Berne’s code enforcement officer is uncertified

Berne Code Enforcement Officer Chance Townsend

The Enterprise — Noah Zweifel

Berne Code Enforcement Officer Chance Townsend addresses the town board and residents during a board meeting earlier this year. Townsend does not meet state qualifications to be a code-enforcement officer.

BERNE — Berne’s code-enforcement officer, Chance Townsend, is not currently certified for the position, according to the New York State Department of State.

Townsend is scheduled to receive a 24-percent raise next year, according to the town’s preliminary 2021 budget, bringing his salary from $32,500 to $40,300. 

A Department of State official told The Enterprise that, although Townsend received his initial certification in October 2018, he “has not done any of the in-service training for 2019 or for 2020 (so far). 

“Moreover,” the official said, “to be considered an active CEO an individual needs to complete 24 hours of in-service training annually. Therefore, to be considered active in 2020 an individual needs to complete 24 hours of in-service training in 2019.” 

Townsend declined to comment when confronted with the information. Supervisor Sean Lyons could not be reached for comment. 

The revelation comes after resident Barbara Crosier submitted two Freedom of Information Law requests for Townsend’s certification to Town Clerk Anita Clayton, the town’s FOIL officer, who responded with documents showing that Townsend attended 7.5 hours of training irrelevant to the code-enforcement position, along with documents proving his outdated 2018 certification.

Barbara Crosier is married to Kevin Crosier, a Democrat who was ousted as Berne’s supervisor by Republican Sean Lyons. 

Clayton could not be reached for comment.

Townsend, who had served as the town’s code enforcement officer for 13 months before he resigned in early 2019, was re-appointed at the town’s 2020 reorganizational meeting, on Jan. 1, after his certification had lapsed. It was one of many changes made by the new GOP majority, which seized control of the board from Democrats in last year’s election.

Townsend attributed his 2019 resignation to frustrations with the board’s Democratic majority. Townsend had wanted to turn the part-time position into a full-time one, which the board’s Democrats viewed as unnecessary but with which the two Republicans, Lyons and Dennis Palow, agreed.

The Democrats had spoken with a labor consultant who thought 15 hours was adequate for a town the size of Berne, which has a population less than 3,000.

Ultimately, the board allowed Townsend to work 30 hours per week, up from 15.

Townsend’s reappointment this year was met with suspicion by Democrat councilmember Joel Willsey, who told The Enterprise this week that no discussion had taken place around the appointment, despite there being two new board members — Bonnie Conklin and Mathew Harris — in place.

Willsey said that neither he nor the two Democratic board members whom Conklin and Harris replaced were “informed of any interviews or any decision to propose his appointment. That leaves just two board members, Sean Lyons and Dennis Palow, who actually chose this candidate and proposed his appointment, unless, of course, there was a meeting that included Mat and Bonnie before they were sworn in [on Jan. 1].”

Harris could not be reached for comment and Conklin declined the opportunity.

Townsend’s initial tenure was controversial, beginning with his removal of Switzkill Farm’s two Buddhist tenants with notice of only a few hours while outdoor temperatures at the time were in the 20s. Townsend said it was because he discovered the property’s sprinkler system and smoke alarms weren’t working. 

Townsend would go on to improperly cite sheep farmer and planning board member Emily Vincent for building a temporary greenhouse without a permit, even though the state building code does not require one.

Vincent said at the time that Townsend, who allegedly never contacted Vincent or visited her property, told her he “was the law in this town” and “what he said went.”

The improper citation led to discussions among Republican town officials in 2018 about Vincent’s ability to serve as a planning board member. She was illegally removed from the position at the same 2020 reorganizational meeting at which Townsend was reappointed; Vincent successfully sued the town and was reinstated in March.

The town is once again vulnerable to lawsuits from anyone who may disagree with any decision Townsend handed down this year while unqualified to do so. 

Resident Thomas Crary threatened to sue the town in 2019 over what he claimed was Townsend’s lack of code enforcement, resulting in an undervaluation of Crary’s property on West Woodstock Road.

Townsend told The Enterprise last year that there were code violations that he wasn’t able to keep up with because of his 30-hour workweek cap. He said that the position needed more hours, more staff, and better tools.

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