RAY BROOK - The Adirondack Park Agency has removed its enforcement program director from his position after he sent e-mails to Sandy Lewis calling him a "sociopath."
Paul Van Cott, who since 2004 has headed the APA's enforcement division, has been reassigned as part of the agency's general counsel office.
According to APA spokesman Keith McKeever, Van Cott's reassignment is part of an "ongoing, aggressive transition in the agency's legal division." Four of the APA's six senior attorneys are currently eligible for retirement, he said.
"Paul is the most senior attorney on staff not eligible for retirement," McKeever explained.
The change in position will give Van Cott a broader range of duties, McKeever said, focusing on Agency rules and regulations and other legal issues besides enforcement. He would not comment on whether Van Cott's salary would change.
However, the move raises speculation as it comes just two weeks after Van Cott e-mailed Lewis, an Essex farmer who won a lengthy court battle with the agency in July and is now suing the agency for more than $200,000 in legal fees.
Lewis has regularly sent mass e-mails for several months to area reporters, lawyers, and officials from state and local agencies sharing his disdain for officials at the APA, including Van Cott, who he referred to as "simply not competent" in a Nov. 10 e-mail.
Using his APA e-mail account, Van Cott responded.
"Mr. Lewis, you are a sociopath," wrote Van Cott. "Please shut up. Go out and get a shovel and work like a real person on your farm. Enjoy life and be a real farmer. You are very fortunate. Realize that and get a life."
In his reply, Lewis sent copies to State and County officials, including a State Police Sergeant and three members of the State Assembly.
"The sociopath is the APA," wrote Lewis in response. "You and your close-linked 501(c)3 coterie have perfected the art of raping the indigenous to the point of distraction and tears, serious illness and community-wide depression over 6.5 million acres for 37 years."
Van Cott then wrote a second e-mail that went to the same recipients.
"Go farm. Dig a hole, milk a cow. Enjoy the 1,000 acres of farmland on Lake Champlain that you have," he wrote, going on to defend the APA's Nov. 9 settlement with LeRoy Douglas, the Silver Lake resort owner who recently had his APA enforcement case dropped.
"You won your case," Van Cott told Lewis. "We respect the law. Go farm."
When asked about whether the e-mails had a role in the decision to reassign Van Cott, McKeever offered no affirmation, but did note that the agency took action.
"The agency did not condone Paul's responses," said McKeever, "and we've recused him from his responsibilities in the Lewis and Douglas matters."
Van Cott has been employed by the APA since 2000. Prior to that, he was a lawyer for the state Attorney General's Office.
"He did a heck of a job," said McKeever, noting that the enforcement division has dealt with over 2000 cases during Van Cott's tenure, including a high-profile federal case where the judge praised the agency's handling of the issue. "I think that's indicative of Paul's work and the efforts of agency enforcement."
Another senior attorney at the agency, Sarah Reynolds, who has worked in the enforcement division since 2004, will take Van Cott's place as acting enforcement program director.
"We anticipate hiring another attorney in the short-term," McKeever said.