The Eagle’s View: Change comes slowly to Saugerties

Joe Roberti Jr. to step down

 Joe Roberti Jr. has confirmed that he will be giving up his seat as town Republican chairman. He’s going a step further. After the Republican organizational meeting later this year, he said he won’t be a Saugerties Republican committeeman any longer, either.

Change comes slowly in party politics. Since 2003 or so, Jennifer Peetoom and Roberti have held the top post on the Republican committee. In that 15-year time period, the Democrats  have also had only two chairmen, with Mike Harkavy stepping down a few years ago and Lanny Walter taking over.

Melissa Yeager still seems to hold the inside track on becoming the next Saugerties Republican chairperson, barring last-minute competition.

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Seth Turner heads to Long Island

The Saugerties school district has gone through some difficult periods in the past 20 years during the tenures of superintendents Karen Hong, Michael Singleton and Richard Rhau.  There was also interim superintendent Brenda Peters, who appeared headed for the job permanently when she suddenly decided to accept a position outside the district.

Seth Turner took the helm of the district, being promoted in 2009 from his principal’s position at Grant D. Morse. 

Success is difficult to measure for a school superintendent. There are numbers such as graduation rates and the passage of school budgets. No one ever winds up with a perfect score. 

Turner’s nine years in the top role (with a contract with several years to go) constituted double or more a superintendent’s average tenure in New York State. He’s heading to a smaller, wealthier district on Long Island.

With Turner still officially working for the district until September, the board will be in a difficult position in hiring someone outside the district. Looking inside the district for a replacement might be easier, and quicker. If the search and contract negotiations extend beyond September, the school board is likely to appoint an interim superintendent.

I think it will be interesting to see whether current school board president Robert Thomann considers making himself a candidate for school superintendent. My take is that those feelers, if they exist, would initially be done behind the scenes rather than in public. 

Myers versus Kraft for town justice?

Elections for local offices are held in odd-numbered years.  That wasn’t the case back in 2006 when a special election was held due to a vacancy in the job of town justice. Democrat Wendy Ricks went on to defeat her Republican opponent 59% to 41%. She may have been the first Democrat to win the justice position in Saugerties, as well as the first woman justice.

Democrats come out in larger numbers during presidential and gubernatorial election years.  That may have contributed to Ricks’ margin of victory. Democrats have historically been more inclined to stay home during off-year elections. It’s as though they have the Archie Bunker attitude he once expressed in the 1970s TV show All in the Family: “I only come out for the big ones.”
Recently appointed town justice William Myers will be seeking the Republican nomination.  Republicans don’t caucus any more as Democrats do.  Since last year they hold a primary. 

Christopher Kraft was the upset winner when town Democrats caucused in June.  Candidates’ getting their people out is often the name of the game. Kraft accomplished that at the caucus.

What was more than a bit surprising to me was when I confirmed rumors that Kraft was not an enrolled Democrat.  As of last week he hadn’t filed paperwork to enroll in the party.  He may not. Apparently, Kraft knew enough Democrats and got them to the caucus although he wasn’t one.

The outcome proved a disappointment for Democrat John Stegmayer, who was the that party’s candidate for the position in 2003. He lost then, and has sought the nomination since.

Myers sought what would have amounted to a cross-endorsement at the Democratic caucus. In the upcoming election, Myers’ supporters will point to a bipartisan Saugerties town board having picked him over seven other candidates who had applied for the interim appointment.

The three Independence Party-affiliated board members and the two enrolled Democrats on the board unanimously chose Myers.  That’s saying something.

Myers explained to me an unusual courtroom procedure he employs which he believes brings fairness and openness to his court. Rather than simply announce his decisions in open court, Myers said he puts them in writing and offers his legal reasoning to the litigants. 

For a judge, that’s a bit risky. It can open the case up to legal challenges via appeals. But Myers believes he’s doing the right thing by his explanations. So far his decisions haven’t been challenged.

Before assuming his new town role, Myers represented clients in both criminal and civil cases.  He said his experience has allowed him to use what he’s found as best practices in other courts and use them in his Saugerties court.

I talked with him about the ongoing drug problems in Saugerties. I asked about the enforcement of the tough drug sentencing laws passed decades ago. They are now often being questioned.

Myers talked about the numerous awards he received from his participation in helping to form the Ulster Regional Drug Court.

The drug court is one of the “diversion” programs within the criminal justice system. Historically, the criminal justice system monitored and/or punished criminal behavior. The criminal justice system has acknowledged that punishment alone sometimes does not address the ravaging affect of drug addiction.

Myers has a keen interest in the topic. “Drug court is simply an alternative to punishment, an opportunity to take control of an otherwise out-of-control life,” he said. “Failure is met with graduated and immediate punishment.”

Myers offered Ulster County’s YouthBuild program as an example of an avenue for hope. He’s found businesses willing to hire graduates of YouthBuild, which trains young people in the trades. Myers calls the program another alternative to incarceration. 

Calls to candidate Christopher Kraft were unanswered by press time. 


Free ride for town board?

The town board’s organizational meeting in January appointed Michael MacIsaac to the vacant councilman seat. The position became open when Fred Costello, then councilman, was elected supervisor. MacIsaac wasn’t challenged at the Democratic caucus, so his name will appear on the Democratic line this November.

The Republicans have so far been unable to find a candidate to run.

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