Split board may wait till November elections

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Westerlo council members, from left, Amie Burnside and Joseph Boone, as well as town clerk Kathleen Spinnato and Acting Supervisor William Bichteman go over town issues at their March 5 meeting. 

WESTERLO — After long-time supervisor Richard Rapp resigned this month, Westerlo’s next supervisor may be decided by voters in November.

The two Republican council members, Richard Filkins and Amie Burnside, say they were at loggerheads with the two Democratic town board members; there was no supervisor to break the tie when they met for nearly an hour in executive session last week.

The Republicans said they wanted to have voters decide in November while the Democrats wanted to appoint Deputy Supervisor William Bichteman as supervisor. Bichteman, a Democrat, had been ousted as councilman during the 2017 elections.

The Democratic councilmen, Joseph Boone and Anthony Sherman, could not be reached for comment.

The board left Bichteman as acting supervisor, a non-voting member of the board, until November.

Bichteman told The Enterprise on Monday that he did not believe it would be appropriate for him to comment on what happened in the closed-door session and said that his opinion on the matter was moot because he could not vote on such a decision.

But he said that he thought the board would function best with five voting members. He said that a special election would cost the town around $8,000 and holding one “just doesn’t make any sense” because it would be so close to the general election in November.

At its regular meeting on March 5, the Westerlo Town Board went into executive session for about an hour to discuss how to would fill the vacancy that Rapp had announced the month before, leaving his post hours before the meeting began.

When the board returned to public session, Sherman said that the board would not make a decision that night on how the position would be filled. The Republicans told The Enterprise they believe the board will not broach the matter again because of the stalemate.

Until a supervisor is appointed or elected, Bichteman will serve as acting supervisor. Bichteman will have almost all the powers of the supervisor, including the salary, but will not be able to vote, according to the interim town attorney, Javid Afzali, who explained the process at both the regular meeting and the workshop meeting on Feb. 19.

This is because Bichteman is not a member of the town board, but was instead appointed deputy supervisor by Rapp this past January. Bichteman, a Democrat, had served on the town council after he was appointed to the position in 2013, often taking charge as Rapp’s health declined, until Bichteman lost his re-election bid in 2017.

Filkins, the Republican who ousted the Bichteman from his post, told The Enterprise on March 7 that during the closed-door session Sherman and Boone, wanted to appoint Bichteman supervisor. Filkins said he and Burnside were against it. Burnside told The Enterprise on March 8 that it was a split decision on whether to put Bichteman’s appointment to a vote in the regular meeting.

A special election could be held by the town to select a supervisor, but Burnside and Filkins said it wouldn’t make sense due to its cost and the fact that it would be held only a few months ahead of the general election by the time it was set up.

Both Filkins and Burnside told The Enterprise that they had been contacted by residents concerned that Bichteman would be appointed supervisor, and both said they didn’t want to appoint someone the voters didn’t want. In the 2017 election, while Boone was the top vote-getter, Filkins bested Bichteman by over 100 votes.

“The town doesn’t really want him in there,” Filkins said of Bichteman.

“Previously Mr. Bichteman was voted out by our town residents … ,” said Burnside. “It’s not that I dislike Bill at all ... ,” she said. “I feel he’s done a fantastic job ... I just don’t feel it’s my decision.”

Filkins told The Enterprise that he doesn’t believe the board will discuss the matter further, and said he wasn’t concerned about having the lack of a full supervisor because the board had functioned despite Rapp’s decline in leadership over the last couple years.

“What’s another nine months going to do,” he said.

Burnside said that she doesn't believe having only four voting members will be an issue. She said that, in her four years serving on the board, she can only recall a single vote that wasn’t unanimous because she was the sole “nay” vote.

Burnside had begun her term two years before her fellow Republican, Filkins, and previously the board was made up of three Democrats and herself.

Burnside will be running for re-election this year, and was nominated by the Albany County Independence and Conservative parties, she said, and intends to run on the Republican line for town council this year.

Filkins said that Westerlo’s planning board chairwoman, Dorothy Verch, is considering running for town supervisor on the Republican line. The Westerlo Republican caucus will be held on March 16 in the town library.

Verch declined to comment until after the caucus takes place on whether she would run. Bichteman has already been nominated by the Albany County Independence Party for supervisor. Bichteman confirmed that he is running for supervisor this fall.

Bichteman said he would like to make the budget more accessible to residents, allowing them to read and understand it, and he would also like to obtain more outside funds for the town from grants and by working with state legislators.

He said, too, that he would welcome input from residents during the process of rewriting the town’s comprehensive plan, which was last updated five years ago and took over seven years to complete. Bichteman said he hopes to make the process much quicker this time.

