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Thurman supervisor expects to step down

QUEENSBURY Thurman government was temporarily without leadership this week after town supervisor John Haskell was found guilty Monday of a felony charge of defrauding the government. The jury decided to convict after hearing testimony in a trial over how he sought an easement over town land to property he owned. Haskell and his lawyer Jeff Matte were taken aback over the jurys decision, and Monday evening and early Tuesday, Haskell said he was fielding dozens of calls from friends and neighbors offering their condolences over the conviction. The Warren County Attorney Paul Dusek told the media and county officials that since the crime was linked to Haskells position as supervisor, his tenure would be terminated under state law effectively at the time of the felony conviction. Leon Galusha, deputy Thurman Town Supervisor who officials said they expected to assume Haskells post, couldnt be reached Monday or early Tuesday. Haskell said Tuesday morning hed contacted Galusha late Monday, and that he was waiting for more information before he made any statement or decisions, and that the process of how a transfer of leadership would occur was not yet clear. Im not sure whether the town board will be making an appointment or what, Haskell said. I dont know yet if Leon wants the job. Haskell said Tuesday morning he had been informing Galusha of the town supervisor duties, and that Galusha would be ready to take over the reins of Thurman government the following evening, when the towns monthly budget meeting was planned. The fallout from Mondays conviction wasnt only affecting the town, but the county government as well. Haskell served on several committees and he chaired the county facilities committee, which is spearheading the construction of a new multi-million-dollar Human Services building. The project is presently ahead of schedule and under budget. In a phone interview on Tuesday, Haskell said that although his present status was unclear, he believed Duseks opinion on the termination of his tenure, and thus he had no plans of attend town or county board meetings in official capacity from this point on. Haskells interpretation of the law was echoed by Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Fred Monroe. As I understand it, a felony conviction requires an automatic removal from office, Monroe said. I feel for John, he has done a good job at the county. Monroe said that as Board chairman, he will be appointing supervisors to committees and to establish a new chair of the facilities committee. He said he will wait and see who Haskells replacement is, and assess their strengths before making any decisions on which committees they should be appointed to. I am not sure what is next for Thurman, Monroe said. Either the town board appoints a new supervisor or the deputy supervisor assumes the postI think its the latter. Although the loss of Haskell will bring about a temporary power vacuum, Monroe said that the board of supervisors will be able to maintain their agenda. Although this will lead to a vacancy on some committees, we will still have enough for a quorum, Monroe said. Meanwhile Haskell said he had mixed feelings about whether he should have agreed to plea to a misdemeanor unrelated to his post, which is the deal the prosecution offered before the trial, or taken the path he did, which was to fight all charges head-on. Apparently, hes lost his $27,000 per year job as top town official Monday, after a conviction which he said shocked him, his family and his lawyer. The jurors just listened to the tape (recording) of the meeting and they didnt listen to any of the witnesses apparently, he said. Three board members said they knew I didnt have a right of way through the property, and they were shocked when they heard the tape, which didnt fairly represent what the town board members knew. The prior owner of the landlocked parcel of land had been denied an easement across town property for access. Haskell bought the plot from him, then asked for a utility easement across town land. His lawyer has argued that the Town Board members understood they were approving an access easement, but in the tape of the town meeting, Haskell referred to a right of way he already had, and said that he was requesting a utility easement. At some point afterward, he told the Town Clerk to change the board minutes to indicate hed been granted the right-of-way. Haskells attorney Jeff Matte told the jury in his concluding arguments that the prosecutions case didnt make sense, because Haskell could have simply asked the three board members for the access, and with the three comprising a majority, it would have been granted. Haskell said Tuesday he was unlikely to appeal the conviction, and that he didnt want any additional legal proceedings to drag on. Im just glad that after 20 months, its over with, he said, noting that his sentencing was scheduled for Jan. 9, and hed have time to reconsider an appeal. This is just a good time to set back and enjoy my family something I havent done in years. Haskell said he enjoyed spending time with his son John II and his daughters, as well as his granddaughter Riley, whos 8 years old. He said his family members gathered at his home in Athol Monday, and that the conviction had been hard for them to deal with, although they offered him a lot of support. I still feel I was innocent, and thats why I chose to fight it, he said. I still feel fighting the charges was a good choice it just didnt come out as I expected to. Adirondack Journal Writer Jon Alexander contributed to this report.

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