PLATTSBURGH — Committee assignments for the Clinton County Legislature sparked a confrontation in the new majority party, getting 2014 off to an interesting start.

“I think we did pretty good with the committee assignments, and if some of them (legislators) are unhappy, ask them again in about three months, and I think they will be fine,” Legislature Chairman Sam Dyer (D-Area 3, Beekmantown) said.

EXPERTISE

Dyer took over the chairman’s duties Jan. 1, replacing Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru), who had held the seat for the past 13 years and continues to serve as a legislator.

Democrats won a 7-to-3 majority in the November election, giving them power to name the chair. Dyer lobbied for the job after Langley said he would be stepping down from the post, and he received enough support to secure it.

The chairman can make committee assignments on his own, but customarily the chair and the majority and minority leaders get together at the beginning of each year to decide the placements.

To make the assignments, Dyer said that he met with Langley, who became the minority leader and John Gallagher, the majority leader. He said partisan politics was not part of the discussion.

“We tried to put people on committees where their fields of expertise and knowledge would best serve the county,” Dyer said.

ASSIGNMENTS

Each legislator chairs one committee and sits on three others. All legislators serve on the Finance Committee.

The chairmanship of the Airport Committee and the Finance Committee are seen as the two highest-profile committee assignments.

Langley was named Airport Committee chair, and Mark Dame (R-Area 8, City and Town of Plattsburgh) was made chair of the Finance Committee.

‘BEST DECISIONS’

Langley said he felt the assignments were done fairly.

“We looked at each legislator’s requests and their strengths and put people where we felt they would do best,” he said.

Gallagher said there was no pressure from the Democratic Party to make certain assignments.

“We have to make the best decisions for the management of the county,” he said. “And I think we did that.”

AIRPORT PANEL LEADER

But apparently not all legislators were happy.

At a closed-door meeting after Wednesday night’s regular session, newly elected Legislator Robert Hall (D-Area 10, City of Plattsburgh) reportedly blew up at Dyer, saying he was promised the Airport Committee chairmanship.

When asked by the Press-Republican about the situation, Hall did not deny his frustration but looked to avoid public controversy, saying he supports Langley in the position.

“Jimmy deserves to be chair,” Hall said. “He’s done a lot of work with the airport and has a lot of connections in Washington.”

Hall was named as a member of the Airport Committee.

“Hopefully, I can learn a lot more about the airport, and I am looking forward to it because the airport is the key to growth in this county,” he said.

‘LOGICAL CHOICE’

Dyer said there may have been some presumptions among the new legislators that they would chair the same committees their predecessors did. Hall replaced Robert Heins, a Republican who had led the Airport Committee since 2005.

Dyer said Langley was the best choice as the new Airport Committee chair — he orchestrated the county’s development of Plattsburgh International Airport, which opened on the flight line of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base in 2007, 

That is especially true, Dyer said, since the county is poised to start a major $54 million expansion of the airport later this year to accommodate the significant growth that has taken place since it opened.

“With what’s going on, I think Jimmy was the logical choice to be the airport chairman,” Dyer said.

“I respect Bobby and think he is a good man, and once things settle down and everybody is busy, I think he will do a good job.”

FINANCE CHAIR

Dame was named chair of the Finance Committee despite some inkling that newcomer Colin Read (D-Area 4, Town of Plattsburgh), an economics professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, might get the nod, since his predecessor, Sara Rowden, held the spot for the past two years.

Dyer said Dame has been in business his whole life and has proven himself to be a fiscally sound legislator in his two years on the job.

“I think Mark will put the county’s finances in a different perspective,” Dyer said.

“Sara was the finance chair, but she didn’t get it until she served for 12 years.”

Read was out of town for Wednesday night’s meeting but listened in on speaker phone.

He told the Press-Republican via email that he was not upset about the assignments.

“Our chair offered up a great slate of committee chairs, each well qualified in their areas, and we got some important work done on behalf of our constituents,” Read wrote.

“I am confident it will be a great year for Clinton County.”

OTB REPRESENTATIVE

The other controversial appointment was that of former Legislator Robert Butler (R-Area 6, Saranac) as the county’s representative to Capital District Off-Track Betting Corp.

Sherman Hamel, a Republican, had been the county’s appointee since 1998, but Butler, who was forced to leave the legislature at the end of 2013 becaue of the 12-year term limits, was nominated by Legislator Harry McManus (D-Area 1, Champlain).

McManus said he felt it was time for a change.

“Bob has been a great promoter of the county for many years, and I think he will represent us well,” McManus said.

The position pays about $2,500 a year, with funding coming from Capital District OTB, which includes the City of Schenectady and 16 counties.

Dyer said other people than Hamel were being considered for the OTB position if Butler had not been interested.

“It was time for a new face,” he said.

Hamel said he was disappointed that he did not get re-appointed and was baffled as to why he was replaced by another Republican.

“I could see if they replaced me with a Democrat because they got the majority,” he said. “I kind of even expected it, but I didn’t expect this.”

Butler said he did not let his interest in the position be known until he knew Hamel was going to be replaced anyway.

“I think I can do a decent job representing the county and hopefully do some good for the county,” Butler said.

“It’s not a personal thing with Sherm, and I am sorry he feels that way, but that’s the nature of politics.”

Email Joe LoTemplio:jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com