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Jefferson County moves to protect county seal

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Jefferson County legislators have introduced a bill that would regulate how and where the county seal would be used after concerns over its use in state correspondence surfaced during a recent meeting of county clerks from around the state.

Clerks were concerned that their county seals were being displayed prominently along with information about the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, giving the impression that the legislation was being endorsed by their counties, according to Jefferson County Clerk Giselle J. Meeks.

The seals apparently were being used without the knowledge or consent of the counties to which they belonged, Ms. Meeks said.

“It’s pretty serious, whether you oppose the SAFE Act or you don’t,” she said. “It’s like putting my signature on something I haven’t seen.”

Ms. Meeks brought the issue to the attention of County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III after attending the meeting and receiving complaints from constituents in the county.

In the local law, the seal is defined as “the official instrument evidencing the consent, approval and participation of the County of Jefferson in the agreement or business contained in the document to which the seal is attached.”

The bill was drafted by County Attorney David J. Paulsen.

“I was a little surprised when I looked into it that there was nothing already in the law that spelled out the county’s control,” Mr. Paulsen said. “It certainly got me thinking it could come up in a number of different ways, and if we’re going to address one, we should address all others that may come up as well.”

The bill is intended to give the county legal recourse to pursue anyone who may use the seal to imply the support of the county without first obtaining permission to do so.

Under the bill’s terms, county officers and employees, along with justices of the Supreme Court, County Court and Surrogates Court, would be authorized to implement its stipulations. All others would have to apply to the county for the use of the seal.

The bill was introduced by a unanimous vote of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators Finance and Rules Committee on Tuesday night. A public hearing about the bill will be held in May before a vote on it by the full board.

Legislator John D. Peck, R-Great Bend, said he supports the bill because it will prevent groups, private citizens or corporations from misrepresenting their associations with the county.

“This gives us some teeth to say, ‘No, you can’t misrepresent Jefferson County,’” Mr. Peck said.

If the bill is adopted, any unauthorized use of the county’s seal would be counted as a misdemeanor and punished as such. A fine of $500 per instance or $25 per copy, depending on which amount would be greater, also can be levied.

According to Ms. Meeks, 42 other counties around the state have taken the measure of protecting their seals by passing either resolutions or local laws outlining how the instrument may be used.

A public hearing about the bill is set for 7 p.m. May 6 on the second floor of the Historic County Courthouse, 195 Arsenal St.

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