Not unless you consider it underhanded to give a pink slip to Denise McDonald, the director of the Heritage Area Program and Visitor Center, in order to get a political crony into a cushy retirement job.
Who cares that Benton, a now-semi retired county planner and former Public Safety Commissioner, has long been a proponent of the incumbent mayor. What difference does it make that his wife works in Keehn’s office? And does it really matter that Benton was on the commission that created the $48,000 position in the first place? It’s all conjecture and conspiracy theory anyway, right?
Well, that’s only if you’ve slept through the bulk of Keehn’s tenure as mayor. Benton, as some may recall, was Keehn’s selection to head the planning board after she came to office. At the time, he replaced Bob Bristol, one-term Republican Mayor Michael Lenz’s choice to oust Benton himself from the chairmanship.
Benton was also a leading member of Saratoga Forward, Keehn’s charter revisionists, who suffered a crushing defeat during November’s referendum. He’s also one of two members of the group that received a dead fish on his doorstep at the apex of the vote last fall.
With Benton in place, Keehn appointed one of her original two picks for the board to the chairmanship. Amy Durland, who has less than two years’ experience on the board and was the mayor’s pick to replace DPW Director William McTygue, was elevated to head the planners. The mayor will also get her third appointment to the board as the formerly retired Benton vacates for his paying job in the Keehn administration.
Benton’s seat carries another two years, which likely means Keehn will get to appoint yet another spot. Most likely, her appointment will only finish out Benton’s term and not the full seven years that most board members serve. In the unlikely chance this isn't the case, it’s more fuel to add to the fire as this being a strictly political move.
Keehn lauded the move as a political feather to place in her cap, boasting that no one had even bothered to fill the position until she came along. Of course, that’s probably because McDonald was more or less filling the bulk of the position. The fact that she was reported on a leave of medical absence for the past four months cast even a further shadow over the move. Can somebody say lawsuit?
In the end, Benton’s candidacy for the job is deserved, but the measures Keehn took to get him appointed look very suspect. Mayoral challenger Gordon Boyd has been and will continue to use Benton’s new job as a rallying point to refute Keehn’s claims of open government and government for the people.
On a trivial side note, Keehn’s cadre of online supporters will have a bit of explaining to do with Benton’s favored appointment. This roving group of ardent supporters is quick to call into question the political contributions of Boyd to Republican candidates. Benton, as some recall, was a member of the GOP during the 90s, when he served on the council.