H artford Supervisor Dana Haff was replaced last week as chaplain of the Washington County Board of Supervisors amid a disagreement with Chairman John Rymph regarding how the embattled supervisor’s prayers would be structured.
Rymph appointed Whitehall Supervisor George Armstrong as the county’s new spiritual advisor during the board’s organizational meeting last Wednesday.
Haff, who had held the appointment for the last three years, was offered the job for a forth year but with limitations on the content of his prayers, which are read before the start of each monthly board meeting.
“It was conveyed that there would be some quid pro quo and if I was the chaplain in the new year, things would be different,” said Haff, who believes the structuring of his prayers is an affront to his rights under the First Amendment.
A number of board members have been critical of some of Haff’s prayers, which although well-researched, could at times be characterized as overtly political.
Rymph, who did away with opening prayers at town meetings after becoming Easton’s Supervisor, has been one of the most outspoken critics of Haff’s sermons, calling them “off track.” Earlier this year, he unsuccessfully lobbied for the elimination of the chaplain post believing there should be further separation of church and state.
When Rymph suggested changes to the length and content of the opening prayers Haff said he decided to no longer pursue the position, which is made at the county chairman’s pleasure.
“I kind of felt that if I was reappointed it would be expected of me to keep church out of government and I think that is 180 degrees wrong,” Haff said.
Armstrong said he was not offended by Haff’s sermons but could understand where some of his peers might be.
“I think Dana may have brought some of the stuff on himself with some of the things he said. I think God loves tree huggers too,” said Armstrong, referring to a prayer Haff made last April in which he said he would need to include references to “Mother Earth” and “Sister Butterfly” to appease fellow supervisors’ requests for more secular prayers.
Armstrong said he plans to keep his prayers short and will do away with the visiting pastor program which Haff instituted after several people asked him why the county didn’t conduct their prayers more like Congress.
“It will be a short prayer and then we’ll move on. I’m going to try and make it vanilla,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong’s appointment was the only substantial change to the county board’s hierarchy. Rymph was unanimously reappointed as county chairman and not a single supervisor was removed from a committee chairmanship.
In fact, Haff was one of the few supervisors that asked to be appointed to a new committee, requesting a change from the county’s Agriculture, Planning, Tourism and Community Development Committee to the Community College Committee. Argyle Supervisor Bob Henke is expected to now serve on the Ag. Committee and Greenwich Supervisor Sara Idelman is expected to step down from the Community College Committee when appointments are finalized this week.
In other matters, the board’s Government Operations Committee voted to begin a search to replace personnel director, Barb Winchell, who oversees the administrations of more than 1,000 county and town employees.
Fort Ann Supervisor Darlene Dumas, Hampton Supervisor Dave O’Brien and Henke will be responsible for creating new hiring guidelines for the position.