County Clerk Election Pits Challenger Osborne against Incumbent Deputy Bartolotti

First race for position in years

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

The ballot for November’s election for Putnam County clerk offers something rare: a choice, in a race pitting Republican Michael Bartolotti of Southeast, the first deputy county clerk, against Garrison resident Lithgow Osborne, a Democrat.

Between 1974 and the last clerk’s election in 2010, only three times (1974, 1980 and 1998) could voters pick between rivals. Typically, Republicans have run unopposed, with little to campaign for.

This time, Bartolotti and Osborne have both been on the campaign trail. (For Osborne, that trail in part meant a footpath, since he walked across the county.) Last week at a Mahopac forum they scrapped over several issues, including the propriety of incumbent Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant’s endorsement of Bartolotti.

Osborne spoke with Philipstown.info/The Paper in a Wednesday (Oct. 15) interview in Cold Spring, discussing his ideas for improving records accessibility, ethics, and the possibility of offering county services in Philipstown. (He remains skeptical of the role of the Butterfield redevelopment in that regard.)

As of Thursday noon, Bartolotti had not responded to requests for an interview.

Lithgow Osborne

Lithgow Osborne

An attorney and lifelong Putnam resident, Bartolotti became acquainted with the clerk’s office as a part-time student worker in 1996. He graduated from Carmel High School in 1994, received an undergraduate degree from Western Connecticut State University four years later, and earned a law degree from New York Law School in 2001. He became first deputy county clerk, under Sant, in 2002.

Born in Auburn, New York, Osborne is a businessman who has run or managed interior design, antiques, and real estate firms.

The county clerk serves as registrar or county keeper of numerous records, from business filings to handgun permits, land-transaction and civil partnership data, and court documents, and oversees the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within Putnam.

After serving for 12 years as clerk, preceded by 24 years as first deputy clerk, Sant retires this year. He set off a national furor when, after the gun massacre of school children in nearby Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, he refused to make handgun-ownership records available to the press, although the information was a public record.

Information accessibility

Throughout his campaign, Osborne has emphasized his interest in innovation in the clerk’s office, especially regarding computer and website technology to enhance accessibility.

Residents rely on the clerk’s office “to be their guardian of the public information — and you can’t access it freely online” through the clerk’s office website, he said. He objected to the clerk’s practice of making records available at no cost for viewing in Carmel but charging for online access. For instance, he said, to look at county land records via the Internet, someone must create an account via an entity called uslandrecords.com, a company owned by the Xerox Corp., and ante up.

Michael Bartolotti

Michael Bartolotti

“To access those records you have to give a credit card and sign up, and you are charged,” Osborne said. Along with opposing the fees, Osborne claimed that allowing a multinational corporation to control county records, demand personal details, and charge credit cards before granting access raises questions about privacy and cyber-security.

During an Oct. 9 forum held by the Concerned Residents of Carmel and Mahopac (recorded by Putnam Web TV and posted on YouTube, below), Bartolotti defended the online access fee. “We believe the nominal fee of $5 for a casual search is not much to ask because it does offset the cost to implement the security and the additional technologies needed,” he said.

Guns, records and privacy

Osborne also criticized the Sant and Bartolotti stance on disclosing handgun-permit information.

When taken to court over its refusal, the county lost. Sant “spent a lot of time and money defending that decision,” Osborne said. “He’s been dragging the county into court unnecessarily…” Among reasons for not releasing the information, Sant cited gun-owners’ safety and privacy; Osborne speculates that the clerk, sympathizing with gun-owning friends, simply sought to support them. However, he added, “I don’t think that the county clerk’s job is to advocate for any one group,” such as gun owners.

Bartolotti promises to further Sant’s cause. On his campaign website, he calls it a privilege “to take a stand against” such things as “the divulging of pistol permit-holders’ personal information.” Bartolotti also pledges that “without question, I will continue to work tirelessly to assure that personal information of our pistol licensees are kept confidential so their safety and privacy will be preserved for years to come.”

