Rhinebeck lifts residency requirement for town clerk

Faced with Town Clerk Barbara Cunningham’s retirement later this month, the Rhinebeck Town Board has voted in a new law that will allow non-Rhinebeck residents to be considered for the position.

Rhinebeck is one of a minority of towns that have town clerks who are not elected. They are appointed by the town board similar to many other positions in town government.

“I like that the office of the clerk is not an elected position, because it doesn’t politicize the office,” said Town Board member Elizabeth Spinzia. “The office is appointed; it remains consistent from administration to administration.”

The 3-2 vote on the issue of non-residency followed a public hearing July 23 during which, according to others in the room, three speakers asked that the clerk continue to be a town resident. Board members Gina Fox, Joe Gelb and Spinzia voted in favor of the new law, while town Supervisor Tom Traudt and board member Bruce Washburn voted against.

Spinzia explained her support: “I voted for the law because there was no consistency with the other appointed officers of the town. Of course, if you’re an elected [representative] you need to be a [resident]. But for appointed officers like court clerks, the Zoning Enforcement Officer, the Code Enforcement Officer… we don’t have a residency requirement.”.

And Washburn explained his opposition: “Councilman Gelb stated that the change is supposedly just a safety net in case no qualified residents apply, but [they] refused to hold off voting until a real need arises.”

He added, “The town clerk is the gateway to town information, and I believe that having a resident serve as town clerk is best for the community.”

With just three weeks until Cunningham’s retirement after 22 years of service, the search for her replacement has already begun, and passage of the law will provide a larger pool of talent to choose from. The job also includes Town Tax Collector.

“I would, of course, prefer to have a town resident, but I want to get the strongest candidate — and to me it’s about being able to serve the public at a high professional level,” Spinzia said.

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