Though the move was made public two months ago, Ulster Town Clerk Jason Cosenza officially stepped down March 9. He’d been in the position since 1998, and has reportedly taken a new job with the Ulster County Sheriff’s Department.
In his role as town clerk, Cosenza served under three different supervisors — Fred Wadnola, Nick Woerner, and James E. Quigley, III, the town’s current supervisor — and according to town officials, was initially seeking a move to a similar role in another municipality.
“Mr. Cosenza had informed the board that he was interviewing for an appointed town clerk position in another township in the middle of last year,” said Quigley. “We had at that point in time an indication that he was looking to better himself financially. We, as are all municipalities in this day and time, are challenged financially and there are only certain things that we can do.”
Quigley added that Cosenza did receive a substantial raise between 2013 and 2014, and received an additional 2 percent bump going into 2015.
“He went from $40,000 a year to $48,000 a year in one year,” Quigley said. “What I’m saying is the town did what it could do, but we couldn’t do more.”
Cosenza’s official letter of resignation was sent to Cesar Perales, New York’s Secretary of State, on Wednesday, March 3, and his last official day was Monday, March 9. According to Jason Kovacs, the town’s attorney, filing a letter of resignation with the secretary of state is required by New York law. Cosenza’s letter did not specify why he was stepping down. Quigley said he hadn’t been told of Cosenza’s reason either.
“I have no idea,” Quigley said. “That’s entirely within his head. Based upon people who were checking his references, the conversations I had with them, he’s taken a job with the Ulster County Sheriff’s Department in the corrections division at the Ulster County Law Enforcement Center. That’s all I can tell you. I can’t tell you what he’s doing. I can’t tell you the hours he’s working. I can’t tell you the salary he’s making. He’s not shared any of that with me.”
Cosenza’s resignation was officially accepted by the town at a town board meeting held on Thursday, March 4. Councilmen also designated Deputy Clerk Linda McDonough to serve as town clerk through the end of the year, when Cosenza’s term is scheduled to end.
McDonough, who ran for Ulster County Comptroller in 2013 against eventual winner Elliott Auerbach, was hired as deputy town clerk in anticipation of Cosenza’s departure. She was sworn in as town clerk on Tuesday, March 10.
“As I told them this morning when I was taking my oath I’m very happy to be here,” McDonough said. “I know I have some big shoes to fill, because Jason was here for 17 years. But I think I’m up for it, and I think I bring some new thoughts that will help the town grow even better.”
Cosenza played an integral role in making sure the transition was as smooth as possible.
“It required Jason to coach and train her for a period of time,” Quigley said. “Although she is an organized and very professional person — she is an accountant by training — procedures and processes are somewhat different in the town clerk’s office than they are in other offices in the town, so there had to be some adjustment made. If you had an election, and we had an entirely new town clerk come out of that election, she’s much better prepared than someone coming into that office de novo. Mrs. McDonough has large shoes to follow in and she is very qualified.”
McDonough said it would have been a lot more difficult had Cosenza not helped guide her through the process.
“A lot of it has to do with the computer and how he has maintained and managed the records over the years,” she said. “To have that input and know where to go for things, that saved a lot of hours having to try and figure it out; it’s been an evolving process. It would have been much harder to pick up and backtrack to cover the history [of some ongoing projects.]”
Quigley said the public has let it be known that Cosenza is going to be missed.
“I was at a pancake breakfast at the Spring Lake fire house on Sunday, and as I was walking out one of our constituents stopped me and he said, ‘Boy, you’ve got big shoes to fill replacing Jason,’” Quigley said. “The general comments throughout the town have been, ‘Jason leaving? No, tell me it’s not true.’ When you look at his performance in the elections, he normally ran unopposed and was the top vote-getter. He was truly a well-respected individual.”
Cosenza could not be reached for comment.
After her first day at the helm, McDonough said she’s feeling comfortable enough to confirm that she’s not looking at her job as town clerk as a temporary position; a registered Republican, McDonough said she plans to run for re-election later this year.
“I’m actually enjoying it,” she said. “I’m happy to see the people coming in. The clerk has a lot of duties on a day-to-day basis. Some things surprised me, but other things were not a surprise. The volume of phone calls is a bit of a surprise. Other things are pretty much what I expected.”