County offices and Butterfield

Osborne observed that “there has been a lot of talk about satellite office or pop-ups” in the western side of Putnam County. “I’d like to investigate the possibility of opening a county clerk’s office in Cold Spring or elsewhere,” studying “whether this is at all possible, or even desirable,” he said. He cautioned that a thorough review entails analyzing the costs, personnel arrangements, citizen demand, and more.

Moreover, with proper online access to county clerk records, the need to interact with that office in person could disappear, he said. “I think we need to start investigating new ideas, about how we make the clerk’s office accessible to a wider, broader range of individuals, citizens, neighbors,” he reiterated.

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell has called for putting branches of county departments at Butterfield, including the clerk’s office. Osborne pointed out that the county executive does not speak for the county clerk (elected separately). In any case, “I think the reality is that the [Butterfield] project is a long way off, if it ever happens,” he said. “I wouldn’t commit the county clerk office to something at Butterfield, because I personally don’t believe it’s actually going to happen. I’d love to be proved wrong about that. I’d love for Butterfield to be a success and be everything that everybody wants it to be.”

However, “I think there are too many individuals who’ve got conflicting ideas about how it should be built and what it should be built [for] and how we pay for it,” he added. At the same time, a DMV office in Cold Spring might make sense, he went on, since Putnam’s DMV is in Brewster — on the extreme eastern side of the county, far from Philipstown. Again, what is feasible must be determined, he said. “These are things I’ll find out once I get into office.”

And get into office he intends to do. “I’d say my chances are pretty good,” he said. “I believe I will bring a new energy, a new approach, to the county clerk’s office.” He said that even bedrock Republicans back changes and referred to incumbent clerks getting mired in their ways, for decades, facing no electoral opposition. “They’ve never had to prove their worthiness. There’s a complacency there,” plus “an attitude that seems entitled” and they fail to avoid lapses, he asserted.

As an example, he cited an incipient campaign controversy, highlighted at the Oct. 9 Mahopac debate where a question involved Sant’s backing of Bartolotti in an endorsement allegedly written on the county clerk’s official stationery.

Using county letterhead to endorse a candidate “is contrary to the code of ethics adopted by the county legislature,” Osborne said Oct. 15. “So you have a county clerk who sees no problem using county stationery, county employees, and county time to send out a letter endorsing his deputy county clerk. And then you have your deputy county clerk who accepts that endorsement and sees nothing wrong with it. And he’s a lawyer!”

When the issue arose Oct. 9, Bartolotti said that “I have not seen the endorsement. I’m very happy that Dennis did endorse me,” he acknowledged. “I don’t know what the context of the endorsement is and how it reads. I am assuming that if he sent a letter out he did it in his capacity as Putnam County clerk and if that’s the case then he is entitled to use his letterhead for that.”

The next day, Bartolotti’s campaign Facebook page included a quotation from a Sant endorsement: “If I could give the citizens of Putnam County one gift as I leave office, it would be a county clerk’s office that is second to none, led by a county clerk who is worthy of the title. It is for this reason alone that I have endorsed Michael C. Bartolotti to be your next county clerk.”


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8 thoughts on “County Clerk Election Pits Challenger Osborne against Incumbent Deputy Bartolotti

  1. Putnam County has always been a pro-constitution county and we support a clerk who supports our constitutional rights of privacy and freedom of information. The clerk’s office under Sant ran efficiently and has been updated consistently. I will vote for Michael Bartolotti. Putnam County does not need politicians like Osborne cow-towing to media companies like Gannett for the sole purpose of harming our law-abiding residents. Vote Michael Bartolotti.

  2. You have read the comments from both candidates above. However, there is more that should be considered and that being someone’s capabilities and desires. I have had the pleasure as a member of town council to both work along side of and go door to door with Lithgow Osborne in meeting fellow Putnam townspeople. Whether long-time resident, just moved in, Democrat, Republican, Independent, it did not matter, Lithgow enjoyed meeting each person and was very responsive to their questions and needs.

