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Democrats chose Putney for St. Lawrence County legislative chairman

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CANTON - St. Lawrence County Democrats, which have a majority on the Board of Legislators, nominated Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, to be chairman of the board in 2013 and Legislator Donald A. Peck, R-Gouverneur, for vice chairman at a caucus Thursday.

“It’s certainly an honor. I gratefully accepted,” Mr. Putney said. “I think certainly the opportunity to serve the public was the biggest factor in the decision. I feel strongly about good government. I do take my job seriously and I do want to be effective.”

Mr. Putney, a government teacher at Massena High School, is entering his third year as a county legislator. He has less experience than many other Democrats on the board, having never been chairman of a committee, but had the interest in becoming the board’s leader.

“There’s going to be somewhat of a learning curve, but I’ll try to overcome whatever obstacles there are,” Mr. Putney said. “I’ll give people the best effort I can. I want to provide leadership through this difficult time.”

Mr. Putney has shown himself to be a hardworking, patient individual who spends time researching issues and who has shown he can work with all legislators regardless of party registration, Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, said.

Mr. Peck, chairman of Operations Committee, recently changed his party registration to Democrat. Even though it does not take effect until after the next general election, he has been caucusing with the Democrats. He is in his seventh year on the legislature after a long stint as town supervisor of Gouverneur.

Mr. Peck, an auctioneer and variety store owner, has a more flexible time schedule so can stand in for Mr. Putney when he is unavailable, Mr. Burns said.

In addition, he represents a different part of the county than Mr. Putney.

“Geographically, it balances things out,” Mr. Burns said. “I think they’ll work well together.”

Mr. Peck said Mr. Putney was looking for a vice chairman with free time who could be active.

“Going around the room, it was self-eliminating,” Mr. Peck said. “It’s a time commitment.”

As chairman of Finance Committee, Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, seemed to be the heir apparent to succeed Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk, as the legislative leader. Regardless of whether he had the support of his peers, like many other legislators with more experience than Mr. Putney, Mr. Morrill took himself out of the running.

As deputy executive director of the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority, Mr. Morrill said he is too busy to devote the time he thinks the chairman’s position requires. In addition, Mr. Morrill said he did not want his differences with Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire’s management to get in the way of the county’s business.

“I think it’s important that the chairman and the county administrator see eye to eye,” he said. “I don’t have time to fight a battle with her. I think it would be counterproductive for me to be chair and her administrator.”

Mr. Morrill will continue as Finance Committee chairman.

“He’s been an excellent chairman of the Finance Committee,” Mr. Burns said. “Why not continue with him in that position?”

Democrats plan to move Services Committee Chairman Jim A. Bunstone, D-Potsdam, to head the Operations Committee. Vice Chairman Gregory M. Paquin, D-Massena, will become chairman of Services.

Mrs. Brothers, who had no interest in serving another term as chairwoman, said she was comfortable with the choices made by Democrats and hoped that the atmosphere in the board room would continue to be amiable.

“My goal was to return the legislature to a tone of respect,” she said. “We have raised the bar. We discussed with civility and respect for one another. That’s exactly what I wanted to do.”

Mrs. Brothers was unanimously elected chairwoman in 2012 with the approval of the Republican minority.

Whether Mr. Putney and Mr. Peck will enjoy the same support remains to be seen. Republicans will likely caucus before the board’s organizational meeting on Wednesday, but some were surprised by the selection of Mr. Peck, with whom they have had their own disagreements before his party switch, and Mr. Putney, particularly because of his full-time job and young family.

“I can’t imagine why he wants it,” Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon, said. “I think Sallie’s proven how much time it takes.”

Republicans probably will not beat their heads against the wall putting up their own straw candidate to oppose Mr. Putney’s appointment, Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, said.

“If there were cracks on the Democratic side, sure, we’d put someone up,” Mr. Lightfoot said. “With a nine to six plurality, it’s a foregone conclusion he will get it. I hope Jon will do a good job.”

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