QUEENSBURY — After missing six Town Board meetings, Councilman Doug Irish became on Monday night the focus of meeting number 7.
Some criticized him. Some defended him. The only silent voice: Irish himself, who was in North Carolina.
He followed the meeting via text messages, sent to him by supporters. He texted responses to a reporter during the meeting itself, after critics spoke against him.
Without video-conferencing technology, that was the closest he could get to participating in the meeting.
The state requires politicians to be “an inhabitant of the state” and, in this case, an “inhabitant” of Queensbury to serve on the Town Board.
But Queensbury gets even more specific, requiring that each board member live within their ward. If Irish were to move to the other side of town, he would be just as disallowed from his office as if he moved out of state.
Resident Catherine Atherden cited that in expressing her dismay about the situation.
“To work as a team with the board, to go on site, to have a coffee with a constituent, (he) should be here,” she said at Monday’s meeting.
She added that Irish was “elected to be present at meetings” and has not missed them due a temporary emergency, such as an illness.
“He’s decided to change his life,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like an effective way to serve the public.”
Others argued that Irish was doing a great job, despite his absence.
Resident Ron Ball called Irish on Labor Day to complain about a town drainage problem.
“Twenty minutes later, Doug Irish showed up,” he said.
Resident Travis Whitehead also described email correspondence with Irish, who asked him to analyze a proposed money-saving energy deal.
“I did spend some time looking at it, at his request,” he said. “So he does seem somewhat active.”
But former Republican politician Ron Montesi broke with his party to say that Irish should be forced to resign.
“Doug Irish professes to be the taxpayers’ watchdog. Well, right now the only one he’s taking care of is himself,” Montesi said. “The fact is, Doug Irish was elected to represent us in person, not by phone.”
Ball was ready for that criticism, immediately shooting back that Montesi took lengthy Florida vacations while in office. Town minutes show he missed two meetings in a row in 2013, when he was interim supervisor, and has generally missed February meetings each year while serving as supervisor-at-large for Warren County.
Supervisor John Strough defended Montesi, saying that those vacations were never more than two weeks long when he served the town.
Board member Brian Clements took Irish’s side, saying that he wants the town to set up video-conferencing so any absent board member can participate. Clements was out for weeks after knee replacement surgery last winter, and was surprised to learn recently that the board held a video-conference meeting during his absence. (The board wanted to interview Jennifer Switzer, who was out of state to attend a family member’s military school graduation.)
“Had I known that was taking place, I would have asked Supervisor Strough to use it with me while I was out,” he said.
Board members did not vote on the proposal, but Clements said he has asked the town’s technology contractor, StoredTech, to provide information on the topic.
Via text messages, Irish said later that town residents aren’t wedded to the idea of ward residency.
“I think they want someone that will work hard for them no matter where they are at,” he said. “I have been traveling the country for three years and missed some meetings in that time, but have always fought effectively for my constituents and do not see ‘physical presence’ as a drop-dead requirement if I am following the law.”
While the law refers to him inhabiting the town, he views it as more of a legal definition, related to where he owns a house and where his car is registered.
“I have not legally established residency in North Carolina, and my home, wife and family will remain in Queensbury for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Having an apartment and a job in North Carolina does not, he said, “change the fact that legally I am a New York State resident.”