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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 21, 2010

Kenneth Bunzey is unopposed for Berne judge

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

BERNE — Kenneth Bunzey, a Democrat who has served as a Berne town judge for 18 years, is running unopposed on Nov. 2.

His miscommunication with the state’s retirement system led to an election that wasn’t required, but will add no cost to the town since it has already budgeted $8,000 for state elections.

Bunzey, 57, has lived in Berne his whole life. He thinks his honest and judicial temperament make him a good judge, he said before last year’s election in which he garnered 583 votes in an uncontested run.

Additionally, Bunzey believes that assigning community service is useful when allowed by law, but does not think there are opportunities for community service in Berne.

“Unfortunately, our community does not have that,” Bunzey said during last year’s campaign. “We don’t have any place to send people for community service in the local Berne area. We’d have to send them to Albany, which I’m not totally opposed to.”

But, even if Berne is lacking in such opportunities, the appropriateness of assigning community service depends on a number of factors — “criminal record for example,” he said.

“If they’re a repeat offender, then community service may not be the best thing, but, for youthful offenders, community service can be a good thing,” Bunzey went on. “You have to take each individual case on its merits and its criminal history.”

Being a lifelong resident, Bunzey knows everyone in town, he said.

“If I have some attachment to a person, I would just recuse myself, and let the other judge take it,” he said. “But, you know, whether I like it or don’t like it doesn’t matter in the eyes of the justice court. Everyone is treated the same, whether I like you or don’t like you, and that’s what they teach you, and that’s where my judicial temperament comes in.”

Bunzey is running again this year because of a miscommunication involving his July 1 retirement from his work in the special-education department at Berne-Knox-Westerlo.

When he looked into collecting retirement benefits, Bunzey said earlier, he was informed by the New York State and Local Retirement system that he would have to also retire from his position as town judge.

“They said, in order to collect retirement, I have to resign from [being a] judge and then run in the next election,” Bunzey said earlier. “These guys didn’t know what they were doing. They told me, because I’m retiring out of New York State Teachers [Retirement System] that I have to resign as judge.”

But, according to Mark Johnson at the Office of the New York State Comptroller, Bunzey did not have to retire from his position as judge. Bunzey, he said, had two choices: to retire from the New York State and Local Retirement System or to suspend his teacher’s pension and continue earning service credit in NYSLRS; he chose retirement from NYSLRS.

“Retirement and Social Security Law allows an elected official to continue in their current term of office at the time of their retirement from another position from public service,” stated Johnson. “As Bunzey retired from his teacher position, he did not have to resign from his elected position to retire in NYSLRS.”

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