Saturday, February 21, 2009

Copake To Appoint Ombudsman

Copake To Appoint Ombudsman
Town to appoint ombudsman Two interested in position
By Jamie Larson
COPAKE - Two Copake residents have applied for the volunteer position of town ombudsman. Whoever is selected will have the responsibility of investigating citizen complaints against members of government, such as boards, committees or individuals, and trying and broker an acceptable resolution.

The position was written into the town policy manual in 2006 but was not implemented until now. The two candidates, Ian Jarvis and Karen Hallenbeck, both seem to feel they could lend an unbiased and attentive ear toward their fellow residents' concerns, of which, officials admit, there are quite a few.

In just the past month and a half of the new year public concerns have been raised over a myriad of issues related to official Copake town actions. In early January, local auto mechanics expressed feelings that they were being treated unfairly and unequally by aesthetic regulations for their auto storage areas, and were nearly denied permits. Copake farmland owner Salvatore Cascino is currently seeking legal action against the town for not allowing him to build on his property, which he says he feels is a violation of his rights. Cascino is, in turn, being taken to court by the town for the illegal filling of wetlands with construction debris, an issue other residents would like to see remedied by the town as soon as possible.

Other residents have taken issue with the Park Commission for not following town protocol at its meetings and allegedly trying to exclude people it doesn't like from obtaining membership. Additionally, concerns have been raised by a member of the Ethics Board that Town Supervisor Reggie Crowley tried to intimidate him into releasing privileged information by sending police to his home.

These concerns and others could be investigated by the ombudsman, if they are officially presented to whomever is selected. The ombudsman's job would be to attempt to find an acceptable resolution for both the citizens and the town.

Jarvis, who sat on the committee to rewrite the policy manual in 2006 and was instrumental in creating the ombudsman position, says he feels serving on the unpaid post would offer the town a way to heal some of the unresolved issues that have existed for some time. "I'm cognizant of the frustration citizens in Copake feel, not with particular boards or politicians, but with the internal nature of politics," Jarvis said. "An ombudsman would bridge the gap between citizens and the government, without having a political agenda."

Town Board Member Linda Gabaccia, a Democrat, described the relationship not as a gap, but as an "abyss" she feels was widened in 2007 - the year Crowley and the other Republican board members came into power.

"We have a concerned and active community," Gabaccia said, "I think this appointment will go a long way to help."

Board Member Daniel Tompkins, a Republican, is in support of the new position as well.

"We have a lot of debate in this town," he said, "this is something the town needs."

Hallenbeck, who has openly expressed her frustration with the operations of the Park Commission in recent weeks, says she asked to be considered for the job out of love for the area and her ability to listen to every side of a dispute. "I feel I have a fairly level head," she said, "and I have five kids so I know how to deal with people not being happy with each other."

Hallenbeck, who works as an assistant to the financial advisor of Dutchess County Water and Wastewater, sits on the Copake Economic Advisory Board and in the past has chaired Lions Club fundraising campaigns for hearing care, as well the Dutchess County Salvation Army Advisory Council. Due to her past issues with the Park Commission she said she would not have an issue recusing herself from addressing complaints related to that body.

Jarvis says he hopes, if appointed, he can lower frustration on both sides of these and any other issues. "I want to be an honest broker and have an open office, not just a mailbox (for complaints)," he said. "I'll tell people I hear their problem and help show them there are forms of ways to deal with them."

Jarvis has a background operating an international manufacturing business and is now semi-retired, working part-time as a consultant. Jarvis moved to Copake in 2000 with his wife and says he will make himself as available as possible if asked to serve.

To reach reporter Jamie Larson, please call 518-828-1616, ext. 2269, or e-mail

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