After resigning as Westerlo super, Rapp is appointed deputy super

Westerlo Town Board, Rapp

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Westerlo Town Board members discuss creating a committee to plan summer festivities dedicating the town hall to Richard Rapp, who recently resigned as supervisor. 

WESTERLO — Former supervisor Richard Rapp, who resigned from his post in March after working for the town for over 50 years, has been appointed one of two deputy supervisors in Westerlo.

Acting Supervisor William Bichteman, who made the appointments, said at the April 2 town board meeting that he had appointed Rapp as the first deputy supervisor and Councilman Joseph Boone as the second deputy supervisor. All of them are Democrats. The long-time Democratic board now has two Republican councilmembers.

Bichteman mentioned at the April 2 meeting that he would be absent briefly in May for shoulder surgery. Dorothy Verch, who is running on the Republican line against him, asked who would be responsible in his absence. Bichteman responded he had appointed Rapp and Boone.

Rapp had appointed Bichteman, a former councilman who lost his re-election bid in 2017, as his deputy supervisor in January. Bichteman, who became acting supervisor following Rapp’s resignation, has most of the powers of a town supervisor but cannot vote on the town board as acting supervisor because he is not a councilman.

Bichteman told The Enterprise that he appointed Rapp on March 5 when Rapp resigned from his office at noon and effectively made Bichteman the acting supervisor. He said that he appointed Boones several weeks ago, and submitted both appointments to the town clerk’s office. Bichteman said that he chose Rapp because Rapp was the most qualified in the town given his experience, and said that Boone was also highly qualified.

Bichteman was also appointed the chairman of the town’s water board in October, prior to his appointment as acting supervisor. During a public-comment session at the April 2 meeting, town Republican Chairwoman Lisa DeGroff was critical of Bichteman’s decision to remain on the water board. She said that he could make decisions on the water board that could be to his benefit, in part because he is also a resident of the water district.

Broadband Research Committee member Leonard Laub said from the gallery that Bichteman’s track record as water board chairman has shown he has not made decisions in his own interest. Laub added that, if Bichteman were removed from the board, no one else would replace him, as had happened before when Bichteman stepped down after he was no longer a council member.

The interim town attorney, Javid Afzali, said he found no evidence that Bichteman’s chairing the water board is a conflict of interest.

Executive session

Town board members had been divided on whether Bichteman should have been appointed town supervisor and given a spot as a full member of the board. Last month, Republican town board members Amie Burnside and Richard Filkins told The Enterprise that, during a March 5 closed-door discussion on choosing a new town supervisor, they had wanted to have the supervisor chosen by voters in an election, while Democratic council members Boone and Anthony Sherman wanted the board to appoint Bichteman to be the full, rather than acting, supervisor.

At the board’s workshop meeting on March 19, Bichteman expressed concern that discussing matters from executive session violated the trust that items could be discussed freely without fear of political consequences, although he acknowledged most items discussed in executive session do not by law have to remain confidential, according to the minutes from the workshop meeting.

Bichteman read a statement from Afzali in which the lawyer said that, while it is not prohibited, disclosing views expressed in executive session is not “wise or in the best interest of the town,” and that it may have a “chilling effect” on board members that would prevent them from sharing their thoughts privately.

However, while boards by state law are allowed to discuss “the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismiss or removal of a particular person or corporation” in private, they are not required to do so.

Kristin O’Neill, assistant director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said that, while choice of an appointee could legally be discussed in executive session, a discussion of whether or not to hold an election would not be allowed in executive session under the law.

If the two discussions could have been kept separate, the board should have discussed the process of either appointing or electing a supervisor in public, she said.

Solar

Board members also discussed a number of items pertaining to solar energy at their April 2 meeting. The board scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, May 7, at 6:45 p.m., prior to the regularly scheduled board meeting that month. The hearing is to review proposed revisions to Article 18 of Local Law 1 of 1989, the section pertaining to solar-energy systems.

Bichteman said on Monday that the revisions would change who is required to provide an estimate of decommissioning costs from the applicant to an engineer; change the section on escrow insurance to match a separate agreement form from the town; and changes the section on sureties and bonds because, he said, the section had several contradictory items.

Additionally, the board also reviewed contracts with engineering firms pertaining to solar-energy systems and a new type of energy-storage system. But after three solar-energy companies resubmitted their applications to include these new energy-storage systems, only one is now doing so.

At the April 2 meeting, Verch, who chairs the planning board, said that Costanza Solar, with Cypress Creek Renewables, withdrew its renewed application that had included plans for such a system. She told The Enterprise on Monday that Borrego Solar, with arrays at Shepard Farms, had just done the same.

Only the two arrays proposed by Clean Energy Collective — Westerlo NY01 and Medusa Solar — are set to have their application with the new system reviewed in a public hearing on April 23.

Verch said on Monday that Costanza Solar withdrew its application because the fire-suppression system used for the energy-storage system is considered hazardous to aquatic life if it contaminates the water; she said that Shepard Farms and Borrego Solar could not agree on a contract for the system.

Other business

In addition, the board:

— Authorized Bichteman to spend up to $13,000 on projects at the town hall that would include a new phone system, computers, and a projector and screen;

— Created a committee to dedicate the town hall to Rapp in a ceremony sometime this summer;

— Briefly discussed proposed revisions to the town’s solid-waste law, which it was decided would be presented further at the next workshop meeting;

— Heard from Verch, who is also the Broadband Research Committee chairwoman, that more internet cable is being installed in parts of Westerlo. She also asked that the town’s franchise fees be used to help homeowners pay for connecting their houses to cable;

— Reviewed options for a grant that would fund a filter for the hamlet’s water system to remove the chemical bromomethane. The town’s grant writer suggested funding 60% of a filtration system with a Water Infrastructure Improvement Act grant and applying for a low-interest loan to cover the rest. Bichteman instead suggested that the town seek the remaining 40% by applying to have engineering costs that have already been paid be reimbursed;

— Met for an hour in executive session after which Bichteman asked that the board authorize him and Afzali to negotiate with a consultant engineer to review project applications before the town;

— Recertified the Hometown Heroes Committee and the Broadband Research Committee, and discussed how to roll out sexual harassment training to town committee members who may not have taken it yet. The board also — heard from Burnside that almost 100 utility poles have been secured by the Hometown Heroes Committee to be used to hang banners of local veterans;

— Heard from highway superintendent Jody Ostrander that he will need to eventually purchase several new vehicles for the town garage soon;

— Heard from Bichteman that his new email is supervisor@townofwesterlony.com. The town website still lists Rapp as the supervisor with a different email address;

— Authorized the town to apply for a Hudson River Valley Greenway Grant;

— Were informed that a fourth and final action item has been completed to possibly make the town eligible for a $35,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to fund a project that would reduce greenhouse gases;

— Authorized an advertisement for members and a chairperson of the town’s comprehensive planning committee;

— Appointed Pam Schreiber to the town’s zoning board of appeals; and

— Authorized the Altamont Fair to borrow the historic Westerlo bandwagon in exchange for repairing its wheel.

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