County eyes residency rule

FONDA – Montgomery County’s Legislature is looking to retain its current county historian and public health director, despite residency issues.

At Tuesday’s Education and Government Committee meeting the committee voted to approve a resolution to request the state Legislature approve a special state law allowing county historian Kelly Farquhar and public health director Kim Conboy to stay in their appointed positions. The resolution was requested by the county executive’s office and will now go before the full county Legislature.

Farquhar and Conboy do not reside within county lines and under state law most public officials must reside in the county where they hold office.

“With the charter there’s been some changes that don’t exactly mesh with everything that’s going on in the county,” County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said. “Two of these exceptions are our historian, who, we can all agree, does a fantastic job and lives right outside the county, as well as our public health director, who we’ve made investments in as the county for training.”

Ossenfort said he did some digging on how his office and the county Legislature could address the situation. He said he thinks county officials let certain rules and situations go unnoticed in the past, and that’s not how he wants to operate.

“I think we should address [the situation] head-on and this would be the way to do that,” he said. “Other counties have done this as well.”

However, District 6 Legislator John “Duke” Duchessi questioned whether the Legislature was playing favorites.

“We’re only a couple meetings into the year with this new legislature and we seem to be making appointments based on people,” Duchessi said. “We changed the nature of what we’re trying to do based on who we want to do it with. It seems like as long as there’s someone we like and we want to appoint them then civil service rules and procedures or public office laws are set aside at the whim of the Legislature based on who we do or do not like.”

Chairman of the commitee and District 4 Legislator Ryan Weitz disagreed with Duchessi.

“These are people that were appointed by the Board of Supervisors, served the county for a number of years and we’re just making sure that everything is done by the books at this point,” Weitz said.

District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly questioned whether the county could be sued if the county Legislature appealed to the state Legislature to allow them to amend the state law for these two positions, but did not do the same for another position in the future.

County attorney Doug Landon said he would prefer to answer that question in executive session, to which District 7 Legislator Barbara Wheeler and Weitz agreed and proposed the committee go into executive session.

Kelly then argued the committee had no grounds to enter into executive session because the committee was discussing hypothetical litigation, not pending litigation. Pending litigation is one of the acceptable reasons for entering into a closed-door executive session under New York state’s open meetings law.

The resolutiont to go into executive session failed by a vote of 3 to 2, with Kelly, Duchessi and District 3 Legislator Roy Dimond voting against it, and Wheeler and Weitz voting in favor.

District 9 Legislator Alexander Kuchis, who is not on the Education and Government Committee but attended the meeting, explained why he thinks the county should not be worried about lawsuits regarding the residency issue.

“Hypothetically anyone can sue anyone for anything and they can point to any previous action by any government agency to try to bolster their case, ultimately it falls back to a judge and a jury as to whether that evidence is sufficient,” Kuchis said. “In my opinion, not as an attorney, [as a legislator] our intent here is to correct a previously bad situation, and we’re not playing favorites.”

The Legislature will vote on the resolution Feb. 25.