Saturday October 6, 2012

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- The president of the Cambridge Central School board said questions raised about her residency were upsetting to her and her family, but she would not go on record to provide further refutation.

"It was asked and I answered," said Kerri Brown on Wednesday, commenting after a query last month from Daniel Severson, a Buskirk resident and past teacher, principal and interim superintendent who previously worked with Brown at the school.

On Thursday, Patricia Mozer, a real estate agent based in Millbrook in Dutchess County, said Brown and her family lived at a rental downstate through the end of September 2011 -- overlapping the period of time Brown was required to be a local district resident under state Election Law before she ran for school board last May.

"She was living in Millbrook," said Mozer by telephone.

At last month's CCS board meeting, Severson asked Brown during public comment whether she was qualified when she ran for her board seat. Under state law, candidates for school board must have lived in the district continuously for at least one year prior to the election, and they swear to meet that criteria when they submit their formal petitions to run.

Brown acknowledged the rumor at the meeting but said she did not need to respond. "I'm qualified," she said, cutting off a follow-up from Severson with a "thank you" that ended the discussion.

One local resident, Buffie Race, said that response struck her as odd.


Advertisement

In a letter to several area newspapers, the Buskirk resident said community members had a right to inquire, and that Brown's response had raised more questions. Race said in a short interview she intended to query the state Education Department regarding an appeal.

When contacted this week, Brown spoke off record and declined to respond for the purposes of an article. This past May, she was one of four candidates vying for two open board seats. She was elected board president during July's reorganizational meeting.

Mozer did respond when contacted, and said she signed a one-year lease agreement with Brown that ran from Oct. 1, 2010, to Sept. 30, 2011, for a property at 631 Shunpike Road in Millbrook, where she said the Browns lived.

When interviewed, Mozer displayed a familiarity with Brown's immediate family, and said they moved to a nearby township when the lease expired and she would not agree to a month-to-month tenancy.

"I sent their security upstate (to Cambridge)," She said.

Contacted following the September board meeting, Severson said his question was an attempt to clear the air. "My whole objective was to offer her an opportunity in an open session to address the rumor, and I don't believe she did that. ... I don't think she's satisfied the doubters."

Severson said he was not accusing Brown of anything, but, "I believe she needs to address it. "She didn't really respond," he said.

Candidates for school board in the recent election would have been required to be district residents continuously since May 2011. At a candidate forum this spring, Brown identified herself as a Cambridge native and CCS alumna, class of 1988.

But questions of whether she met the residency requirement arose with her recent tenure at Mahopac Central School, where Brown worked during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years as the director of pupil personnel services, a top administrative position. She previously worked at Granville Central School.

Mahopac is located 40 miles south of Millbrook, about a 100-mile drive or two-and-a-half-hours south of Cambridge. Brown declined to say Wednesday whether she commuted the distance or at what date she stepped down from the position.

Mahopac board minutes show Brown was hired Aug. 23, 2010, and she was present at meetings into the 2011-12 school year as late as November 2011, but minutes when the board accepted a resignation were unavailable by press time.

Mahopac Superintendent Thomas Manko would only give employment verification, meaning a start date. Brown's interim replacement was appointed Feb. 14 of this year.

Sarah Ferguson, of Buskirk, who has leased Brown's current residence in Cambridge since last fall, acknowledged the residency question as "scuttlebutt." Ferguson said Brown signed a rental agreement around October 2011, but said to the best of her knowledge, she had been in the area prior to that move.

Should Brown not have been a resident for the year required under law, her election could face appeal, the process entailing a resident petition to the office of the state Education Commissioner. Although rare, there is precedent for the removal of a school board member by appeal. In 1992, a commissioner's decision vacated a school board seat in East Greenbush after it was determined the elected board member had not fully met the residency requirement.

During an early comment session at the Sept. 11 board meeting, Severson began by asking Brown to help him "dispel a persistent rumor. ... That rumor is, madam president, that you were not qualified to run for the board and that you were not a resident for the required 12 months. ... Do you have comment on that?" he asked.

"I do not have any comment on that. I have heard the rumor as well," replied Brown.

"So you're not willing to say whether you were qualified or not qualified?" Severson asked.

"I don't need to say whether I was qualified or not. I'm qualified," Brown said, "thank you."

Follow @Zeke_Wright on Twitter or email ewright@benningtonbanner.com