Cortlandville tables measure to abolish town justice position

(Photo via Pexels).

A controversial measure to abolish one of the two town justices positions in Cortlandville was tabled by the town board on Wednesday.

The board attempted to convene for a special meeting last week to discuss erasing the position, held by town justice Mary Beth Mathey in executive session. Open meetings law states that while personnel matters can be discussed, deleting the position is not something a public body can do during an executive session. The board eventually decided to not abolish the position.

A resolution in the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting states that Mathey’s position is being deleted since the court has incurred substantial financial losses since the creation of the role in 2013. The court has also decreased its arraignments as part of the centralized arraignment program in the Sixth Judicial District in New York. After-hour arraignments, according to the program, are now handled outside of the Cortlandville Town Court.

“This states that the court has incurred substantial financial losses,” said resident Bob Martin at the meeting. “I didn’t know the court was supposed to be a profit industry.”

On the declining number of cases, resident Pamela Jenkins questioned the town board’s accounting.

“If it looks like the case numbers are down during these years, could that be explained by the COVID-19 pandemic, which basically, basically shut down everything?,” she asked. “And if that’s the case, should we expect to see a rebound in case numbers once COVID-19 is further behind us and people have resumed full activities, including criminal activities?”

The town board, the resolution states, is acting on the basis that it is in the best interest of the town to abolish the position to improve effective and efficient operation of the court, the resolution states.

Mathey spoke during Wednesday’s town board meeting.

“I find it curious that your protocol requires members of the public to express their concerns or questions before you have had any discussion,” she said of the town’s public comment section, which occurs before any agenda items are reviewed.. “Today, all of your discussion on the proposal to abolish the position of town justice has taken place in illegal, secretive executive sessions. Until you conduct an open public discussion of this proposal and reveal your rationale, and the financial justification for that decision, it's impossible to effectively address the issues.”

Mathey said three members of the town board have approached her and told her the decision to erase her position are based on budgetary decisions.

“Some of the obvious questions that need to be answered are: how much do you anticipate saving by abolishing the position, based on what data, and in that regard?,” she continued.

She said she discussed the matter with town supervisor Tom Williams.

“He cited what he believed to be my current salary and he was inaccurate,” Mathey said. “So without open and public disclosure, we have no way of knowing whether you are deliberating with actual actual information or not. “Also, have you been informed or are you taking into consideration that I do not take any benefits from the court? I do not participate in the retirement system and do not participate in the health insurance benefit. That saves you thousands of dollars.”

Mathey blasted the town board, noting she believes no one on the board has spoken to members of the town court staff on the impacts of abolishing her position.

“The court has four full-time clerks, three of whom have served over 30 years under six different justices. Not one of you has asked them how the court would function with one part-time justice,” she said.

The number of traffic tickets processed at the court, Matthey said, has increased significantly in the last couple years.

“The number of vehicle and traffic tickets processed in this court in January 2022 was 528. In January 2023, this number was 795, that’s a 56% increase,” she said. “In February of 2022, 525 vehicle traffic tickets were processed. In February of 2023 (they were) 759, a 45% Increase. There is no sound, actual rationale for decreasing the number of town justices.”

When the motion came up to a vote, the town board decided to table the move.  

“It’s been seconded, it can be voted up, it can be voted down. It can be withdrawn or it can be tabled. It can’t be left pending,” Williams said once the resolution came up to a vote. “We want to have other discussions before that.”

Town board member Jeff Guido said the town will have more to think about.

“I think we need to take more time. We need to look at other things as well. I think this is not the right time to do this,” he added.