Berne board moves ahead with two youth council appointments, stalls on another

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Kids had plenty to do at Berne's Summerfest last year. Jean Guarino, who was appointed the chairwoman of Berne's Youth Council this year, hopes to create more activities for children outside of school programs.

BERNE — Berne’s town board appointed two new members to the town’s Youth Council during an April 30 workshop meeting, bringing membership to five. A lack of members and volunteers has led to concern from the newly appointed council chairwoman about whether certain events could be held, and council appointments have increased political tension on the town board.

Ian Guarino and Stacy Wright were appointed by four board members with Councilman Joel Willsey abstaining because he was absent for the interviews.

However, Highway Superintendent Randy Bashwinger’s appointment became locked in a tie, split along party lines, with councilwomen Karen Schimmer and Dawn Jordan, both Democrats, voting “no” and Councilman Dennis Palow and Supervisor Sean Lyons, both Republicans, voting “yes.” Bashwinger chairs the town’s GOP committee.

The board agreed to table the vote until its regular May meeting on the 9th, with Willsey reviewing Bashwinger’s résumé in order to vote then.

As the April 30 meeting began, Lyons asked Willsey if he would be abstaining from voting because he had not attended the April 21 meeting when candidates were interviewed.

At first Willsey said he would only abstain from some votes, but upon pressing from Lyons, agreed to abstain entirely. Willsey won his seat in November by one vote, preserving a decades-long Democratic majority on the town board.

Willsey said in an email, answering Enterprise questions, that he had been away when the interviews were held and couldn’t review the résumés because his cable was out when he returned. At the upcoming May meeting, he will not vote in favor of appointing Bashwinger, Willsey said, saying Bashwinger has been politically biased or acted with political intent “ … to those who he considers political rivals.”

“He has also demonstrated a propensity to attack his rivals using extreme measures that all reasonable people would consider very unscrupulous behavior,” Willsey wrote, saying that Bashwinger has contacted his workplace, the state’s Department of Transportation, with false allegations and has filed false police reports. He also said that Bashwinger has posted false statements on Facebook.

“I am completely convinced that if he were dealing with a child related to someone he considers a political rival, that child could be treated unfairly or blamed for some wrongdoing,” Bashwinger wrote. “I have absolutely no reason to trust this candidate in such a situation.”

Bashwinger is currently running for a seat on the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school board in a hotly contested race. He told The Enterprise on Wednesday that the votes against him were politically motivated, and predicted that his appointment would be voted down at the upcoming town board meeting.

Bashwinger also said that he has experience working with both his own children and in groups like Little League, as well volunteering with other town groups.

Bashwinger responded through The Enterprise that he has lodged complaints against Willsey, but has not contacted the Department of Transportation for about three months. He also said he did file a police report with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office when Willsey was taking pictures of town highway workers.

Bashwinger said that he had used the phrase “treat me like shit and see what happens” three-and-a-half years ago on social media. He said that Willsey’s references to a false statement on social media were about their disagreement over the seasonal closure of Stage Road.

Willsey had expressed similar opinions about Bashwinger’s appointment in emails that were provided to The Enterprise by Palow, who currently serves as the board liaison to the Youth Council. Schimmer and Jordan — who used to be the liaison to the youth council — also objected to Bashwinger’s appointment in the emails, citing foul language used in social media and in interactions with residents such as Willsey.

Schimmer said Ian Guarino and Stacy Wright were good choices, noting both have backgrounds in education. She declined to comment on Bashwinger’s candidacy for the job.

Ian Guarino is the husband of Jean Guarino, the recently-appointed Youth Council chairwoman. Schimmer told The Enterprise on Tuesday that he has worked as a teacher in the past. Jean Guarino said that she didn’t think that there would be a conflict of interest if her husband served on the board.

“We’re on the same page,” she said.

Guarino and Schimmer both hope that Wright, a music teacher, will bring an arts and music component to the council.

Jordan declined to comment on any of the appointments, saying that it is a town board policy not to comment on personnel. But she said that she thought the council is benefiting from “fresh eyes.”

“When I first started with the Youth Council, it was primarily for younger kids,” Jordan said, adding that this was prior to more programs for young children being introduced at the library. She said she thought it was good that there are more programs being planned that are geared towards older children.

Palow and Lyons did not return calls for comment before press time.

“I don’t think I’m surprised that it went to a tie,” said Jean Guarino. She said that she knew some board members had objected to Bashwinger’s social media posts and the fact that he has never worked with children before. She said she understood wanting someone to have worked with children, but said she supports having Bashwinger appointed.

“He’s known so well in the community, and he’s a great point person,” she said. She described trying to meet with the Masons in town for weeks in order to use their lodge for a program. She said Bashwinger arranged a meeting in a day.

She added that Bashwinger could still serve a role in the council by coming to meetings and volunteering, and others should as well.

“Because I feel every parent should be involved,” she said.

Background checks

Choosing new youth council members has been on shaky grounds for over a month. At the town board’s March 14 meeting, board members discussed appointing Bashwinger. Schimmer had suggested that the town run background checks on Youth Council applicants before appointing a candidate.

Schimmer said that New York State requires the town file background checks.

“The safety of our children is first and foremost,” she said.

