Back from the Presumed Dead

Enfield resurrects extended terms-of-office laws

by Robert Lynch; June 13, 2024

One would have thought a landslide defeat three years ago had buried the issue once and for all.  It did not.

A campaign sign opposing a 4-year Supervisor’s term; 2021

With one Councilperson voicing a strongly-worded dissent, the Enfield Town Board Wednesday moved to a July Public Hearing a revisited trio of local laws that would extend new terms for the Town Supervisor, Town Clerk and Highway Superintendent from two to four years.  If approved by the Town Board following the hearing, the measures could be placed onto this fall’s General Election ballot, with the longer terms taking effect at the start of 2026, voters willing.

“I think it’s worth looking at again,” Town Clerk Mary Cornell told the Town Board Wednesday.  It was Cornell’s suggestion, advanced in an email to Town Board members only Monday afternoon, which launched reconsideration of the three local laws.  Cornell’s initiative had never been placed onto the Town’s agenda or website prior to the meeting’s start.

“There’d be less campaigning,” Cornell said in defending the longer terms for those three Enfield offices.

“I second that,” Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy’ Rollins shot up.  Rollins remarked that candidates like him dislike petitioning in the dead of winter, and that some have told him they’re reluctant to run for Town offices when the terms to which they’d be elected remain so short.

The Town Board voted four-to-one to advance the terms’ measures to a July 10th Public Hearing.  Supervisor Stephanie Redmond supported the initiative.  So did Councilpersons Jude Lemke, Cassandra Hinkle, and Melissa Millspaugh.  Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer) voiced strong opposition.

“Insanity,” Lynch said, “is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.”  Moreover, he said, resubmitting the laws to lengthen the terms is “tremendously disrespectful” to Enfield’s electorate, who’d dispatched identical measures to the dustbin by wide margins just three years ago.

A ballot proposition in 2021 to extend the Town Supervisor’s term from two to four years lost 238 votes (34.2%) to 458 (65.8%), a 32 per cent spread. 

By slightly slimmer—though still substantial—margins, the proposal to similarly lengthen the term of the Highway Superintendent failed 301 votes (43.2%) to 395 (56.8%).  And the Town Clerk’s term extension lost 292 votes (41.9%) to 405 (58.1%).

Councilperson Lynch reminded colleagues of those lopsided margins and of the troubling message he believes this year’s resubmission sends.

“The political class” says it didn’t like what the voters said the first time, Lynch proclaimed as what he saw was the majority’s message.  So it will ask those voters again and again until they provide the outcome politicians prefer, he said.

“I have mixed emotions,” Councilperson Lemke said as the issue first hit the meeting floor.  Once elected, it’s hard to remove an unwanted person from office, she acknowledged.  Therefore, shorter terms, Lemke said, serve a purpose.  Nonetheless, Lemke added her vote to the Town Board’s majority to move the local laws to a hearing.

 “You may get a different vote this time,” Lemke suggested, defending her support.

To get the three local laws onto November’s ballot, the Town Board would need to approve them at the same July meeting as the Public Hearing is held, unless a special session were to be called.  Clerk Cornell had informed Town officials Monday that the Board of Elections must receive the adopted laws by August 5th to qualify them for the General Election.  After July, the Town Board is not scheduled to meet again until August 14.

A July Public Hearting; the next stop.

And because Supervisor Redmond will be in flight, returning from a vacation during the July meeting, an otherwise unanimous agreement among remaining Board members will be required for the laws’ adoption, given Lynch’s staunch opposition to them.  Deputy Supervisor Greg Hutnik will preside at the July session, but New York law bars a deputy supervisor from casting a vote.

As Wednesday’s debate proceeded, Redmond expressed unqualified support for the longer Supervisor’s term, just as she’d done three years ago when the laws were first advanced.

You come in with “somebody else’s budget,” Redmond remarked concerning the steep learning curve an incoming Supervisor must face in office.

And to Redmond, campaigning door to door is not only an inconvenience to the candidate; it’s also an annoyance to the constituent.

“People are private here in a rural environment,” the Supervisor insisted.  They don’t like people coming to their door, distracting them, and seeking their signature.

Lynch said he’d never heard residents complain about his knocking on hundreds of doors during his prior campaigns.  Redmond countered that she’s heard those complaints, even against Lynch, himself.

“The first two years were scary,” Councilperson Cassandra Hinkle said, reflecting upon her initial months as Councilperson. “Two years is a very short time of it,” Hinkle observed of Enfield’s current election cycles for its Supervisor, Town Clerk, and Highway Super.

And a state-mandated wrinkle will make those forthcoming terms shorter still.  The New York Legislature last year altered election law to transition most terms of local office to even-numbered years.  Should Redmond, Rollins, and Cornell seek reelection next year—or even should they not—their two-year terms would shrink by a single year for just one election cycle to wedge them within the new law.  Their following elections would fall in 2026.

Town Councilpersons’ terms, by contrast, run for four years. Those terms would fall back to three years, but for just one cycle, whenever a Councilperson’s next term of office begins.

As Cornell and Rollins duly noted at Wednesday’s meeting, the local laws they’d endorsed would provide them some limited relief.  If adopted this fall, the extended terms for which they’d run in late-2025 would span three years, not just one.

What about the ‘remove the scoundrels’ argument that Lemke briefly broached in a shorter term’s defense.

“If they’re that bad, you can kick them out,” Rollins countered concerning an unfit office-holder.  Lemke cautioned expulsion is more difficult than it first sounds.

Since the suddenly-advanced terms of office initiative had received not one ray of sunlight prior to the opening gavel of Wednesday’s meeting, public reaction to the Board’s majority action has yet to be gauged.  In the weeks ahead, no doubt, it will surface.

His own opposition aside, Councilperson Lynch stressed he harbors no animosity against Clerk Cornell for having resurrected the terms of office laws.  But he’ll continue to oppose them.

“I will vote against this resolution,” Lynch promised Wednesday night. “I will vote against them in November… and I will likely campaign against them this fall.”

“There was a time when things like this made me angry,” this writer-Councilperson observed after Wednesday’s meeting had ended.  “But now I’m just sad; sad that the will of the electorate has been so ignored.”