New Paltz Mayor Jason West informed his fellow Village Board members on May 15 that he is living outside the village that he serves. “For those who don’t know, I had my residency challenged on Tuesday,” the mayor said. “I got a visit from the sheriff’s department challenging my residency.”
West says he’s living just outside the boundary of the Village of New Paltz, in the town.
“A few months ago, my lease was not renewed. If you’ve ever tried to find an apartment in the village, you know there’s only a few times a year that’s a good time to do that. So having been couch surfing with some friends for a while, I’m currently living about 100 feet from the village line — desperately trying to get back in the village.”
The mayor told his board colleagues he lost his lease in early January. Initially, West blamed his former deputy mayor, Sally Rhoads, for calling the cops on him. Rhoads denied it publicly, and West recanted that statement.
However, the mayor’s been keen to point out the questionable residency practices of other politicians — namely Supervisor Susan Zimet, and village trustees Stewart Glenn and Brian Kimbiz.
Kimbiz and West have a longstanding feud, which started when the mayor took office in 2011. At that time, Kimbiz had left to take part in the AmeriCorps program in Nevada — leaving for three months. West heaped blame on Kimbiz for not being there early in his term. In response, Kimbiz has defined himself in opposition to the mayor.
Kimbiz scoffed at the mayor’s announcement during the May 15 meeting.
West responded by saying that he’d been looking for an apartment for “less than the time you were living out West, when you abandoned your duties during your term in office.”
“You know that you cannot serve as mayor? You know that, right?” Kimbiz said in response.
The mayor responded by stating that being able to hold office with questionable residency isn’t a black-and-white situation — especially if a politician intends to return to live in the area where they’re holding office.
“It’s called a law, Brian. A law is a set of rules that define our behavior and the outcomes of our decisions,” he said. “Legally, I’m fully capable of being mayor. I intend to remain mayor. I intend to return to the village as soon as humanly possible.
“Maybe Stewart [Glenn] and Eileen have an apartment to rent, since they have a house in Gardiner. Or Susan [Zimet], I could live in her apartment. You know, she has a house in Gardiner and she rents an apartment in Town & Country.”
Trustee Stewart Glenn does own a house in Gardiner, but uses it as a weekend home. According to the trustee, he spends at least four days a week in a rented room at his old house on Prospect Street in New Paltz, in order to maintain residency requirements.
Zimet maintains that she lives in an apartment on Huguenot Street with her husband.
Village attorney Joe Eriole agreed that defining residency for elected officials isn’t always cut-and-dry.
“The test is one that balances questions like the duration, the intent, whether there’s an actual and permanent relocation. These things are, simply put, are not appropriate for a white line, ‘yes/no,’” the lawyer said. “Frankly, they’re always subject to challenge.”
Eriole noted that he’d discussed with West the implications of his residency prior to May 7’s village elections — to see if he could legally vote in that election.
West said he thought he was being unfairly targeted for residency, adding that what would be fair would be if Supervisor Zimet and Trustee Glenn had been investigated too.