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Sun., Oct. 4
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Democrats chose Putney for St. Lawrence County legislative chairman


St. Lawrence County Democrats, who 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, as 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 he 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 has shown he can work with all legislators regardless of party registration, said Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg.

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 board after a long stint as Gouverneur town supervisor.

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

In addition, he represents a different part of the county from 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 the 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, he said, he did not want his differences with County 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 name 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 her party and hoped that the atmosphere in the boardroom 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 likely will caucus before the board’s organizational meeting 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,” said Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon. “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, said Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg.

“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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