Berne to advertise for new code-enforcement and dog-control officers

— Photo from Cheryl Baitsholts

Cheryl Baitsholts pats Elsie, her own dog, right, and Khaos, left, whom she helped rescue at Thacher Park after he bolted away from his owner and became stranded on a cliff for six days.

BERNE — The Berne Town Board voted to advertise for the positions of dog-control officer and code-enforcement officer at its Dec. 9 regular meeting, extending an olive branch to residents who had been angry with the GOP-backed board’s appointments to those positions, made at the 2020 reorganizational meeting in January. 

Supervisor Sean Lyons said resident feedback compelled the board to act. The motion passed, 4 to 0, with Councilman Joel Willsey abstaining. Willsey is the lone Democrat on the board and frequently abstains from votes.

Cheryl Baitsholts, who served as the town’s dog-control officer for 13 years before her replacement, told The Enterprise on Dec. 14 that she has applied for the position, but not before reconciling doubts she had about working under the administration that dismissed her.

“I heard about [the vote to advertise] and I’m on the fence about it,” she said before she made the decision to apply.

Baitsholts said last week that she was concerned about Berne’s 2021 budget, which decreased the position’s salary from $6,509 to $4,000 and cut out vet, kennel, and miscellaneous fees entirely — a sum of $750.

“If you get a dog that’s been hit by a car,” Baitsholts said, “what are you supposed to do?”

In January, the town board — having come under GOP control for the first time after decades of Democratic rule — appointed Jody Jansen as dog-control officer, replacing long-time and much-beloved Baitsholts, of Rensselaerville, who said she received no notice of her dismissal.

Councilwoman Bonnie Conklin, who took office on Jan. 1, said that month that the replacement occurred because the board wanted a Berne resident in the position.

Baitsholts’s removal violated Civil Service Law as the position is a competitive class.

“Dog control officers are in the competitive class and therefore covered under Civil Service Law Section 75,” Deputy Personnel Director for the Albany County Department of Civil Service David Walker told The Enterprise in January.  

To the code-enforcement officer position, the board appointed Chance Townsend, who had previously served the town in that role in 2018 and a portion of 2019. He resigned in February of that year over frustrations with the town board, which was then controlled by Democrats.

Both appointments generated significant controversy. Jansen had no known background in animal control and didn’t have the resources that Baitsholts, who operated her own kennel, had.

Townsend had  evicted two Buddhist tenants from Switzkill Farm in 2018 with just a few hours’ notice while outdoor temperatures were in the 20s, and had issued a false citation against sheep farmer and planning board member Emily Vincent, who came under fire for a temporary greenhouse that’s allowed under the state’s building code.

 

Dog control

Outcry over Baitsholts’s removal was powerful at the town board’s Feb. 12 regular meeting, where dozens of residents swarmed the board over its recent changes, with support for Baitsholts front and center.

Compared to Baitsholts, Jansen’s legacy as dog-control officer is a poor one, having few supporters at any meetings subsequent to his appointment and being accused of aggression toward a woman early on in his tenure.

Jansen allegedly threatened to call the police on resident Sarah Stonesifer, who, in January, found a wounded dog in her yard and took to social media to find its owner.

“He threatened to come to my house and forcefully take this dog, which he has no proof is even on my property,” Stonesifer told The Enterprise in February. “And when I refused and informed him he is not welcome on my property, which is posted, he threatened to call the police and have them forcefully enter my home.”

Lyons told The Enterprise at the time that he apologized to Stonesifer for Jansen’s behavior.

Unlike Baitsholts, Jansen had no kennel and the town board discussed creating one at Switzkill Farm.

 

Code enforcement

Since his appointment in January, Townsend was spared criticism of the level that Jansen received, but in November The Enterprise reported that Townsend lacked proper certification and had not, by that point, made any progress toward the renewal of his certification for 2021. 

This revelation came just a month after Lyons released the town’s tentative 2021 budget, which boosted the code-enforcement officer’s salary from $32,500 t0 $40,300 — a 24-percent raise.

Townsend had resigned in 2019 after the then-dominant Democrats on the town board did not agree to his request to turn his part-time position into a full-time one, which the two Republicans, Lyons and Dennis Palow, had wanted.

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

Shortly after his lack of certification was publicized, Townsend attempted to evict George and Michael Stempel from their Stage Road home, an action that he does not appear permitted to do by any local law. 

Despite advertising for the position, the board has not yet made any public acknowledgement of Townsend’s lack of certification. ​

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