Berne super not seeking re-election due to Hatch Act; Palow on deck for GOP

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

The Berne Town Board during its January 2020 reorganizational meeting. Supervisor Sean Lyons, right, announced this week that he is not seeking re-election. His position will be sought by Deputy Supervisor Dennis Palow, left. Both were first elected to the town board in 2017 as Republicans. 

BERNE — Berne Supervisor Sean Lyons will not be seeking re-election this year, while his deputy, Dennis Palow, appears to be gunning for the position as part of the GOP slate. 

Lyons is a Republican who was first elected supervisor in 2017 and since 2020 has overseen the town’s first majority-GOP board in decades. 

Lyons told The Enterprise that he’s not running because he’s under federal employment at the Watervliet Arsenal, and the Hatch Act prohibits certain federal employees from participating as candidates in a partisan election. His full statement has been published as a letter to the Enterprise editor.

“As part of the hiring process,” Lyons’s statement reads in part, “I fully disclosed that I held an elected position with the town of Berne and it was determined that there were no issues or conflicts. Out of an abundance of caution, however, I sought a formal opinion through my employer regarding my employment with the federal government prior to deciding whether I would campaign for re-election. 

“Ultimately, I was advised that, under the Hatch Act, while there were no issues with me holding an elected office and working for the federal government, it would be a violation of the Hatch Act if I was a candidate for a partisan political election.”

Lyons, who is now the cannon-chrome-plating facility manager for the United States Army’s Tank-automotive and Armaments Command at the Watervliet Arsenal, said that he previously held the same job but performed it for a private company, STI|Hartchrom.

As Lyons stated, while the Hatch Act prohibits certain federal employees from seeking office in a partisan election, it does not prevent them from actually holding political office (including by appointment), meaning that his tenure as supervisor has been legitimate despite his change in status.  

“I am very disappointed not to be able to continue serving,” Lyons said in his statement, “but I cannot give up my career and livelihood at this time. It is important to me that the public knows my decision not to run is based solely on the legal constraints of my federal employment and, if it were up to me, I would proudly continue my public service as town supervisor for another term.”

Palow, a Republican who was elected to the town board at the same time as Lyons, is now up for the position in the November election, according to an election lawsuit filed in Albany County against the Working Families Party and its local candidates.

Palow, an Army veteran, will be campaigning against Democratic Party endorsee Margaret Christman, who is a retired New York State Police lieutenant; she also wrote a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, outlining her views.

“I support and endorse Dennis Palow 100 percent in his efforts to become Berne’s new supervisor,” Lyons said. 

According to the same court document, Palow will be accompanied this election by:

— Leo F. Vane Jr., for town board. Vane was appointed to the board earlier this year following former Councilman Mathew Harris’ resignation;

— Thomas M. Doolin, for town board;

— Town Clerk Anita Clayton, for town board; and

— Kristin A. Francis, for town clerk.

Highway Superintendent Randy Bashwinger, a Republican who is not named in the suit, told The Enterprise that he is seeking re-election. Berne Republican Party Chairwoman Lauren DeBrino Miller declined to confirm the party’s candidates earlier this month.

The Democratic Party candidates this cycle, in addition to Christman, are:

— Tim Lippert, for town board;

— Jennifer Merrill-Fuller, for town board;

— Patrick Martin, for town board;

— Jean Guarino, for town clerk;

— Barbara Kennedy, for highway superintendent;

— Debra Flagler, for tax collector;

— Melanie Bunzey, an incumbent, for assessor;

— Al Raymond, an incumbent, for town justice; and

— Alan Zuk, an incumbent, for town justice.

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