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County board splits over paying Donaldson's legal fees

ELIZABETHTOWN Newcomb Supervisor George Canon will not have to ante up $14,000 in legal fees created by a 2005 lawsuit brought by him against County Manager Clifford Donaldson. Instead, supervisors voted during a special meeting Oct. 22 to pay the settlement with taxpayer funds. The fees were the result of a lawsuit brought by Canon (R- Newcomb) against Donaldson over residency requirements to serve as county manager. At that time, Canon was the chair of the board of supervisors. The lawsuit was dismissed, but Donaldson sued the county to recoup his legal costs and won. County ordered to pay legal fees
County attorney Daniel Manning said the county had been ordered by Supreme Court Justice Patrick R. McGill on April 12 to pay the $13,346.23 legal fees incurred by Donaldson over the lawsuit. The decision was the result of a local law designed to protect county officials from civil suits. There's no question that we're legally bound to pay this, said Manning. Manning also advised the county to pay the $932.57 in legal fees for Donaldsons lawsuit. Manning said that originally, a $22,000 bill for both cases had been submitted, but after going through the bills, decided the county was obligated for $14,278.80. Supervisor Shirley Seney (R- North Elba) offered an amendment to the plan, requesting that Canon reimburse the costs, or suggested the county pursue legal action for the money if Canon declined. The motion was seconded by Supervisor Jeanne Ashworth (D- Wilmington). Ashworth read minutes from the July 2005 Ways and Means Committee, where Canon stated that there would be no cost to Essex County taxpayers. Mr. Canon in his own words said that Essex County is not going to pay one nickel. Two years later here we are with a huge bill, and a huge mess and the taxpayers shouldn't be burdened with that, said Ashworth. At the heart of the issue was if Canon had the legal right to sue Donaldson. Canon, acting as chairman of the board of supervisors, filed the suit without informing the board. Canon maintained it was his right and responsibility. Canon explained his concern was rooted in the belief that Donaldson wasnt legally serving as the county manager, which could result in invalidating his work. Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R- Moriah) said the actual lawsuit did not cost the county any money, since Canon incurred all fees privately to file the suit. Some supervisors, like Robert Ashline (R - Willsboro) recommended simply paying the bill to avoid dragging the situation out. Ashline said that if the board sought to recoup costs from Canon, it would only result in another lawsuit. If the board goes ahead and tries to force Mr. Canon to pay these legal fees, he'll get an attorney. We'll end up paying his legal fees, said Ashline. Donaldson sought legal counsel independently
Supervisors Daniel Connell (D- Westport) and Randy Douglas (D- Jay) questioned why Donaldson had to seek outside representation. Douglas said he felt the county should have provided representation for Donaldson, either counsel hired by the county or provided by the county attorney, to keep the costs down. He said he had a hard time paying the bill since the representation wasnt authorized. Supervisors approve costs
Supervisors Morrow, Anthony Glebus (R- Lewis), Seney, Connell and Ashworth voted in favor of the amendment to make Cannon pay the costs, with all other members opposed. The board split along the same lines when it came to covering the $932.57 costs of the Donaldson against Essex County lawsuit. Essex Supervisor Ron Jackson was absent. When it came to the resolution to cover Donaldsons $13,346.23 legal fees for Canon against Donaldson, Seney and Connell joined the majority, while Glebus, Ashworth and Morrow remained opposed. I'm going to have to vote yes on this, it's a court order. I don't think I should be voting on this, it never should have happened, said Connell. Donaldson, a Democrat, has long faced opposition by Republican members of the board. Canon denied any political motivation to the lawsuit, saying the perception that he was out to get the Democrats was a smoke screen. Scozzafava said the whole situation reeked of politics, and said blame was deserved on both sides of the aisle. Lets cut to the chase this whole situation reeks of politics... its reeked of politics from day one, Scozzafava said, saying the Essex County Democratic Party had inflamed the issue. Canon agreed, stating he knew how the votes would end up before they were cast. Some people would follow the elephants (or the donkeys) right off the edge of a cliff, said Canon. Connell resented the accusation, pointing out that the vote to seek payment from Donaldson had come from members of both parties. He said he felt it was his duty to stand up and do what he felt was right. Glebus, a Republican, agreed. I don't play politics. when I'm here, I'm here for a reason - to make sure that the taxpayers are being well represented, said Glebus. Essex County Democratic Chair Sue Montgomery Corey issued a statement after the meeting, condemning the lawsuit filed by Canon while lauding the supervisors who sought reimbursement. The Essex County Democratic Committee is disappointed in the boards actions today. While we are glad that the legal fees that Mr. Donaldson incurred in defending himself will rightfully be paid, we are also very frustrated by the board's failure to seek recovery or appropriately sanction Newcomb Supervisor George Canon. Essex County can no longer afford this individuals personal vendettas, said Corey. Donaldson declined to comment on the issue. After the meeting, when asked if he would have paid for Donaldsons fees or sued the county, Canon was noncommittal. It didnt pass, so I wont have to make the decision, said Canon.

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