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Reporters survey Columbia supes on Baer bashing

Dec 18, 2010 9:18 am
Opinions of a public letter signed by the county’s Republican, Independence and Conservative party chairmen calling for the removal of Hillsdale supervisor and county budget officer Art Baer from all board responsibilities, and Baer's equally public response to the matter, were mixed among the members of the county Board of Supervisors interviewed in a Register Star story this morning in which two of the newspaper's reporters contacted each member of the Board of Supervisors to gauge their reactions to both the letter submitted by Conservative Party Chair Matthew Torrey, Republican Party Chair Greg Fingar and Independence Party Chair John Miller — calling Baer “autocratic and secretive” in his management, pointing out Baer’s “direct involvement in a series of failed policies and poor decisions,” among other charges — as well as Baer’s response to the letter, which was published in Thursday’s edition of the paper (and on this blog yesterday). which asserts that the “self-serving” party chairmen responsible for the letter desire a government run by “the good old boys.”

Some supervisors felt the letter was inappropriate and the matters discussed therein should have been dealt with more discreetly. The few defending the party chairmen were muted in their responses, basically saying that all issues should be placed under consideration. The prevailing view was that something seemed to be amiss within the Columbia County GOP.

“I think it should have been handled more privately instead of airing dirty laundry in public,” said Hudson Fifth Ward Supervisor Bart Delaney. “I never think that’s a good idea for anything, and it should be handled in the caucus environment. Obviously it wasn’t, and that’s too bad ... It was just the wrong way to do it.”

Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin echoed Delaney’s sentiments.

“The thing that struck me about the letter was ... I guess I really didn’t understand why they would write a letter like that,” said Bassin. “Clearly the three party chairs are frustrated with Baer, but writing a letter like this doesn’t seem like a constructive way to air their concerns.”

Bassin suggested that the party chairs aren’t happy with the Board of Supervisors “openness” and “candor.”

“What (Board of Supervisors Chairman Roy Brown) is doing is pretty much reaching out to everybody who wants to participate, the way Art did — Roy is communicating virtually everything by e-mail. There’s kind of a virtual caucus,” said Bassin. “Bottom line, I think on one level it’s a new style of politics Baer and now Brown are now bringing to the party ... the ability to discuss and argue and see things change. I think the party chairs don’t like that. I think they’re still operating with the theory that the supervisors do what the party chairs tell them to do.”

Bassin added, “I don’t think Art’s done anything except represent points of view — some of which he has got other supervisors to support, and some which he has not ... I don’t think there’s anything malicious or sinister about anything he’s done. Art had no power to do this on his own. He had to have support from the rest of the supervisors.”

Along the same lines, Hudson Third Ward Supervisor Bill Hallenbeck asserted that the accusations of Baer being secretive were unfounded due to the nature of the weighted vote system of the board.

“Certainly through conversations with all supervisors, including Art, I come to a consensus about whether I’m voting one way or the other,” said Hallenbeck, noting that he has consistently acted in a bi-partisan manner from a “constituent standpoint.”

“Art and I have disagreed on things and we’ve agreed on things, but that’s part of government,” said Hallenbeck. “I voted against a lot of things he probably didn’t want me to vote against ... Any decisions made are concluded at the time of the full board ... and everybody gets a vote on that, which I think eliminates any concern about somebody being secretive.”

Hudson Fourth Ward Supervisor Bill Hughes expressed similar feelings on the issue of every vote being a cooperative process, and by no means the action of a single person.

“People have to understand that we, as elected officials, are elected on the local level — (Baer) represents Hillsdale. He’s elected by those people to represent them. I usually try to reflect, and I’m sure he does as well, those (views) of his constituents,” said Hughes. “You have a group — they go in the office, they make these decisions, then they go and present it to us as the governmental body. He was effectively able to get a majority of supervisors to follow behind him. So, now, who is to take the blame for that?”

He added, “If I disagree with these guys, I vote no ... You can’t hold one person accountable for all these decisions.”

Other supervisors were also quick to rush to Baer’s defense, saying they have a fine working relationship with him and expressed their wishes to honor the voters who put him in office.

“I think it’s my job to respect the voters of Hillsdale who put Mr. Baer into office,” said Hudson First Ward Supervisor John Musall. “It’s also my job to work with all the supervisors in the most efficient and inclusive way I can. Therefore, I can’t really participate in the crucifixion of Art Baer.”

He added, “I’ve always had a good working relationship with Supervisor Baer and I will continue to work with him as long as I can.”

Clermont Supervisor Ray Staats called the party chairs’ letter “inappropriate” and didn’t understand why it targeted one individual.

“I think it singles out one person, the budget officer ... It’s a board vote, so everything that gets voted on has board approval,” said Staats. “I’m not happy with it ... I don’t know if there’s a side to be taken. I would need to have some more details on why they feel so strongly against Art Baer ... I’ve worked with Art for the past three years and from what I can tell, he has been doing — on the financial side — a fairly good job and I’m happy with that.”

Staats called Baer’s letter “a good response.”

“He laid out quite a bit of detail in his letter. It certainly sounds like he knows exactly what he’s printing.”

Greenport Supervisor Ed Nabozny said from a “big picture” point of view, the chairmen’s letter “appears to be an internal squabble in the Republican party,” but did not comment further on the matter.

Kinderhook Supervisor Pat Grattan expressed that he felt it was important to address the concerns outlined in the party chairmen’s letter.

“I think it’s important that all the supervisors listen to everybody’s comments about the current issues, including those of the party leaders, and I don’t think we can take any of them lightly — we can’t dismiss them,” said Grattan. “We should also be able to listen to the public and what they have to say about these issues.”

Livingston Supervisor Kevin McDonald, Taghkanic Supervisor and Republican Majority Leader Betty Young and Hudson Second Ward Supervisor the Rev. Ed Cross declined to comment on the contents of the chairmen’s letter. The remaining supervisors could not be reached for comment.