparison when strength of character to stand up to anything, to make tough decisions, to serve his town, state & nation when he is compared to Roger Donlon. I am in no way minimizing Greg’s accomplishments, his character or anything else about the man. I am not one of his political opponents but he like most of us are just not in the same league as Col. Donlon.
    “Fred Costello said meeting Col. Donlon was an extraordinary experience, and he could understand his heroism. “One thing that strikes me is that his work didn’t end after he did what he did. He has been working hard ever since, and he was very proud when he talked about his work with a group of veterans opening libraries in Southeast Asia.” I can agree with some of what Fred has to say here, Roger Donlon’s service to his country was beyond any that most of us will ever be able to give before & after the actions of the Green Beret who won the first Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War. But Fred, there are very few of us that could understand his heroism. That ability is only in the hands & hearts of a very few heroic veterans that have experienced hand to hand or at least direct fire combat, most of which gave their lives to gain that knowledge. The rest of us can’t even guess what that’s like.
    “Roger Donlon’s response, according to Costello: “I’ve been honored enough.” A park behind the American Legion on John Street is named for Donlon, as is the auditorium above the Village Hall. That again is his showing his strength of character and service to this community.” I have to disagree with Col. Donlon here & say that there is no way that we can honor him enough, there is no way that we can repay him or all the veterans that came before or after him, it is just not possible. There are not enough buildings or monuments that exist or could be built to do that.
    “ Jimmy Bruno said an attorney with the Association of Towns said the motion of 2001 was legal. “How can we just ignore a vote that was taken 10 years ago?” said Bruno. “I’m sure if Greg was here, I like to think he would agree and say ‘you have to do what’s right and you have to go with the original vote.’” I, of course agree, that Greg from what I hear would do just that. I do have to wonder why the 2001 resolution wasn’t carried out, why Roger Donlon was not informed of it. It does seem out of character for the Town board of that time to have let that all fall through the cracks.
    I could go on but will end here with this, let the Town hall remain named as it was/is in 2001. Find another way to honor Greg Helsmoortel for his service & accomplishments. Do not even consider the removal of the 2001 resolution from the books as I & I believe most veterans would agree as well, would consider that a slap in the face & a dishonor to The Medal of Honor, Col. Donlon & all veterans & their families past, present & future. It would speak very poorly of the Town board & surely be a black eye for Saugerties.

  2. Bob Chappelle

    I wish to thank the Saugerties town board for their unanimous vote tonight to keep the Town hall named in honor of Col. Donlon. I also very much want to thank all the veterans that gave up their evenings to show the very large turnout in support & in particular those that came down from Catskill.

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