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.
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.
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.