During busy season, county historian’s office remains vacant

JOHNSTOWN – Fulton County hasn’t had an official historian on duty for more than two months, during what is usually a busy time of year.

County Historian Peter C. Betz, who was suspended from the post after he was charged in the theft of a coffeemaker from the county building, said Thursday the summer typically presents the county historian’s office with many requests for research help.

“This is a very busy time of the year,” he said.

The county historian’s office has been vacant since his May arrest.

Betz was charged by Johnstown city police May 7 with misdemeanor petit larceny. Police said Betz stole a Keurig coffee maker from the Fulton County Office Building and replaced it with another one. Police say the theft of the $125 item occurred in the grand jury room in the building’s basement April 9. That room is just down the hall from the historian’s office.

County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said Wednesday the office is closed and isn’t being monitored for traffic. He said Betz is considered on “hiatus” regarding “historical assignments.”

“There hasn’t been any impact,” Stead said, and the county hasn’t hired an interim historian, but he noted “we’ve had a few [historian-related] calls here” in his office.

“Two months ago, Mr. Betz indicated he was going to resign,” Stead said. “I believe he’s not going to do that until the court case is resolved.”

Betz had said he planned to retire before the coffeemaker case arose.

Gloversville 3rd Ward Supervisor Michael F. Gendron, chairman of the Board of Supervisors’ Economic Development and Environment Committee that oversees the historian office, was reluctant to talk Wednesday about the position.

“I’m not going to comment until he’s had his due process,” Gendron said.

Betz’s case has been adjourned a couple of times. His next date in Johnstown City Court is July 30. Nevertheless, he said, the summer remains a busy time with historical inquiries from the public.

“We frequently have tourists coming as far away as Washington, D.C., Texas and California,” Betz said. “They do ancestral research.”

He said this is also a busy time with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new “Path Through History” project, which will provides millions of dollars throughout the state to market history-related tourism. Betz said the position of county historian is actually mandated by the state. He said although it is considered part-time in Fulton County, it often becomes a full-time occupation for those involved.

The description of the part-time historian position in the county budget document is as follows: “The county historian gathers and preserves historical information related to the history of the county, writes and publishes articles on local history, shares historic content through public speeches and presentations to civic and school groups, serves as a contact point and reference source for persons requesting historical information, serves as a networker between these clients and other historic authorities in the field who may also help them; interacts and supports the efforts of town historians; facilitates the interpretation and preservation of historic structures; is an ambassador to individuals and groups visiting our county on historic missions; maintains and augments the county archive-reference collection; and provides regular office hours during which his services and archival materials are conveniently accessible to the public.”

Betz, who was appointed to the post in January 2006, was budgeted to be paid $6,134 this year.

Michael Anich can be reached at [email protected].

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