New Dutchess elections commissioner seeks to shake up office

POUGHKEEPSIE – Dutchess County Democratic Elections Commissioner Hannah Black has issued a memo seeking to terminate some employees and stop payroll unless Republican Elections Commissioner Erik Haight rescinds actions taken prior to the start of Black’s term which began on January 1, 2021.

Black’s memo, dated January 12th, sent to Haight at the Board of Elections (BOE) with copies to County Comptroller Robin Lois and County Attorney Caroline Blackburn, demands that Haight rescind the actions by January 19.  If Haight fails to respond, Black said, “You will leave me no choice but to bring an appropriate proceeding.”

Hannah Black

Commissioner Black, a former county legislator, claims that her predecessor, Beth Soto, met with Haight and approved two resolutions in the waning days of 2020.

The first agreement between the commissioners set the polling places throughout the county for the period March 1, 2021 through February 29, 2022.  According to Black,  state election law requires that polling places be designated on a yearly basis.

The second resolution agreed to by Haight and Soto set titles and salaries for full-time staffers effective on January 1, 2021.

Black argues that Soto and Haight approved the measures in a meeting that violated the open meetings law in that the public was not properly notified, making the actions null and void.  The Dutchess County budget for 2021 also added two additional staff members to the BOE, beginning in January of this year.  Soto and Black approved the hiring of two new employees.

Black wants the county to stop payments to employees at BOE.  Claiming that Soto was not allowed to appoint the new staffers, Black’s memo asks the county to “halt all payments and to terminate the positions of such individuals.”  The Democrat also asks for Comptroller Lois to audit the staffing portion of the 2021 budget for the department and if discrepancies are found, Commissioner Haight should be “required to reimburse the taxpayers” as a result of malfeasance.

When reached about Black’s demands, Haight said, “It’s deplorable that Black on her seventh day in office has threatened a lawsuit that would terminate the jobs of many of the hard-working staff members of the Board of Elections, both Democratic and Republican. This same staff just successfully administered a presidential election through the worst circumstances in generations.”

Citing the economic impact that the employees would likely face if Black continues, Haight said, “To jeopardize these folks employment, health insurance, and paychecks during the peak of a pandemic is unforgivable and she should be ashamed of herself. I will do my very best to protect these public servants from such a shameless political hack as Hannah Black. The Democratic Party should immediately call on their Commissioner to cease and desist this reckless course of action immediately.”

Black, meanwhile, said she is “simply taking the steps necessary to restore normal operations and ensure that both sides have proper oversight to ensure free and fair elections.”

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