Julius Seisure

It seems that over a year after Ellenville pastor Julius Collins was elected the first African-American county legislator in over four decades, forces back home are conspiring to have him removed from office. To be more accurate, one of two offices.

A well-respected prominence in Ellenville, second only to county comptroller and hometown hardware dealer Elliott Auerbach, Collins is a sitting member of the school board and a county legislator. Critics yet to be publicly identified, but probably members of the Republican Party, have challenged the pastor’s dual service. The county charter is quite clear in stating that no legislator can hold another “elected office” and remain a legislator.

Collins, a quiet, dignified man who seldom speaks on issues – “I’m new here. I have a lot to learn,” he said upon taking office in January of 2018 – is nonetheless determined to hold the line. 

“I will not run anyway,” he said in alerting fellow Democrats to his situation at caucus shortly before Tuesday’s night’s regular meeting of the county board. “Anyone who wants to fight it can fight it after the election.” 

This issue needs to be resolved long before that. 

Fellow Democrats sprang to his cause. Controversial legislator Hector Rodriguez, no stranger to hyperbole and looking tanned and rested after a brief Florida vacation, praised the 14-month Ellenville representative as “one of the best legislators I have ever served with.” Hot Rod, as he’s sometimes called, will retire this year after 16 years as a legislator. 

But the issue isn’t how much Democrats support their new colleague, but the charter. What does “elected office” really mean and does it pertain to school boards, is the issue. County lawyers were mum, but I suspect that somewhere on a dusty shelf, researchers will find precedent advising that the two are separate and distinct, in part because school board members serve without salary. Rank and file county legislators are paid $14,000 a year, with benefits. 

There is some precedent for this double-dip, which framers of the county charter in 2006 may have taken into consideration. Back in the late 60s when the county went from a 33-member board of town and Kingston supervisors to a separately-elected county legislature, a few town supervisors ran for both seats. (The county paid for dinner and drinks after the board of supervisor’s afternoon “workshop” sessions in those days. Well-oiled supervisors made for lively debate at public meeting that evening.) Some were reelected to town office, some to the legislature, but nobody both and some lost both. Message sent, message received. 

Collins, in respect and admiration for and of his colleagues, left the door ajar. “If you think it will damage us, I will rethink it,” he offered. There were no takers.