The assessment battle in Crown Point did not end when a new town administration took office earlier this year. The latest move in the on-going fight is a lawsuit filed by two members of the Crown Point Board of Assessment Review whose appointments were rescinded after the new town board took office in January.
The assessment battle in Crown Point did not end when a new town administration took office earlier this year.
The latest move in the on-going fight is a lawsuit filed by two members of the Crown Point Board of Assessment Review whose appointments were rescinded after the new town board took office in January.
The suit, filed in State Supreme Court of Essex County, asks that Glenn Russell and Ronald Clarke be restored to the board of assessment review and that the appointments of two new members who took their places be nullified.
A Board of Assessment Review hears cases in which property owners dispute their tax assessments. The BAR has the authority to change an assessment in response to such challenges. It meets once a year on Grievance Day, this year on May 23.
Russell and Clarke were appointed to the review panel Dec. 8, 2011, by a 3-2 vote. Voting for them were Supervisor Bethany Kosmider and trustees Yvonne DuShane and Bob Patnode. Opposing them were trustees Tom Walters and Charlie Mazurowski.
After Kosmider and DuShane left office, the new board that now includes Supervisor Charles Harrington and trustee Tara Peters rescinded those appointments Jan. 5 and named Joseph Duval and Douglas Woods to the board of assessment review. The vote was 4-1 with Harrington, Peters, Walters and Mazurowski voting yes. Patnode was opposed.
Ticonderoga attorney Dominick Viscardi, representing Russell and Clarke, said the Jan. 5 action is illegal.
“The members of a board of assessment review can only be removed for cause — and then only after a hearing,” Viscardi, a former state supreme court judge, said. “When the new board rescinded these appointments at their organizational meeting Jan. 5 they didn’t follow the law. They had no cause; they held no hearing.”
Crown Point Supervisor Harrington did not return calls seeking comment on the suit.
After getting legal advice, Viscardi said, the town board realized it had made a mistake. So, Feb. 9 the town board rescinded its Jan. 5 action. It then voted to remove Russell and Clarke from the review board because they had not taken the oath of office within 30 days of their appointment.
That action is also illegal, Viscardi contends. First, the town board moved against Russell and Clarke on Jan. 5, 28 days after they were appointed. Second, board of assessment review members routinely take their oaths on Grievance Day.
Viscardi has filed an affidavit from current Crown Point Board of Assessment Review member Fred French, who said in his 25 years on that board he has always taken his oath of office only on Grievance Day. Viscardi also said he could find no evidence of any review board oaths ever being administered in Crown Point.
To make certain his clients were properly sworn in Viscardi had them take the oath of office from Essex County Clerk Joe Provoncha Feb. 21. However, Viscardi said, Crown Point Clerk Linda Woods has refused to accept the oaths administered by Provoncha. Linda Woods is named in the lawsuit along with the town board.
“I really think they (Crown Point town board members) did this just to show the Kosmider administration that they’re in control now,” Viscardi said. “It’s a game of ‘I’ve got ya’.”
Harrington and Peters were elected last fall following a bitter fight over assessment practices that divided the community.
Kosmider, DuShane and trustee Bob Patnode voted last year to eliminate the town’s elected three assessors in favor of an appointed sole assessor. The vote was 3-2 with trustees Tom Walters and Charlie Mazurowski in opposition.
That sparked controversy in the town with incumbent assessors Carl Ross, Stephen MacKay and Glenn Porter promising to drive Kosmider, DuShane and Patnode from office. They succeeded in replacing Kosmider with Harrington and DuShane with Peters. Patnode was not up for re-election.
“The members of the board of assessment review really have very little authority,” Viscardi said. “They meet once a year to hear assessment grievances, that’s it. There’s no political benefit to having control of the board of assessment review.
“They (town board members) are still upset with Bethany Kosmider and are taking it out on my clients,” Viscardi said. “They don’t want to believe that anything Bethany did was right.”
Viscardi cites several state laws he believes the Crown Point town board violated and lists court cases in support of his clients.
“I don’t think anything in this is difficult to understand,” the attorney said. “They are violating the powers entrusted to them.”
With Grievance Day approaching May 23, who will sit on Crown Point’s Board of Assessment Review this year?
“That’s a good question,” Viscardi said. “I can tell you my guys (Russell and Clarke) are valid members of that board.”