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Root town clerk faces state, town probes

Root town clerk faces state, town probes

Root town clerk faces state, town probes
Thomas Hurd, left, and Dylan Toften, outside Root Town Hall.
Photographer: Zachary Matson

ROOT -- Town Clerk Sherrie Eriksen, who refused to process a marriage license for a same-sex couple last month, faces a state human rights probe, as well as an internal town inquiry.

Robert Subik, the town's attorney, said on Tuesday that he received a letter from the state Division of Human Rights on Monday seeking information about how the clerk handles marriage licenses. The letter was addressed to Erisken and was forwarded to Subik, he said. Manny Kottaram, a spokesperson for the Division of Human Rights, said the division was investigating Eriksen but wouldn't comment further. 

While town officials remained quiet Tuesday – Town Supervisor Gary Kamp and all four Town Board members did not respond to requests for comment – Subik said the board plans to conduct its own investigation into how Eriksen handles marriage licenses.

“The Town Board will be conducting an inquiry with the town clerk to ascertain the facts,” Subik said.

The marriage license controversy, which flared into a national story, started last month, when Thomas Hurd and Dylan Toften went to the clerk’s office for a marriage license. The same-sex couple has been engaged for two years and plan to marry this weekend.

At the clerk’s office, Eriksen informed the couple they needed to schedule an appointment and return to meet with her deputy. She also stated a religious objection to personally providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Root town officials have defended Eriksen, saying she requires all couples to schedule appointments when seeking a marriage license, and that Toften and Hurd failed to follow through on the process by going to a different town for their marriage license.

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At the Root Town Board regular meeting last week, Kamp said Eriksen “always performed the duties of town clerk in a proper and professional manner.” At the same time, he distanced the Town Board from the procedures Eriksen used in running the clerk’s office, adding that the board was not involved in setting her hours or the policies she followed. Erisken was most recently elected last year when she ran unopposed.

Subik said the information request from the state agency comprised multiple pages and included requests for documents related to the town policies for making appointments before receiving a marriage license. Subik said he did not know whether that policy was written down somewhere or not.

“I’ve never been shown a copy of it; I don’t know for certain,” Subik said.

Toften on Tuesday said he had been contacted by the Division of Human Rights but didn’t expand on what he was asked or what he told investigators. But he and his fiance, who along with their supporters last week called on Eriksen to resign her position, said they don't plan to let go of the issue until they feel it has been resolved adequately.

“What the town of Root is doing is wrong on so many levels, and I will not rest until justice is served,” Toften wrote on Facebook following the board meeting.

Town officials have also come under criticism for prohibiting video recording and photography at last week’s board meeting, a violation of the state "open meetings law." While the law clearly states all public meetings “shall be open to being photographed, broadcast, webcast and otherwise recorded,” town officials barred television crews from recording the meeting.

Subik, who was not present for last week’s meeting, said he was not consulted before the meeting about the supervisor’s plan to prohibit recordings. Subik said on Monday, the same day he received the letter from the state agency, he received a written complaint from WRGB CBS 6 about the recording ban.

“There may be a problem there with the open meeting (law),” Subik said of the recording ban. “This is something (Supervisor Gary Kamp) did on his own.”

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