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Amherst law needs updating; Board member shouldn't be allowed to select his temporary replacement

Absurd is the word that comes to mind as Richard "Jay" Anderson invokes a moldy old town law that lets him appoint his father to the Amherst Town Board seat that the son must vacate for a spell. The younger Anderson, a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, has been activated again for duty in the Persian Gulf, and he has dusted off a Cold War-era provision that lets an Amherst Board member pick someone to serve in his stead when called to duty because the nation is under attack.

The council member has sorely stretched the meaning of "under attack," and we are unimpressed that the town attorney seems to agree the law has been accurately applied. Further, Anderson should be reminded that no one elected his father to the Town Board. As democratic principles go, it's better to let the seat go vacant for 11 months -- as most legislative bodies would do -- than to designate a replacement by fiat.

Board Member Barbara Nuchereno was right when she said, "part of me just feels we should operate with the smaller board for a while."

This isn't about the temporary replacement. The elder Anderson, Richard R. Anderson, is an experienced legislator. He served for 10 years as a state assemblyman, and he should be taken at his word that he has not had a drink in years and residents need not worry about his two arrests for driving while ability impaired in the 1990s. More troubling, however, was his dismissal as a lawyer for the state Workers' Compensation Board in 2001 after soliciting political contributions from an employee. There are probably better choices for the vacancy. There also could be worse.

The town's lawyer, E. Thomas Jones, says the replacement must happen as a mandatory outcome of the town law. He seems to say that any citizen who challenges the matter in court would lose.

As legal matters go, this one offers up a vast gray canvas, enough that a citizen might prevail should the town's logic be tested in court. But as threats to democracy go, it is not a calamity.

It will not lead to a slippery slope of incumbents selecting temporary replacements elsewhere, because the Amherst measure appears to be so unusual. If the appointment occurs, however, it should at least prod the Town Board to repeal, clarify or modernize the law from 1963. At least the Anderson episode has called attention to an outdated provision that the Town Board should deal with. The Andersons, whichever one is in the office, should enthusiastically participate in updating the provision.

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