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February 23, 2014

Retiring Keith Herkalo recalls Plattsburgh city clerk career

PLATTSBURGH — When Keith Herkalo applied for the position of city clerk in 1991, it had been vacated a year and a half.

“Clyde (Rabideau) had himself appointed on paper as the acting city clerk so he could sign documents,” said Herkalo, who officially retires on Feb. 28. “But there was no clerk. 

“It was wild.”

Prior to this, Herkalo had approached then-council member Rabideau about Compost Plant breakdowns, and a relationship formed. When Rabideau ran for mayor, Herkalo worked on his campaign. After Rabideau was elected as mayor, he suggested Herkalo submit an application for the clerk slot.

“I’m coming in with this monster resume from Washington, D.C.,” Herkalo said. “I had to scale it down because nobody understood what I did.”

His application met with rejection upon rejection by Civil Service. His acceptance coincided with the “Big Tax Revolt” when city taxes were going up 20 percent.

“The council that was here, with the exception of Gary Walker, every one of them was thrown out of office in the election because of that tax increase. That’s when Mark Dame came in, Don Kasprzak, Doc Heins; that whole group came in as one. 

“There was a knock-down drag-out situation. And it lasted for months. Rabideau had the selection from Civil Service, and he decided to appoint me. 

“These guys went nuts.”

VALUABLE RESOURCE

Herkalo was branded Rabideau’s “handpicked man.” 

Within Civil Service, he is a strange breed, but that was decided by the 1902 City Charter. After an appointment is made, the candidate, a city resident, is provisional until passing a test. Then after a probationary period, the candidate becomes a career civil servant.

“So mayors and councils can come and go, but the clerk still remains and that’s a kind of a good thing because there’s a corporeal knowledge,” Herkalo said. “Once you get used to everything and you know where all the information is, you become a valuable resource.”

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