January 16, 2008


Retiring Virgil justice praised


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Former Virgil Town Justice George Saltsman poses Tuesday in the courtroom at Virgil Town Hall. Saltsman recently retired after serving as justice for 34 years.

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — A farmer by trade, George Saltsman was never really interested in politics or the law.
“I’m an old farm boy, and I’m proud of it,” he said.
So when he accepted a vacant town justice position in the 1970s, due to people’s urging, he thought he would be there just a couple of years. He ended up serving in the position 34 years, retiring Jan. 1.
Those who know and worked with him say they are glad he stayed so long, with his knowledge of Virgil, dedication to the job and “judicial temperament.”
Saltsman, 74, was born in Virgil, living in the same home of his family’s Daisy Hollow Road dairy farm his entire life, with the exception of part of college and Army service. He attended Virgil Central School and graduated from Cornell University with an agriculture degree.
While in college he also studied with the Reserve Officer Training Corps, then required of all able-bodied students. After graduation he was sent to Fort Bliss in Texas for officer basic training, and later Chicago to serve as a launcher control officer at a guided missile site.
One of his secondary duties was serving on a court-martial board. That first experience with the law did not excite him, he said.
“I didn’t like that,” he said. “Being a junior officer I had to give my verdict first. The major got to give it last.”
When he completed his military duty at the age of 24, he returned home to work on the family farm. Within the next year he became a scoutmaster, leading such Scouts as now-Sheriff Lee Price, and secretary at the Virgil Fire Department.
Jim LeFever, a Virgil Fire Department commissioner and longtime fire department member, said for the last 50 years Saltsman has rarely missed a monthly meeting of the fire department.
“It was very seldom he was sick, and it seems like the only time he was not at a meeting was if he was sick,” LeFever said.
When Saltsman became town justice in 1974 he would work 20 to 40 hours a week in that position, in addition to fulltime as a farmer and extra hours for his activities.
Saltsman, who never married, said the schedule did not give him time to date girls. It seemed like the weekends they asked him out were the weekends he already had scout camping trips planned, he said.
His propensity to work would make him an asset on holidays and weekends. Typically at those times one judge in Cortland County east of Interstate 81 would work, and one west of Interstate 81 would work. He was often that judge to the west.
“I don’t believe he had a lot of free time but he certainly loved everything he did, and did a good job at whatever he took on,” said Carol Ford, his court clerk of 20 years. “He was so fair and understanding.”
Saltsman said he would sometimes have people from New York City in his court, usually for traffic violations, and they would appreciate the interest he paid them.
They said it was refreshing not being treated like a number, he said. His way of treating people helped him earn their respect in the courtroom, said Mardis Kelsen, a lawyer who worked with Saltsman and a former Cortlandville town justice.
“Judge Saltsman was always in control of his courtroom,” she said. “Over the course of the years I’ve known him I’ve never seen him or heard about him losing his control. He was known as the steady and solid person who would listen and apply the law appropriately based on the cases in front of him.”
Tom Jewett, a former district attorney and public defender, said Saltsman has what the law calls a “judicial temperament.” That characteristic, which can’t be taught and is a part of one’s personality, represents a blend of compassion, courtesy, a well developed sense of humor, patience, freedom from bias and a commitment to equal justice, Jewett said.
Saltsman said during his 34 years as town justice he just had one civil and one criminal case overturned, out of his 50,000 total cases.
Other accomplishments include being the first judge in Cortland County to register a sex offender with the state, and being the first judge to file with the state a copy of an order of protection issued locally for a domestic abuse case.
“They called and said ‘Congratulations, you’re the first one to get it right,’” he said. “That was nice because they’re not bashful about calling you when you’re wrong.”
Saltsman said it was flattering to have many people approach him prior to his retirement from the judgeship, urging him to run for office again, but that it was time to go. His retirement plans include visiting friends throughout the country and tinkering around his farm.
Jewett said Virgil was lucky to have Saltsman for so many years.
“If he had been a lawyer he could have successfully occupied any judgeship in the United States,” Jewett said. “He just happened to sit as town judge in the town of Virgil.”




Residents want city library funding restored

Staff Reporter

After dozens of residents voiced concern at the Common Council meeting Tuesday about the city’s decision to reduce its contribution to the city library, the council agreed to discuss the issue at its Feb. 5 meeting.
Those who came to the meeting for the library wore buttons that said, “Support your library,” and asked the council to restore $50,000 it cut from the library before it passed the 2008 budget.
The Cortland Free Library in recent years has operated with about $200,000 of city funds annually, but also has a $2.3 million endowment that builds interest of $50,000 to $60,000 a year. The library raises about $125,000 from the endowment and other revenue sources.
After about an hour of discussion, the council voted 6-2 vote Dec. 18, to only allocate the library $150,000 for its 2008 operating budget. The library requested $258,000 from the city for 2008.
The $50,000 the city deducted from its support went into the city’s contingency fund.
“There is a relationship between community development and libraries. ... Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body,” Nick Esposito, a library trustee, said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Restore total funding to give the city citizens equal opportunity to exercise their minds.”
Since a portion of the city’s support to the Cortland Free Library was taken away, the library has reduced its hours of operation and staff, decreased the temperature in the building, will be closing on 12 holidays instead of the normal six. It has also increased the costs of overdue book fines, copying and printing.




Winter festival backed

Staff Reporter

The city Common Council approved the final component needed for an annual winter celebration at its meeting Tuesday night.
Aldermen unanimously granted permission to use the city-owned portion of Courthouse Park for the Chill-A-Bration, place public signs advertising the event and sell beer.
The county Legislature granted permission to use the county portion of Courthouse Park for the winter celebration festivities Tuesday morning.
Lloyd Purdy, executive director of the Cortland Downtown Partnership, presented the council with details about the event, to take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 1.
Along with Greek Peak’s ski and snowboard terrain park, there will be a chili cook-off, snow games for families, a snow sculpting competition and winter sports product testing, sponsored by the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce, Cortland Regional Sports Council, the Cultural Council of Cortland County and Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture.
Purdy said a 16-member task force comprised of various businesses and organizations around the county worked on planning the winter event for three months.
The name Chill-A-Bration came from a brainstorming session with Leadership Cortland, Purdy said.




March interviews set for Dryden schools super

DRYDEN — The Board of Education hopes to interview candidates for superintendent of schools in March, said board President Anderson Young.
“We’re pursuing an aggressive timetable,” Young said Monday afternoon.
Young said because of that aggressive timetable the board hired William Silky and Lucy Martin of the Syracuse consulting firm Castallo & Silky to facilitate the process. The board determined this was the only group that could meet the aggressive timeline.
Young said the board wants to attract the best candidates.
The board is also involving the community in the process. Community residents, staff, students and faculty are invited to complete an online survey by going to the district’s Web Site — — or by stopping at any school office to pick up a paper survey. The survey, which must be filled out by Jan. 31, asks questions about attributes desired in a superintendent.
Young said the finalist interviews are tentatively scheduled for late March. In mid-March the board hopes to interview about six candidates and then narrow the field to two or three.