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Public trust under attack

April 5, 2012

The public trust in the Town of Mamakating is again under attack by our town supervisor, Harold Baird, and town councilman Russell Wood Jr. Both are fire commissioners of the Bloomingburg fire district, and opinions of the New York State Comptroller and the New York State Attorney General state the positions are not compatible.

I have brought this to the attention of the town board during the past few months, and have asked for letters of resignation from both for either position. Mr. Baird has stated he consulted with two unnamed attorneys who said the positions are compatible, but provided no names or written documentation. Mr. Wood has stated he consulted with his business attorney, the fire district attorney and New York State Association of Towns attorney who said the positions are compatible, but no names or written documentation have been provided as of this writing.

As with the John Piazza residency issue, it is all lip service and no documentation. For five years, our town attorney, Richard Stoloff, a member of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, has to my knowledge offered little if any advice, and he has not done so in this case. I believe it is part of his responsibility as legal council to the town to find the answer to questions when they are brought before the town board.

In the present compatibility issue, a Fordham Law Review article references state comptroller opinions in support. I have had contact with the Carmen fire department, Town of Rotterdam, Schenectady, NY regarding this issue, and Mr. Gary Bonk agreed the positions are not compatible, but he referred me to William Young in Guilderland, an attorney who has extensive knowledge in this area. A response from Mr. Young is pending.

Raymond S. DiRaddo is a managing partner of Burgess, DiRaddo, Nier, & Case in Rochester, NY. Mr. DiRaddo is also general and special counsel for several fire departments and fire districts in the Rochester area. He coauthored “New York Fire District Officers’ Guide,” an extensive publication covering all aspects of a fire district’s operations designed to answer all questions a fire district might encounter. I had the opportunity to read a copy of this guide at Orange County Fire Control at the New Hampton facility outside Goshen, NY.

“§ 1:20:2 Qualifications of Fire District Officers. A person may not hold the office of fire commissioner and town councilman or town supervisor concurrently.”

I have forwarded letters to Mr. DiRaddo and the New York State Association of Towns for a response.