“I welcome anyone’s endorsement,” he said of his run for supervisor. “I still believe I’m the best candidate for the job.”

He said that in the meantime he would serve the town as best as he could as acting supervisor, including planning the budget in September.

At the March 5 meeting, Bichteman said he would pick his own deputy supervisor next month.

Appointments

In the past few months, the town board has appointed both a new code-enforcement officer and an interim town attorney following the resignation of their long-time predecessors.

At the town’s re-organizational meeting on Jan. 2, the board voted to appoint Afzali, of the firm Whiteman, Osterman, & Hanna, as interim town attorney, with Boone, Filkins, and Burnside in favor of the appointment, Rapp voting against it, and Sherman abstaining. Afzali attended both the regular town board meeting in March and the workshop meeting in February.

Westerlo’s former town attorney, Aline Galgay, stepped down at the end of last year after working for the town for over two decades, but has stayed on a prosecuting attorney for Westerlo’s traffic court.

Afzali is also the interim town attorney in the town of Knox, but says he intends to leave this position once Knox finds a permanent town attorney.

Afzali’s father-in-law, Glen Walsh, is one of three transfer-station workers Knox hired as part of the town board’s controversial New Year’s Day decision to replace the three former workers, who are challenging their dismissal. Afzali told The Enterprise his father-in-law had already been working for Knox in a different position before he was hired to work at the transfer station.

Afzali hopes to be appointed to a permanent position in Westerlo.

At a special meeting on Jan. 18, the Westerlo Town Board voted to appoint Jeffry Pine as the town’s new code enforcement officer, with Burnside casting the only dissenting vote. Pine is an assessor in Rensselaerville — a town in which he is the Democratic Party chairman — and a code-enforcement officer for the town of New Scotland.

Westerlo’s former code-enforcement officer, zoning administrator, and deputy supervisor, Edwin Lawson, resigned from all of his posts at the end of last year and now works as Rensselaerville’s code-enforcement officer, after serving as Westerlo’s code enforcement officer for 23 years.

He told The Enterprise in January that he decided to serve a different town in order to be “insulated” from the issues he often dealt with in Westerlo that went beyond the role of a code-enforcement officer.

“My role in Westerlo was much more complex,” he said.

Other business

At the Westerlo Town Board’s regular March meeting, the board also:

— Reviewed a series of resolutions proposed in December by Filkins that would include adding a time clock to Town Hall, updating how the monthly budget is reported, having several more department heads report to the town board, and updating the town’s transfer-station permit system and solid-waste law. All these items were tabled until future meetings such as the town board’s workshop meeting on March 19;

— Approved a contract with the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society and a change to dog-redemption fees, which will now be $50 a dog with an additional daily fee of $70 and any veterinary fees;

— Set a date to interview candidates for the comprehensive plan board at 6:30 p.m. before their workshop meeting on March 19;

— Voted to approve a use policy for the town hall, stating that it may only be used for town-sponsored activities;

— Authorized Bichteman to sign contracts with solar-energy companies after the contracts have been updated, and approved a new escrow account to be used for solar-array projects in Westerlo;

— Discussed the fact that town records need to be filed properly in the town hall;

— Heard from the town’s grant writer, Nicole Ambrosio, that she is looking into a grant to construct sidewalks in Westerlo. Boone said he inquired about it because he was walking from his workplace at Hannay Hose Reels to a deli in the hamlet for lunch, and he realized how unsafe the roads could be without sidewalks;

— Heard from Verch that the company Cypress Creek has withdrawn an application for an energy-storage system to be used for its solar-array system, while the companies Clean Energy Collective and Shepard Farms are still considering using the system with their arrays. Verch, who is the Broadband Research Committee chairwoman, announced that both MidTel and Spectrum are moving into the area;

— Heard from town historian Dennis Fancher that he was contacted by a Colonie woman about her ancestor in Westerlo, David Knowles. He obtained photos and documents from her, and found out Knowles had penned a song that has been kept in the Library of Congress. Fancher also discussed an infamous trial in 1895 of a reverend who accused the Westerlo Baptist Church of not paying him properly;

— Heard from Burnside that the Hometown Heroes Committee has added another 17 sponsors for banners of veterans to be put up this spring in addition to 23 from last year; and

— Heard from resident Dianne Sefcik that she believes a “chilling effect” has taken place following what she described as being reprimanded in public last month. Her husband, zoning board Chairman John Sefcik, added that the recent changes to the board’s policy on public comments in which all comments must take place at the end of the meeting could be problematic, as some comments from the public could provide information to the board before a vote is made.

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