Schimmer told The Enterprise on Tuesday that the town did not need to run a background check on either Wright or Ian Guarano, as they both had recently had background checks run for their jobs.

At the April 11 meeting, Jean Guarino questioned requiring background checks, asking about the cost and wondering if parent chaperones would then also need to to undergo background checks.

Supervisor Sean Lyons asked if the town should be concerned about spending money to check on an applicant and wasting it because that applicant did not pass the background check. Willsey said he would hope that this would deter those who would not pass a background check from applying.

“I’d hope so … ,” said Lyons.

State requirements

“There are certain New York State protocols we need to follow,” warned Jean Guarino at Berne’s April town board meeting, when speaking about upcoming Youth Council programs.

Guarino said that the state requires that, for every nine children, one adult be present during the day camp. If the town paid enough adult workers to run the camp at minimum wage, she calculated that it would cost the town $720 out of a $4,000 annual budget for all youth programs. The camp is scheduled to run from July 23 to 27 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Palow intends to lead a camping trip on July 9 to Thompsons Lake for teenagers as part of the youth council program. Guarino also questioned if there would even be enough members on the Youth Council to supervise such a trip, as three of the council’s members would be unavailable then.

Schimmer suggested looking to local universities that could provide volunteers or interns who need credit hours. An intern from the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill was later hired by the board to do landscaping at Switzkill Farm; he will be paid $12 an hour and earn college credit.

Town Clerk Anita Clayton also suggested using the $4,000 salary for the council director to fund services, as the director resigned earlier this year. However, Guarino later said that she was interested in applying for the position.

Besides Guarino, there are two other Youth Council members, Berne Library manager Kathy Stempel and Lisa Raymond. The bylaws state that the council must have seven members, but Guarino said the board is allowing it to be a minimum of five members.

The additional members should be enough, Guarino told The Enterprise on Tuesday, but she said more volunteers are also needed.

A fundraising event will be held on May 18 in the BKW Secondary School gym. Guarino said this can be held because there will be parents present. She also said a camping trip for older children is scheduled for July. However, two events have been cancelled because there is not enough staff present to supervise the children there: a Mother’s Day “paint and sip” and a Father’s Day construction project.

Guarino said that Kathryn Wank, the council director who resigned this year, had planned the “paint and sip”: children would be dropped off to create paintings as gifts for their mothers, possibly with tea to sip. Guarino said that Home Depot had donated supplies for a Father’s Day for children to be dropped off and build something for their fathers.

At the meeting, Guarino referenced regulations on day care from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

“I already knew from being in Boy Scouts that there had to be a certain number of leaders for a group of children,” she told The Enterprise.

She said she spoke with someone at the state’s Office of Children and Family Services who directed her to the requirements for supervising children. She said for younger school-aged children it is a ratio of one adult to every nine students, and a ratio of one to 15 for teenagers.

According to a 2017 document on the Office of Children’s and Family Services website, there must be one adult for every ten children in a group of up to 20 school-aged children up to age nine; one adult for every 15 children is required for children between 10 and 12 years old in a group of up to 30 children.

According to the state Department of Health’s website, at day camps, counselors must be 16 years of age or older, with a minimum of one counselor for every 12 children. According to Jeffrey Hammond, of the state’s health department, if a children’s program qualifies as a camp, it must have a municipal, county, or state permit. The health department’s website defines a summer day camp as an area with a scheduled time between June 1 and Sept. 15 in which children under 16 years of age gather for activities.

Guarino said that there will be around 40 children in the summer day camp program and would need around five adult staff members. She is looking to pay the staff the state minimum wage of $10.40 an hour, and will advertise for it. She said she thought using unpaid interns or volunteers is a “great idea,” but said she needs more staff and support to look into that.

“We have a tiny little budget … ,” said Guarino. “The summer camp program is about half the budget.”

Guarino had objected , during a recent town board meeting, to charging the campers. She said she read a flyer from last year stating that the cost was free for BKW students, but was told that it would cost those outside of Berne $10 a day. She said she will be asking the town board to change this to $10 a week at the next town board meeting.

At the April meeting, Guarino also asked if the town board could change its bylaws so that she could increase the budget for the Youth Council, saying that she would like the children from Knox to attend the day camp for free as their Berne counterparts do. Clerk Clayton said that the town charged $10 for each child from Knox in previous years.

New chairwoman

Guarino said that she wanted to give students an opportunity to do something after school beyond after school activities. She said she’d like to have food, internet, and things to do available for children

“Because I have teenagers, and we have a lot of kids in our house,” she explained.

Guarino’s children are homeschooled. She herself used to be a preschool teacher, and later was an assistant scoutmaster when her children were older. She now runs a catering company and works for the Helderberg Lutheran Church as a community outreach liaison, she said, and is also studying, through Hartwick college, to be a deacon. Guarino also served in the Army, and left in 1997.

After she and her husband moved to Berne a year-and-a-half ago, Bashwinger told her about the Youth Council. She said she attended the February meeting and proposed some of her ideas. Palow asked her if she would be interested in chairing the council, and she was appointed to both the board and as chairwoman at the next town board meeting.

Guarino said that she wants to get children involved with the town programs at younger age and then continue participating in programs as they get older, such as day trips. She is from Long Island, where she said there were more activities for children, while in Berne all activities are at the school.

 

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