Winding up career, Runion retires

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Home Runion: In April 2011, Kenneth Runion threw out the first pitch for the grand opening of Dutchman Field at the town’s Keenholts Park, one of many ceremonial duties in his 16 years as Guilderland’s supervisor. Runion announced his retirement this week.

GUILDERLAND — After 16 years as town supervisor Kenneth Runion announced on Tuesday that he is not seeking re-election in the fall.

After a town board meeting, Runion addressed the council members and the audience and said he wanted to let everyone know, before election season got underway, that he planned to retire.

Within 24 hours of the announcement — three prominent Guilderland Democrats — board members Brian Forte and Allen Maikels, and zoning board Chairman Peter Barber — announced their intentions to run for the position, which this year paid $110,340.

Kathy Burbank, also a Democrat, the former executive director of the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce and briefly Community Caregivers, who recently created a website announcing her candidacy and asking for support, said she wanted to “wait and see” what the results of the Guilderland Democratic Committee’s interviews were before making a final decision.

David Bosworth, chairman of the town’s Democratic Committee, said, on Tuesday evening, that he was requesting applications as soon as possible, and hoped to begin interviews over the weekend.

Douglas Breakell, chairman of the Guilderland Republican Committee, told The Enterprise on Wednesday that his group would also be conducting interviews this weekend, but that he “had no favorites.”

Mark Grimm, a former Republican town board member, and media strategist, who had a close run against Runion in 2013, told The Enterprise in January that he was “seriously considering” a run in 2015, and that he’d gotten lots of encouragement.

Enrollment in Guilderland is divided roughly into thirds — Democrats, Republicans, and those who are not enrolled or enrolled in a small party.

Grimm said in January that he would make a decision “soon,” but, this week, he said, “Today is Ken’s day; any announcement I might have can wait.”

Grimm said he wished Runion and his family health and happiness.

Prospective candidates for Guilderland supervisor, from left, are: Allen Maikels, Brian Forte, Mark Grimm, Kathy Burbank, and Peter Barber.

 

Runion told The Enterprise on Wednesday that he had served the town for over 30 years, 16 of those years as the supervisor.

“I think it’s time for somebody else to take over the job,” he said, noting that he wants to be able to spend more time with his family, including his new granddaughter.

“We’ve been pretty progressive with what we’ve accomplished over the past 16 years without raising the taxes,” said Runion of his administration. “We have been fiscally prudent and responsible, even going through a long recession.”

In particular, he said, he is proud of building the town’s fund balance from practically nothing to approximately $15 million; upgrading the water system and the sewer plant; adding DiCaprio Park and improving Tawasentha Park; purchasing the Western Turnpike Golf Course; building sidewalks on Western Avenue and Route 146; strengthening emergency services, including instituting a promotional program in the Guilderland Police Department; and improving senior services and transportation, including establishing a new senior center.

“I really feel like the improvements to parks and recreational activities were a highlight,” said Runion. “We preserved a lot of land that otherwise could have been developed and impacted peoples’ lives in a negative way.”

He said he would miss the camaraderie he had with the other town employees, who, he said, “put forth 100 percent.”

“I still have months left in office, so I’m not really thinking about who will follow me right now,” he said. “I think any one of the board members could do a good job.”

Forte, who was elected to the town board in 2012, and is a former Guilderland Police Officer and volunteer firefighter, said running for supervisor is “something he has always aspired to do.”

“I’ve worked for the town for over 30 years and have a great working knowledge of the community,” said Forte.

In 2012, Forte said that, as a board member, he thought the town should focus on positive controlled growth, and try to attract more businesses along Route 20.

Forte was arrested in December in Herkimer County for operating a snowmobile while intoxicated, but, he said at the time, he did not think the arrest would be an obstacle to the campaign.

He addressed the residents of Guilderland at a town board meeting, apologized for the incident,

and promised it would never happen again.

Forte told The Enterprise this week that, if the Guilderland Democratic Committee gives the nod to someone else, he will have to decide whether he wants to force a primary.

“I have been assuming I will be the candidate, so I haven’t really thought about it,” he said.

He noted that he did not anticipate any tension between himself and Maikels, with both of them vying for the post, and said he hoped that, if he got the nod, Maikels would continue to serve on the town board.

Maikels, on the other hand, said he will not run an independent campaign if he is not selected by the committee.

“If people I have worked with for many years don’t think I’m the right fit, then I trust their opinion,” he said.

Maikels, who was elected to the town board alongside Forte in 2012, and has worked as an accountant for 35 years, said he has always had an interest in public service and politics.

In addition to serving as a board member, he was a member of the board of Living Resources for 20 years; a member and treasurer of the Albany Airport Authority; secretary and treasurer of the Albany County Business Development Corporation; and treasurer of the Guilderland Democratic Committee.

The supervisor, he said, is the town’s chief financial officer, and his experience as an accountant would serve him well in that role.

“The town is in good shape financially, and we just need to continue on that path, maybe attract new businesses,” said Maikels.

During his 2012 campaign, he talked about actively working to fill vacant storefronts on Western Avenue.

“You hate to see empty buildings on the main drag,” he said then.

He echoed the same sentiment this week, and acknowledged that the board had recently taken action on the matter by passing a local law requiring accountability and maintenance from owners of vacant properties.

“I have always been active in the community,” said Maikels. “I’m comfortable working with and managing people.”

Barber, an attorney whose wife, Catherine Barber, is on the Guilderland School Board, said running for supervisor is something he’s given a lot of thought to over the past couple of years.

“I wanted to make sure Mr. Runion was officially retiring before I announced anything,” said Barber. “He has been a good steward for the town.”

Barber served on the committee that developed Guilderland’s Comprehensive Plan, and on the Zoning Review Committee, which recently drafted and presented to the town board an updated zoning code.

“I am a lifelong resident of the town,” said Barber. “Quality of life is what makes a community a desirable place to live…I have a strong desire to ensure that this quality of life is preserved and enhanced.”

He said, if elected, he would focus on enhancing and reviewing approval processes for individuals and businesses, in order to expedite development and redevelopment; maintaining Guilderland’s status as having the lowest taxes in Albany County; and exploring opportunities for shared services.

“I think we should work on getting more public involvement using new technologies,” said Barber. “We can work more collaboratively, not just with other municipalities but within the community, with the schools and the library.”

Barber said if he is not chosen as the Guilderland Democratic Committee’s candidate, he will not force a primary.

“I will support the decision’s committee 100 percent,” he said.

Runion said he was not “taking sides” with any of the potential 2016 candidates and just wants to finish out his last term.

“Over the past 16 years we were always busy; it was never stagnant,” Runion said. “I think we improved people’s lives from year to year.”

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