Kerr was facing a marijuana possession charge and a driving while impaired by drugs charge from May 2008. Gardiner Town Court justices, Kerr’s lawyer and the Ulster County District Attorney resolved the case with a deal whereby Kerr admitted he was guilty of reckless driving.
“My issue isn’t with Don Kerr the person,” explained Ed Burke, a New Paltz resident who thinks Kerr should resign. “But if it was a student, he would be suspended … I have yet to find one person who thinks he should be school board president.”
Burke said he thinks it sends an inherently mixed message to students if a school board president can escape punishment for alleged drug use if students face a zero tolerance policy.
“What message are we sending the kids? That it’s not okay for you to break the law, but it’s okay for the people who set the policy?” he said. “This is an issue that will probably get bigger before for it goes away.”
Legally, Kerr was never found guilty of anything marijuana-related in connection with that May arrest, since the prosecutors sacrificed those charges in the reckless driving deal. However, Burke feels pretty certain that the New York State Police officer who pulled Kerr over wouldn’t have just made it all up.
“I haven’t seen anybody get a speeding ticket who wasn’t in violation,” he said, adding that that is probably the case with the marijuana police said they found in Kerr’s possession. “There’s a lot of people who are very upset with this.”
Despite getting cleared by the courts, Kerr’s situation is still a bit complex. In a July interview with this paper, Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright said that Kerr had told the authorities he’d smoked pot several days before being pulled over. That secondhand admission of guilt doesn’t sit well with the people who’d like to see Kerr resign.
“What many people do not understand is that New York State has decriminalized unlawful possession of marijuana. That doesn’t mean it’s not illegal to smoke marijuana or be in possession of very small amounts. It just means that it is a violation, not a crime, and punishable by a maximum fine of $100,” the district attorney said during that interview. “This was a nominal charge.”
A good contingent of the people poised to come after Kerr next week were once a part of the group Unite Our District, which lobbied the district to not go ahead with its planned $50 million renovation of New Paltz Middle School. Voters eventually defeated that proposal in February, 2561-983. President Kerr was an advocate of repairing the middle school.
Burke denied that middle school politics were playing a part in his call for the president’s resignation. “Because of my opposition to the middle school, a lot of people think this is Unite Our District versus Kerr. That’s not the case.”
Not everybody in town thinks that Kerr should give up his job for the now-resolved drug charges.
“I feel really bad for what he’s going through,” said former village Clerk Brittany Turner. News of Kerr’s arrest had broken before he was re-elected in 2009. Stories on the original charges were published in this paper, the Poughkeepsie Journal and the Times Herald-Record. “He was re-elected. That’s what it comes down to. That was all out there.”
Despite the illegal status of marijuana, the drug enjoys a fairly wide social acceptance in America. Many states have legalized medical marijuana -- including New Jersey, which legalized medical weed in January. In October 2009, President Barack Obama issued an order that federal agents should not arrest medical marijuana users if they complied to state laws.
In March, state legislators in Albany also flirted with the idea of legalizing medical marijuana.
While the people calling for Kerr’s resignation are more motivated and organized, it is possible that a cadre of people who’d like to see the president keep his job will also come out next week.
Social acceptance of marijuana aside, for Burke it comes down to a simple fact. “My feeling on this is marijuana right now is illegal. It doesn’t matter what it was. It’s illegal,” he said. “I think everybody realizes that drugs and alcohol are a big problem in our community.”
When contacted for comment on this story, school board Vice President KT Tobin Flusser and Trustee Patrick Rausch did not immediately respond.
The next board meeting will start at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 18 and it’ll take place at the district office at 1 Henry W. Dubois Drive.