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Gouverneur mayor plagued by debt and drama

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GOUVERNEUR — Mayor Christopher A. Miller maintains that financial troubles and emotional baggage from a broken relationship will not prevent him from fulfilling his duties.

“I’m not going anywhere. I live and work in the village of Gouverneur. I’m the mayor,” he said. “I’m not moving. Why would I run?”

Mr. Miller said he does not believe his personal life should be open to public scrutiny, but several judgments have been filed against him since his election last fall as mayor, and his past relationship with a Department of Public Works employee has spilled over into official business.

“People sometimes have financial issues,” Mr. Miller said. “Because of the circumstances, I would prefer it be left alone.”

Earlier this year, E.J. Noble Hospital obtained a judgment against Mr. Miller, claiming nearly $20,000 in unpaid medical bills.

“We bend over backwards to work with people. If an individual makes any payment at all, we don’t go after them,” Administrator Charles P. Conole said. “We will actively pursue going after him.”

Robert N. Saidel took back 3 Rowley St., a property he had sold Mr. Miller on a land contract, and received a $3,015 judgment against him June 8 for unpaid taxes and sewer and water bills.

“I sent him a letter. He didn’t contest it, never called me,” Mr. Saidel said. “He never showed up in Small Claims Court. I had to wait an hour.”

Mr. Saidel said he would not wish Mr. Miller ill if he paid his debts.

“Chris is a nice person, but got in a hole, and got further in a hole,” he said.

Gary Van Ornum, Gouverneur, obtained a $7,220 judgment against Mr. Miller on Dec. 14.

Debra L. Hance, Star Lake, had Mr. Miller’s wages garnished as an employee of Aubuchon Hardware, where he no longer works, to recoup a $512 judgment she won Nov. 29.

Mr. Miller said he could not say whether he is current on the mortgage he has for properties he owns on South Street.

The house he lives in at 171 Rowley St., which he bought on a land contract from George G. Harder, has been for sale and he has an accepted offer on it.

Mr. Harder, who has the title to the property, said Mr. Miller is current on his payments but said he had heard nothing official about the pending sale.

“We’ve been down this road once before,” Mr. Harder said. “If he told me it was raining outside, I would go to the window and look.”

Whatever his personal issues, Mr. Miller — whose term is for two years — said he has the village’s best interests in mind, and expects to return to Gouverneur from his travels late this month.

He blames much of his financial woes on tenants who stiffed him on rent and on the fallout from his breakup with Dylan T. Liebenow.

Mr. Liebenow said he had nothing to do with Mr. Miller’s money problems.

“I definitely didn’t take off with any money. I’m filing for bankruptcy,” he said. “The only money I ever had access to in the five years we were together was my own. Chris was always one of those robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

The January split between Mr. Miller and Mr. Liebenow became heated enough that Mr. Liebenow, a seasonal employee with DPW for the past three years, was suspended in late March for several weeks.

Mr. Liebenow provided copies of text messages he and Mr. Miller exchanged March 28 in which Mr. Miller demanded that Mr. Liebenow, who was off duty, come to his office the next day or face dismissal. Mr. Liebenow declined unless the meeting was work-related.

He was suspended without pay March 29 by Mr. Miller, pending the advice of counsel.

The suspension was a disciplinary measure because Mr. Liebenow used profanity and was disrespectful, said Mr. Miller, who maintained that he had wanted to talk to Mr. Liebenow about a DPW matter.

Trustee Ronald P. McDougall referred questions about the incident to village attorney Henry J. Leader, who was not available for comment.

Mr. Liebenow submitted a request for back pay, which was rejected by Mr. Miller.

Mr. Liebenow, who was called back to work after submitting copies of the text messages to the village, decided not to push it.

“At least I’m back to work,” he said.

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