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Foss: A really petty political dispute

Foss: A really petty political dispute

Smallness of what's at stake boggles the mind.
Foss: A really petty political dispute
Niskayuna Supervisor Joe Landry.
Photographer: Daily Gazette file photo

There are petty political disputes. 

And then there are really petty political disputes. 

The Niskayuna Town Court employee entrance controversy definitely falls into the latter category. 

Somehow, a perfectly reasonable request for better outdoor lighting over the entrance snowballed into a state investigation into whether Niskayuna Supervisor Joe Landry retaliated against Town Court employees. 

This is one of those stories where the smallness of what's at stake boggles the mind.

All this controversy might have been avoided had the town simply installed the better outdoor lighting recommended by a security assessment performed by the state Office of Court Administration. 

That's all the court employees were asking for: better lighting.

There was nothing frivolous, or silly, or wasteful about their request. They wanted better lighting because sometimes they leave court late at night, and "it's not unreasonable to think disgruntled defendants or their families could be waiting in the parking lot," as court clerk Barbara Pidgeon put it, in an interview with the Daily Gazette last week.  

No, it's not unreasonable, which is why the years-long refusal to install the lighting is so absurd. 

If I asked my husband to install better lighting because I was concerned about a lack of personal safety, it would be taken care of immediately. 

Of course, my husband is not a government bureaucracy. 

I don't have to submit formal assessments from state agencies to him to explain my reasoning, or formally request things from him at public meetings. 

But still: Isn't it a little bananas that Town Justice Steve Swinton raised the lighting issue at Niskayuna Public Safety Commission meetings for four years — and never received a response? 

The whole thing came to a head last fall, when Pidgeon filed a formal complaint with Public Employee Safety and Health, a department within the state Department of Labor. 

PESH recommended that a light be installed above the entrance, and it was. 

But that wasn't the end of the story, because in March Landry sent an email to court employees informing them that, effective immediately, they were to enter and exit the building through the main entrance. 

Suspecting that Landry had shut off access to the court employee entrance in response to the complaint she filed with PESH, Pidgeon filed a second complaint, alleging retaliation. 

If you're wondering why court employees don't want to use the main entrance, well, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for that, too: Using the main entrance would force them to walk past defendants and family members who have yet to be subjected to security searches, potentially putting them at risk. 

Even if using the main entrance didn't put court employees at risk, what's the harm in letting them continue to use the side entrance they've used for years? What's to be gained from taking it away, other than bad feelings and needless drama? 

And let's not forget: These bad feelings and needless drama are caused by disputes over better lighting and which door to use. 

After the controversy blew up publicly last week, Town Board member and Deputy Supervisor Denise Murphy McGraw issued a statement indicating that the court employee entrance was back in service. 

Which is a step in the right direction, but doesn't change the fact that this silly story raises serious questions about Landry's leadership.  

The whole thing makes you wonder whether there's more to the story — or whether some people really are this petty. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.

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