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Who's in line for chairman?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013 - Updated: 9:37 AM


For the C-S-E

FONDA -- Candidates are lining up to be the first chairman of the Montgomery County Legislature.

Several have also been named as the potential clerk of the board, including a legislator's son.

Sources have identified at least four candidates for chairman, including Republican Martin Kelly from District 1, and Democrats Tom Quackenbush from District 2, Roy Dimond from District 3, and John Duchessi from District 6.

Duchessi, Amsterdam's former mayor and alderman, recently said he's not seeking the position, and Dimond thinks "it is a bit premature to comment as no vote has been taken yet."

Quackenbush and Kelly both confirmed their interest, but county Republican Committee Chairman Joseph Emanuele III recognized there is a 5-4 Democratic majority on the board.

"I would like to see Martin Kelly become the Republican chair of the legislature, but given the composition of the board, I don't think he will be able to gain the number of votes he needs," Emanuele said.

Still, Kelly thinks he's a good choice.

"The people of the county wanted a new form of government, and change," said Kelly, 25. "We have a young Executive [Matt Ossenfort], and it would be great if a young person were the chairman of the legislature."

Kelly pointed out that Ossenfort hails from the city of Amsterdam, so as an upcounty resident, his appointment would provide geographic balance.

"There has always been an issue with the towns pitted against the city. I'd like to see a chairman from western part of county," Kelly said.

County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Bethany Schumann-McGhee said two caucuses have been held recently in determining which candidate the committee will endorse for chairman, but more are likely before the Jan. 1 organizational meeting.

"The chairmanship is still a work in progress," she said. "I anticipate additional meetings with the members prior to January to iron out the last-minute details."

Quackenbush thinks his experience make him the best person for the position, and says he has support on both sides of the aisle.

"I have leadership capabilities. I've been chairman of the Board of Supervisors twice. I'm certainly open to being chairman again for the legislature, and more than willing if that's what they decide they want," Quackenbush said.

Quackenbush believes such experience is necessary, and this year more than ever because of the new form of government. Only he and Republican Barbara Wheeler from District 7 have prior experience serving county government in an elected capacity.

"It's a crucial year, and there are so many new faces. They will need our experience and understanding. I also think I will be able to work well with Matt Ossenfort," Quackenbush said.

Though this is his first elected position, Kelly believes he, too, has valuable experience. He was the county's farm bureau president; the youngest in the state to ever hold that position, and serves a variety of other committees and panels, including Cornell Cooperative Extension, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Cleaner, Greener Community Initiative.

"I think in order to move forward need someone to shake things up a bit, be objective, do research and vote with a conscience; someone who can leave petty politics, and ego, and grandstanding at the door," Kelly said.

With the nomination of a Democrat likely, Kelly said he's met with, or had conversations with the other potential chairmen, including Duchessi, Quackenbush and Dimond. He wanted to get to know them so he can make an informed decision when he votes.

"Whoever we choose, it's important we work together," Kelly said. "I hope the other legislative members will meet with the candidates so they can make a sound decision when it's time to vote."

Republican Alex Kuchis from District 9 said he's willing to support any of the candidates named in the story.

"Any of the four names ... would make a competent chairman," Kuchis said. "My hope is that we all come to a resolution prior to Jan. 1."

-- Clerk of the board

In addition to appointing a chairman at its organizational meeting, the board will also need to appoint its clerk.

Democratic Election Commissioner Jamie Duchessi, and Board of Supervisors interim Clerk Cheryl Reese have both been named as potential candidates.

Jamie Duchessi was an interested candidate up until Monday. He confirmed his interest in an interview last week, but apparently had a change of heart, according to an e-mail.

"I appreciate our phone conversation from last week, but I am not interested in accepting the clerk position," the e-mail said. When asked why, his reply said, "At the point in time when you asked me about the position, I was strongly considering it and wanted to answer honestly. Since our conversation, my interest has changed."

Should he be nominated for the post, though, John Duchessi said he won't abstain from voting. Jamie Duchessi is his son.

"I would not abstain from voting, because I do not believe such a vote would be a conflict of interest because I would receive no personal benefit from his appointment," John Duchessi said. "Further, my son Jamie is already employed by the county, and is entirely capable of performing the duties of the clerk of the legislature."

He asked about nepotism.

"With respect to the appointment, it would certainly appear to be the case, wouldn't it," John Duchessi said. "On the other hand, Jamie has a pretty good resume, and would be an excellent candidate."

Jamie Duchessi's term as election commissioner runs through the end of 2014. He was first appointed to fulfill an unexpired term in 2009.

Last week, Schumann-McGhee said Jamie Duchessi is qualified for the work as clerk. When asked if consideration had anything to do with his current job performance, she said, "I certainly don't have a negative comment about his performance."

Reese said she hopes to get the appointment. She was appointed to her current position in July to replace Robin Loske, who retired. She's worked for the county for 28 years, and has worked in the board office since 2006.

"I would certainly be humbled for the support of the legislators," Reese said. "Being that I'm already in the position, I would be the perfect person for it. There would be no learning curve, which is important because of the change in government."

Kelly said he hasn't received any information leading him to believe Duchessi isn't still pining for the position, but he intends to support Reese.

That support stops at the clerk appointment, however. Apparently, there's talk of finding Reese alternate employment within the county should Duchessi get the job, and that's something Kelly said he won't support.

"Even though there was no opposition in my campaign, I ran on eliminating wasteful spending. I think it's foolish if our first order of business is creating an unnecessary position. That's what's been happening for years, and if that's what it comes down to, it would be a slap in the face to the people of Montgomery County," Kelly said.

When asked about the potential for Duchessi's appointment, Kuchis said, "I would be opposed to any which would appear to be an act of favoritism, making it look as though 'nothing's changed in county government.'"


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