Incumbents take heat at Monroe debate

Posted on 30 October 2013 by Community Voice NY

By Chris McKenna
Times Herald-Record
Published: 2:00 AM – 10/30/13

MONROE — One week before a much-anticipated election, three candidates for Monroe supervisor met in a closed venue Tuesday afternoon to debate the Town Board’s $880,000 purchase of an abandoned multiplex and other decisions that have heated anti-incumbency sentiment to a boil.

kjA small group of spectators watched inside a room at the YMCA as United Monroe candidate Emily Convers castigated her opponents — Supervisor Sandy Leonard and Councilman Harley Doles — and the rest of the board for buying a six-screen theater with “zero public input” and no plan for how it would be used, calling the decision a “tremendous error.”

It was that surprise decision, she said, that riveted attention on the board and spawned a movement of frustrated citizens.

“We attended board meeting after board meeting, only to be shouted at and ridiculed by our town officials,” Convers said.

Leonard and Doles defended the purchase, saying the board got a good price for the four-story building and hoped to show movies, house municipal offices and host other functions inside. Leonard argued that board members couldn’t have gotten public input before buying the theater at a foreclosure auction because it might have driven up the price.

The hourlong debate, sponsored and conducted by the Photo News, showcased the unusual, three-way campaign for supervisor at the center of this year’s town races, which are supercharged even by Monroe standards. The newly formed United Monroe Party is waging the fiercest effort in years to rally enough support and turnout to beat Kiryas Joel’s voting blocs, which typically control town elections.

Interaction between the board and audience members at meetings has grown heated, prompting the board to station as many as five security guards in the room. At Tuesday’s debate, Doles — who has missed the last four meetings — and Leonard both cited recent violence at other public places. Convers accused them of exaggerating the tension.

Kiryas Joel’s political role occupied much of the discussion during Tuesday’s debate.

Convers argued that Doles — who got 87 percent of his votes in Kiryas Joel when re-elected in 2011 — clearly “has the bloc vote locked down,” and questioned why Leonard decided to run. She had contended months ago that Leonard was promised a job as parks and recreation director if she ran as a spoiler, to siphon votes outside Kiryas Joel from United Monroe.

Asked by Photo News editor Bob Quinn if she planned to accept a town job if she lost the race, Leonard said she hadn’t thought beyond the election, but insisted: “I didn’t get in this election to lose.”

Next week’s elections are critical because a three-seat majority on the five-member board — made up of the supervisor and four councilmen — is at stake. Running for two councilman positions are Democratic incumbents Gerry McQuade and Rick Colon, challenged by Working Families Party candidate Richard Troiano and United Monroe candidates Dennis McWatters and Natalie Strassner.

Much of the fury directed at the board involves its appointment of Doles to be “acting supervisor” and paying him $42,000 on top of his $15,000 councilman’s salary. According to their own accounts, he and Leonard have worked in tandem as co-supervisors — an odd twist in their competition now for the supervisor’s job.

During Tuesday’s debate, Doles and Leonard both defended the arrangement and repudiated it, saying they plan to drop the $42,000 salary from next year’s budget. They argued Doles had taken on responsibilities past employees handled at greater expense.

“This is the way it’s always been done,” Leonard said.

Convers smacked down that argument, noting that the board passed a law to create the “acting supervisor” job.

“No other town in the county has such a position,” she said. “It’s a made-up position.”

During the debate and in a recent interview, Convers, a former project manager for wireless communications companies, pledged to eliminate the “acting supervisor” job and undo other decisions she opposes, including a lawsuit being waged against Woodbury on behalf of Kiryas Joel and a developer.

Leonard, supervisor for 12 years and a councilwoman for 10 years before then, touted her record in an interview, saying the town’s stable taxes and parkland purchases were her proudest accomplishments.

Doles, a councilman for seven years, dodged interview requests but submitted written answers to questions after Tuesday’s debate.

He, too, praised the board for stable taxes and the recent acquisition of Round Lake Island, and said he was running for supervisor to “keep our taxes from going up,” expand recreational opportunities and “be the face of Monroe government.”

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