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Ancram forms new Committee for Respectful Behavior

ANCRAM— After the Ancram Ethics Board reported to its Town Board in January that more than 15 complaints had been registered during the past year-and-a-half by women volunteers who felt they had been treated disrespectfully, the Town Board has taken action. A new Committee for Respectful Behavior was created at its May  19 Town Board meeting.

It’s a step in the right direction, said Town Councilwoman Bonnie Hundt, who was on the two-member ad-hoc committee to research and find templates for new town policies ending any type of gender discrimination or inappropriate behavior within town government.

Hundt said she and Councilwoman Amy Gold “were not re-inventing the wheel,” but that many towns in the region have human resource policies barring such poor behavior and it was high time Ancram instituted them as well.

“We wanted to add it to our employee manual, apart from the Ethics Board, which deals with more serious stuff, like conflicts of interest, inappropriate contributions, stuff like that,” said Hundt.

The Town Board hired an attorney to investigate the complaints. She issued a report with her findings in April. It will be the foundation of the town’s new policy and help guide the new committee.

The report found that most of the maltreatment was based on differences of idealogy rather than gender, something with which Hundt doesn’t quite agree.

“I am sure there were some of the men who thought it was more policy based, but I think overall it was more of a gender-based bias,” she said. “I do think she was trying to be fair to everyone, but I think definitely it leaned toward being more gender based.”

That said, Hundt did acknowledge she has noticed some small improvements at the Ancram Town Hall.

“I think a little bit, yes. There’s definitely been some resistance and some resentment, to have to face this thing, but I think everyone is on notice to the fact people are paying attention now,” she said. “I think it’s even reached other towns; someone said to me their Planning Board was better behaved now. I’m happy that we took this so seriously and I am hopeful going forward that we have made Ancram a better place to volunteer and work and be a part of, because it is a great town.”

While Gold could not attend the May Town Board meeting, Hundt said she and her four male colleagues “had a good take; we decided to do the best we could, but we did not create the policy yet, because that’s for when the committee is formed… We left it up to them to work out.”

Now the Town Board is actively seeking willing and capable volunteers to serve on the newly-established Committee for Respectful Behavior. It will likely be a five-member committee with two alternates, though that has yet to be finalized. No word yet on how long the terms will be or when and how often the group will meet.

Hundt did say there was some concern at the June 19 meeting among Town Board members about who would serve on the committee.

“Certainly there was some push back from the board, [Councilmen] Hugh Clark and David Boice particularly… [town Supervisor] Art [Bassin], too,” she said. “They had concerns we wouldn’t find qualified committee members… I have no doubt we can… every other committee in town has amazing people…

“David was concerned that our goal with the committee, to find a really balanced group of men and women, age groups and genders, with a broad demographic that would be fair, and certainly not anybody with a past history [of being discriminated against] would be difficult… I completely disagree.”

Hundt added she hopes that once the committee is established, it “won’t have much to do,” because any problems of unfair treatment in town government will disappear.

Such complaints in the past have ranged from gender-based comments, female volunteers and board members being talked over and excluded from deliberation on boards and/or committees; and them feeling dismissed or diminished.

“People who did a lot of work on committees felt their work was disregarded, and that’s very hurtful,” said Hundt. “Those kinds of things just need to be pointed out; so many times I’ve let people know it’s offensive and it can be mitigated, sometimes it can be really simple. People can be oblivious and it might not even be intended in that way, but once pointed out, they may get it. Maybe.”

The councilwoman added while some in town were not pleased the issue was brought out into the open after years of being swept under the rug, she felt otherwise.

While the cut-off date for applications was originally set for Friday, June 10, Hundt said the town will likely keep that date open to draw more willing volunteers. Anyone interested in applying should submit a letter of interest outlining qualifications and relevant experiences to town Supervisor Art Bassin via email at abassin@aol.com or by mail to Town Supervisor, 1416 County Route 7, Ancram NY 12502. 

Applicants will then be interviewed by members of the Town Board.

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