Lindy Ellis succeeds Rice as legislator

Melinda “Lindy” Ellis of Saranac Lake, right, takes her oath of office as a Franklin County legislator from Deputy County Clerk Leslie Hyde at a special meeting of the county legislature on Friday morning. Ellis succeeds Barbara Rice, who stepped down in April to pursue an unspecified “career opportunity.” (Photo — Frank DiFiore, Malone Telegram)

The Franklin County Legislature voted Friday morning to appoint Melinda “Lindy” Ellis as interim county legislator for District 7, filling the post vacated by Barbara Rice.

The move revved political engines in the county’s southeast corner. Ellis said she’ll seek election for the seat, Republican Jim Murnane announced he’ll run as well, and Democrats who wanted a different candidate expressed frustration that they were left out of the process.

Ellis, a Saranac Lake resident, took the oath of office at the Legislature’s offices in Malone shortly after the vote to appoint her.

“I feel privileged to serve the people of the towns of Harrietstown and Franklin, as well as the people of Franklin County,” she said.

County Legislature Chair Don Dabiew, D-Bombay, noted that he received several recommendations for Ellis as the interim county legislator — including from Rice.

Rice, a Democrat, resigned from the county board effective April 26, roughly midway through her three-year term, to pursue an unspecified “career opportunity.” Reached Friday, she said she suggested several names of people who could succeed her, including Ellis, but had no other involvement in the selection.

The vote to appoint Ellis was 4-0, with all the Democratic members of the Legislature voting in favor of her appointment. The body’s two Republicans — Andrea Dumas of Malone and Paul Maroun of Tupper Lake — did not attend Friday’s special meeting.

Maroun said he was disappointed that the appointment was made at a special meeting he and Dumas couldn’t attend because they have jobs, unlike the other four legislators who are retired. He said he has no problem approving a Democrat since Democrats hold a board majority, but “I think there were other, more qualified candidates.”

Election season

Ellis issued a press release saying she plans to seek the Democratic line to run in the November election for the seat — which would allow her to serve out the last year of the term before county board elections in 2019. Around the same time, Republicans announced that Murnane of Saranac Lake will also run.

Ellis’s appointment opened a rift among Saranac Lake Democrats. Some of the party’s local politicians expressed support for her, such as Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who serves on the village board with her husband Richard Shapiro. Since moving to Saranac Lake a few years ago, Ellis and Shapiro have worked together as active volunteers.

“Lindy Ellis is a real worker. I’ve watched her in action these last few years with all these community projects,” Rabideau said. “She’ll be a great representative in Malone.”

Other Saranac Lake Democrats, such as Harrietstown town Supervisor Mike Kilroy, disagree. Immediately after Ellis’s appointment, he sent newspapers an opinion essay expressing outrage that legislators had rejected his requests for him and Franklin town Supervisor Art Willman (a Republican) to have input on the selection and sit in on interviews.

“Interviews? What interviews?” Kilroy wrote. “It seems that the people in the northern end of the county — namely Chateaugay, Fort Covington, Malone, Bombay — know more about Harrietstown and Franklin than the supervisors of Harrietstown and Franklin.”

Kilroy said he suggested a candidate but also said, “I know of at least four individuals who have impeccable credentials and qualifications far exceeding those of the ‘anointed one.'”

Howard Riley, a Democratic Harrietstown board member and former Saranac Lake mayor, agreed with Kilroy and said he was surprised Rice recommended Ellis. He named two other Democrats whose names he knew had been submitted to legislators for the job: former Saranac Lake Mayor and Trustee Tom Catillaz, and Cliff Donaldson, who has been Essex County manager as well as a Franklin County legislator, among other jobs.

“I just think it should have been someone who served longer and has done more important things for the community, for such an important post,” Riley said. Or, he said, legislators could have picked someone who wouldn’t run for election this fall to ensure a level playing field.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a primary, and I think it’s going to be a very active primary,” Riley said.

Joe Riccio, the Malone village mayor who became the county’s Democratic committee chairman about a month ago, said he is not yet aware of a primary opponent to Ellis. Neither Catillaz nor Donaldson could immediately be reached for comment.

Ray Scollin of Saranac Lake, chairman of the county’s Republican committee, said he doesn’t yet know of any Republicans other than Murnane interested in running.

The period for circulating nomination petitions begins on June 5.

Ellis

Ellis is currently a member of the Board of Directors for the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency. She previously served as the chair of the Parks and Trails Advisory Board of Saranac Lake, and as a member of the Healthy Infrastructure Advisory Board. In those positions, she helped move several local projects forward, including the Saranac Lake SkatePark.

“Business growth is key to our area’s success,” said Ellis in her press release. “I will use my experience as a Board member of the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency and past Board member of the Saranac Lake Local Development Corporation to help create more jobs.

“I will work non-stop this fall and knock on every door in the district, so I can hear the wants and needs of each district resident and bring their voices to Malone where I will fiercely fight for their interests.”

Ellis, the daughter of a career U.S. Army Officer, was born in West Point. She graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology with a degree in metallurgical engineering; she noted in her press release that she spent 40 years with manufacturer Corning Inc., eventually rising to management within the company. She became “one of the few women who managed an organization of 80 people with a $12 million annual budget.”

Murnane

Murnane owned and managed the Best Western Saranac Lake Hotel and McKenzie’s Grille since 1992 and is now selling it. He has also been a board member for the town of Harrietstown, Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, North Country Community College Foundation, St. Bernard’s Catholic church and school, and Tri-Lakes Youth Lacrosse, and has coached youth and modified basketball, baseball and lacrosse.

“I’ve been in some form of public service most of my adult life,” Murnane said in a press release. “With the legislator seat opening, I see an opportunity to continue that and to build on my experience in town government at the county level.

“I am fiscally conservative, I have consistently been an advocate for youth and ensuring strong educational opportunities for our youth. I’ll work hard, I’ll work cooperatively with the other legislators and always work with honesty and transparency.”

IDA and legislature

With Ellis’s appointment, the county legislature will have two current members who are also members of the IDA Board: Ellis and Dumas. Dabiew said that the dual role can be tough on legislators who take on those duties and that hopefully new people will be found to take up those roles.

“It’s a lot of extra work,” said Dabiew.

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