Conklin resigns again from Berne Town Board

Bonnie Conklin

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Then-Councilwoman Bonnie Conklin and Supervisor Sean Lyons at the Berne Town Board's 2020 reorganizational meeting.

BERNE — Halfway through a four-year term, Berne Town Board member Bonnie Conklin resigned from her position this week — the second time she’s done so — citing political obstructionism in her official letter of resignation, which was also submitted as a letter to the Enterprise editor.

“Today in our changing world, I feel politics in our town, state, and federal levels are becoming very challenging,” Conklin wrote. “We all have a common goal, though parties are taking different pathways to get to what is best for all of us. 

“Whether it’s social media or face-to-face discussions,” she continued, “the goals are put aside and progress is delayed. I prefer to get things done. When someone is elected to office, let them do their job. Support and encourage each other.”

Conklin’s letter to the town is dated Sept. 19, and her effective resignation date was Sept. 20. Supervisor Sean Lyons indicated to The Enterprise this week that he was caught off-guard by his colleague’s abrupt departure.

“I had no advance warning of this and I had no reason to even suspect Mrs. Conklin was thinking of resigning at any time let alone days before a meeting and entering the heart of budgeting season for 2022,” Lyons wrote in an email. “I am disappointed by this announcement.”

Conklin, a Conservative, and Lyons were both backed by the GOP as were the other town board members except for Joel Willsey, the board’s lone Democrat.

Because Conklin’s resignation became effective within three months of the next election, Nov. 2, the town board will need to appoint a replacement, whose term will last until the next election, in 2022, according to state law

Conklin took office most recently at the beginning of 2020 alongside Mat Harris, an Independence Party member also backed by the GOP. 

It was their election that secured a 4-to-1 majority for the local Republican party. Harris resigned in February this year, citing time constraints; he now, however, works as deputy town clerk. 

Conklin had already resigned from a town board position once before, when the board’s dynamics were flipped in favor of the Democrats. A Republican at the time, Conklin left office in 2013, two years into a four-year term, over frustration with being the only non-Democrat on the board.

While Conklin enjoyed majority-status on her second go-around, she sometimes seemed an uneasy ally of the GOP, notably making a motion to re-incorporate public comment at all town board meetings after the board began taking comment only at every other monthly meeting beginning in January 2020, a controversial break from precedent. Conklin’s motion failed after her GOP-backed colleagues voted it down.

Conklin also voted against establishing the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board earlier this year, a GOP initiative that caught flak from many residents because it would replace the Switzkill Farm Board, and task members with oversight of all the town’s parks, which critics said would undermine development of Switzkill Farm. As with the public comment motion, the GOP-backed board members overpowered Conklin Willsey.

This summer, Conklin supported Willsey’s motion to re-hire the town’s former dog-control officer, Cheryl Baitsholts, who was removed from office without adequate justification at the town’s 2020 reorganizational meeting, a violation of Civil Service Law. Following much apparent reluctance from the other GOP-backed members on the town board, Baitsholts was eventually offered the position, but she turned it down because the pay was cut substantially. 

In her letter, Conklin said she feels she can accomplish more for the town “on a volunteer basis.”

Conklin, who grew up in Berne, graduated from Berne-Knox-Westerlo in 1989 and works at the school as a teacher’s aid.

When she ran for office in 2019, one of her main goals was to bring affordable senior housing to town. She also wanted to improve youth programs and to do away with some of the restrictions on the historic Berne hamlet where she lives.

“Thank you all for the opportunity and support,” her letter concluded. “I’m looking forward to volunteering for our town and making progress for its future.”

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