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Another referendum on Tusten bookkeeper coming; temporary position is created

By Fritz Mayer
August 10, 2011

An audio recording of the meeting of the town board on August 8 reveals a heated exchange of words and accusations that eventually led to the board voting in favor of another referendum of the bookkeeper position.

Town of Tusten residents already voted on the matter on July 12, but that ended in a tie, which would have allowed supervisor Peg Harrison to continue to have the sole authority to appoint the bookkeeper. However, council members who wanted to shift that authority to the entire town board refused to accept the results of the vote, at least in part because of an anonymous letter that some town residents found in their mail boxes.

The letter suggested that the matter being resolved with the vote would be whether the bookkeeper would be a full-time position with benefits, or a much less costly part-time position. Council member Eileen Falk, who voted in favor of putting the matter before the public again, said she was never in favor of making it full time.

Council member Lisa Dowling said while she supported a full-time position in the past, she respected the fact that Harrison had to fight the board to make the position part time, and said she would not now vote to create a full-time position.

It is not clear, however, if the board wins the new referendum in November, whether the new position it creates will have enough hours to trigger benefits such as pension payments.

The letter was mentioned several times through the raucous 50-minute discussion of the matter. Tony Ritter, chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, said, “This letter was calculated to mislead the public.” At another point, resident Tom Prendergast said there was misleading information on both sides of the question.

Harrison declined to re-appoint the bookkeeper in January, and the board subsequently voted to eliminate the bookkeeper job altogether.

This happened after a bitter budget process during which the hours of the position were cut twice. The booking duties then fell to Harrison, who as supervisor has the chief responsibility over the town’s finances. However, the town’s auditing firm informed the board months ago that the supervisor should not also be acting as the bookkeeper.

Because the board did not have authority to appoint the bookkeeper, it had previously refused to create a new bookkeeping position, which the supervisor can’t do on her own. At the meeting, Carol Wingert, who is running against Harrison in the fall, said that some things in the office were falling behind and suggested that the board give Harrison the ability to hire a part-time secretary.