Schenectady County

Elected officials sworn in on texts of personal significance

Schenectady County Legislator Sara Mae Pratt is sworn into office at SUNY Schenectady on Monday.
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Schenectady County Legislator Sara Mae Pratt is sworn into office at SUNY Schenectady on Monday.

As Sara Mae Pratt stepped up to be sworn in on Monday as a Schenectady County Legislator, she placed her right hand on a thin book — the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

When Chris Koetzle was sworn in for his next term as Glenville supervisor on Wednesday night, he placed his hand on two Bibles — one was his maternal grandmother’s and the others was his father’s.

In Pratt’s case, she chose a book which can come in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian and Arabic because she said that it “recognizes the world is so beautiful because there is variety.”

Elected officials choose the books or even documents they want to take the ceremonial oath on. They often pick religious texts and/or texts of significant meaning to them.

Former Schenectady County Clerk John Woodward said he always kept a Bible in his office should someone forget one for the ceremony. He said many clerks do the same.

Typically, elected officials actually sign the oath of office documents before the ceremonial part takes place – which really solidifies them as an elected official.

“It’s essentially a written form of the oath,” Woodward said.

He said people used to sign this book which tracked who had taken the oath. Now, the county uses just a piece of paper that is then scanned.

Pratt said she knows people have been sworn in on other books, too, depending on their faith, and some have been sworn in on law books or even the U.S Constitution.

She believes, “it’s really important to appreciate that everyone has a different belief system.”

She said that’s what makes democracy so beautiful, “that we can all work together regardless of our differences.”

Pratt said her choice represents her beliefs in protecting everyone’s human rights. 

“I have faith in fundamental human rights,” she said. 

According to her, taking that oath as a member of the Legislature was a commitment to continue to treat everyone with respect and dignity. 

Koetzle did his fifth swearing in ceremony with his grandmother’s bible, which holds a photo of JFK and his wedding announcement, stacked on his dad’s because he said, “these are the things that connect us together.” 

His grandmother was there with him during his first two campaigns in the early 2000s for Schenectady County Clerk and then Schenectady City Council. He lost those races and then she passed away before seeing him take his first oath when he became a member of the Glenville Town Board in 2007.

Koetzle said his father couldn’t join him for his latest swearing in due to health concerns, but having his Bible helped make it feel like his father was right there with him.

“They’re kind of part of that moment,” he said. 

During the ceremony, Koetzle his father’s Bible to his son, who was a big part of his re-election campaign, with the joke that he might need it back in another four years if he’s re-elected again. 

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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