Wind opponent loses village job


By Patsy Nicosia

A part-time deputy clerk for the Town of Richmondville said she has lost her job because of her opposition to wind power.
Kathleen Johnson, an outspoken opponent of Reunion Power’s plans to build as many as 25 industrial wind turbines in her Warnerville Hill neighborhood, said she was dismissed by Town Clerk Maggie Smith for a “conflict of interest.”
“She called me in and told me she couldn’t reappointment me because of a conflict of interest, because of my association with Schoharie Valley Watch,” Ms. Johnson said Saturday.
“She told me that I was antagonizing people…that I was making them uncomfortable.”
Ms. Smith said she didn’t feel comfortable commenting on Ms. Johnson’s characterization of her “firing”.
“It’s a personnel issue,” she said. “There are more issues here than what she and Schoharie Valley Watch have provided.
“It’s an annual appointment and it’s up to me. I’ve had six deputies since they’ve let me have them. Sometimes it’s a good mix and it works out. Other times it isn’t.”
Ms. Johnson worked one day a week as a deputy clerk, three to four hours daily, beginning in April 2005, and said it was “always “assumed she’d be reappointed from year to year.
“It was never even mentioned,” she said.
Ms. Thompson said she doesn’t have the money to pursue her dismissal legally, but hopes residents take it as a wake-up call.
‘I think people need to pay more attention to what’s going on here,” she said.
Ms. Johnson is a member of Schoharie Valley Watch, said co-director Don Airey, but she’s not an officer of the loosely-organized group of about 60-750 people.
‘The failure to reappoint Ms. Johnson to a position she has executed with distinction for some time, can only be viewed as unfair and arbitrary, Mr. Airey and fellow co-director Bob Nied said in a written statement.
“The town clerk’s action has the appearance of political retribution by town officials who have been seen by many concerned residents as openly advocating for an industrial wind developer.”
In the same statement, Mr. Airey and Mr. Nied blasted Ms. Smith for having Ms. Johnson sign a pledge, when she was hired, not to run against the clerk.
“SVW condemns any attempt by local officials to suppress an individual’s constitutional right of free speech and association…
“SVW condemns any action intended to punish or discourage community activism…”
According to Mr. Airey, SVW is in the process of organizing more formally to address a broader range of community concerns.
“We never expected it to grow legs like this,” he said. “We’ve been labeled a ‘wind issues group’, but it’s more than that. People are walking in my office every day with causes they want us to take on. People don’t feel they’re being listened to here.”
Part of more formally organizing SVW, Mr. Airey said, will be to better define its role and to set up committees as needed to address that.
Ms. Johnson, 36, and the mother of two young children, said she has no intention of keeping quiet over Reunion’s proposed project and her concerns over potential health hazards and other issues.
“This is my home,” she said. “I grew up here and I moved back here so we could build a home on family property because this is where we wanted to live.”