    Lithgow used the personal experiences to learn as well and to shape his future decisions if elected and to me that is an important quality in a person especially a County Clerk. Lithgow just does not want to be County Clerk, he has a well thought out in-depth plan for needed improvements using today’s technology. His financial background and proven program design changes makes him very qualified and certain if elected to make the current system more user friendly and is not that truly what we want?

    We have too many office holders today sadly that only work for a selected few, we have the chance to elect someone now that truly believes in working and listening to all of us. Voting for Lithgow Osborne for County Clerk is voting for a talented caring friend to watch out for your needs. I urge you to support Lithgow Osborne on election day.

    • The NRA position is exactly the one you have espoused, which is selective adherence to the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken and under Justice Scalia permitted regulations governing gun ownership and type of weapon – he excluded those types that were more appropriate to war than to recreation. I believe that as an elected official, the County Clerk is bound to adhere to the Constitution and his oath of office to abide by the law, regardless of his own beliefs or that of his political party or County Executive.

  3. Earlier this year, I made a request to view certain county documents in Carmel. They were never released to me. I know for a fact that under New York State law, I was entitled to view the documents in Carmel at no cost. Ultimately, I did not insist again on seeing the documents because I didn’t want to spend the time and effort on a hassle. However, I will say, having previously worked in enforcement on the federal level, that this is not appropriate or legal.

  4. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with Mike Bartolotti many times over the past 18 years. That’s 18 years of doing the job of County Clerk. That’s a lot of on-the-job experience. Besides walking to Carmel, what experience does Lithgow Osborne have? I don’t see any cited in the article.

  5. An important note: it was, in fact, the Freedom of Information Law that Dennis Sant violated. Robert Freeman, who has visited Cold Spring to discuss FOIL with us a couple of times as executive director of New York State’s Committee on Open Government, said the clerk’s office was in violation of state law for withholding the information.

    Law-abiding residents of Putnam County deserve law-abiding elected officials. Dennis Sant’s deputy has repeatedly stated that he saw nothing wrong with anything the County Clerk has done, even if it was an ethical or legal violation. Lithgow Osborne has repeatedly stated that no one is above the law.

    When a representative — especially one who does not write legislation — decides that he and his office need not follow the law, then an honest (and law-abiding) person needs to stand up and remind him about our Constitution. Lithgow stands up for the law and for all of us. And he will bring ethical conduct back to our County Clerk’s office.

  6. I would like to clarify my comment above by pointing out that when I made a FOIL request to the County Clerk earlier this year, it had nothing to do with disclosure of gun license owners. Rather, it was a politically uncharged request for information regarding hiring procedures by Putnam County. I was curious and I was legally entitled to view these documents without insisting a second time.

    How many other FOIL requests have been ignored, I wonder? Would Mr. Sant and Mr. Bartolotti be willing to disclose these statistics? Do Mr. Sant and Mr. Bartolotti have a procedure for reviewing and responding to FOIL requests? These are important questions. When I worked in enforcement for a federal agency, I received a number of FOIA requests (FOIA is the federal equivalent of New York’s FOIL). Response to these requests were reviewed carefully under specific, pre-established guidelines.

    My experience of the County Clerk’s office suggests that Mr. Bartolotti’s 18-year tenure is not an indication of his knowledge of, or ability to handle, his FOIL responsibilities. On the contrary, his inability to respond to a simple, uncontroversial request suggests a lackadaisical attitude toward constituents. That is scary to me. Unaccountable politicians remind me of the old political bosses of what I thought was a bygone era.

  7. I am disappointed that Denis Sant has again violated the law by using his office, including letterhead, to endorse his Deputy. The Town Clerk’s office cannot continually violate the law. It reflects badly on the candidate, Mike Bartolotti, who should be standing on his own principles.