Judicial confusion

“Friendly” Saugerties, the second largest municipality in the county, is involved in a primary for town judge that has too many people more than a little confused.

On paper, it looks straightforward enough: Two-term Democrat Claudia Andreassen, 73, is seeking another four-year term against newcomer Stan O’Dell, 59, a retired state police senior investigator.

Candidates will be vying for four nominations on Tuesday, Democratic, Working Families, Green Party and Libertarian, but Big D is the big prize in a town where Democrats hold an almost 2-1 enrollment advantage over Republicans. Independents account for almost a third of the electorate.

Unquestionably, there is unrest in the Saugerties Democratic committee, otherwise, why would their nominee over the past eleven and a half years face a serious challenge from a virtual unknown?

And these candidates are serious. They say lawn signs don’t vote, but there seem to be candidate placards in every other Sawyer front yard, about evenly divided.

The candidates bring credible records to the fray. Andreassen had been a probation officer for some 26 years before taking the bench. O’Dell’s 32 years in law enforcement speaks to valuable experience though, given current events, some might look askance at a cop with a gavel.

This contest comes at a critical time when we are challenging the norms of law enforcement and by extension the judiciary. True, town courts handle only minor (non-felony) offenses but their treatment of those cases can be a window on community values.

I won’t attempt to sort through all the half-truths, lies and innuendoes that have marred this campaign, except to wish there had been at least some discussion of the kinds of justice these candidates would be dispensing, their judicial temperament, or in the incumbent’s case, her record. Slogans like “a judge you can trust” would play on anybody’s bumper sticker.

As to the confusion generated by competing camps, I hope it doesn’t turn people off to the point of just staying home.

This is an important election that could well set the tone for the big one in November.

Sales tax shuffle – Pundits like to grouse about the “three men in the room” (two and a woman these days) that settle all matters important in Albany. But when it comes to negotiations for Ulster County sales tax distribution, there’s only two, the mayor of Kingston and the county executive.

The last negotiation was for a five-year deal in 2016 between newly-elected mayor Steve Noble and veteran county executive Mike Hein. Some say Hein took the not quite dry behind the ears Noble to the cleaners, but that’s open to interpretation. This time the roles are somewhat reversed. Noble (elected in 2015) is halfway through his fifth year in office; Pat Ryan completed his first year this month.

Some context: Under the 2015 agreement, the city gets 11.5 percent of all county sales tax receipts, the 20 towns get 3 percent and the county keeps the rest. Ryan anticipated about $110 million in county sales tax receipts for 2020; County fiscal officers warn he could fall 30 percent short in a post-pandemic economy.

There is, however, a very interested third party to negations, what some might call a friend of the court, or a supplicant. For the first time, the county supervisors’ association will be given “observer” status at negotiations.  

Given uncertainty about the economy, some legislators had suggested a one-year extension of the 2016 agreement, a proposal quickly rejected by principal negotiators. Supervisors (who don’t have a vote, but can influence legislators) want a new five-year deal with an across-the-board increase for the towns.

But squeezing the golden goose in hard times could produce…. stiff resistance.  With the city and county anticipating the worst of times and nothing positive coming out of Washington in terms of revenue sharing, now might be the time to maintain the status quo. If they can.