Knox councilwoman to run against current supervisor

Amy Pokorny, Vasilios Lefkaditis

Enterprise file photo — Melissa-Hale Spencer
"Hostile environment" is how Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis, right, describes meetings of the Knox Town Board. Then-Deputy Supervisor, Amy Pokorny, left, confers in January. She announced this week she will run against Lefkaditis in the fall.

KNOX — Although elections are half-a-year away, two candidates have announced they are running for Knox Town Supervisor: Vasilios Lefkaditis, the current town supervisor, and Amy Pokorny, a town councilwoman.

“I’ve got a laundry list,” said Lefkaditis, of what he’d like to accomplish, “in what can only be described as a hostile environment.” He added the all-Democratic board has made his work “challenging.”

Pokorny has had her own initiatives for the town stymied as well — most notably acceptance of a state grant for an electric-vehicle charging station that would have paved the way for a separate $100,000 grant.

Amy Pokorny

“I think it’s important for voters to have a choice,” said Pokorny; she announced her run this week in a letter to the Enterprise editor. A Democrat and a member of the town’s Democratic Committee, Pokorny is seeking endorsements from both the local Democratic and Independence parties.

Pokorny said she would like to encourage economic growth that is balanced with protections to the environment, agriculture, and the town’s historic character. She said that this is why she supports efforts to start an agriculture committee that will look at business tie-ins to farming.

Pokorny said she would like to hear input from town residents on the three new business districts proposed for Knox. She said she would like to ask what they see as advantages the area offers to businesses as well as concerns they have about businesses being developed in these districts.

“I’m looking forward to hearing from these residents,” she said.

Pokorny also noted that the town’s planning board and Conservation Advisory Council advised the town to consider the karst geology — porous bedrock that liquid may travel through — and the hill at the intersection of routes 156 and 157 which cause a sharp turn in one of the proposed business districts.

“There are safety concerns,” she said, adding that residents of these districts have voiced concerns about noise and lighting disturbances.

Pokorny said that she is working on developing a capital improvement plan to restore town facilities such as the transfer station and highway garage.

“That’s something that we need to figure out,” she said, adding that this would involve calculating the cost of shared facilities and communicating with the town highway workers, with whom she said she will be meeting in the next few weeks.

Concerns with the current garage include the high cost of heating due to lack of insulation, problems with the water supply, and improper storage of equipment.

Pokorny had formed a committee months ago to achieve four “action items” that would make Knox eligible for for a $100,000 grab through the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency, if it were among the first municipalities to do so. In February, when Knox was a frontrunner, Pokorny had proposed an electric-vehicle charging station — an application which the board had previously approved — which would be funded by another state grant. Pokorny’s motion wasn’t seconded, and the town is still seeking a fourth action item.

The committee wrote a proposal that would have spent much of the NYSERDA grant on upgrading and improving the garage.

“Well we still have two other opportunities,” said Pokorny, referring to either installing light-emitting diodes, or LED lights, in streetlights in the hamlet, or training the code enforcement officer in energy conservation.

“I’m hopeful that one or the other will be completed sometime soon,” she said.

Other goals or projects she has worked on include a shared archive record with the Knox Volunteer Fire Company through a grant the town clerk applied for, completing a new dog-control program, creating the semi-annual newsletter, expanding the recycling program, obtaining a grant to study water quality in the hamlet, supporting environmental efforts to in turn help taxpayers, and developing a comprehensive plan for the town.

After surveying the public to develop a vision for the plan, Pokorny said that people consistently said preservation of a rural town and its country lifestyle were important, as well as creating economic opportunities in town. A balance between these two values could be achieved through things like ecotourism or internet-based businesses, Pokorny said.

“We’re looking for all kinds of opportunities for people to take advantage of,” she said.

Pokorny grew up in a small community near Binghamton, in Broome County. She had worked for the Department of Social Services in Norwich, in Chenango County, before moving to Knox in 1985. She continued to work for social services — now known as the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance — in Albany. Later, she and her husband, Russ Pokorny, now the town assessor, ran the Knox Country Store for six years until 2002. She is now retired, but she and her husband host events at a venue they own called the Octagon Barn.

“I wanted to be in a quiet rural setting,” she said, of her decision to move to Knox.

Pokorny was first involved in town government in 2006, when she served on the town’s zoning board until 2012. That year, she was appointed to a position on the town council, and then ran to keep her seat the following year. She is also a member of the Kiwanis club, a charter member of the Helderberg Hilltowns Association, a member of the Albany County Visions and Conventions Bureau, and of the Knox Town Band (she plays the trumpet).

Vasilios Lefkaditis

Lefkaditis says he will run to keep his seat in November, although he did not specify which party line he would run on.

“Like any candidate, I’m going to seek endorsements of all the parties,” he said. Lefkaditis is registered as a Democrat, according to the June 2016 voter assessment rolls.

Lefkaditis said that the town made the right decision in not approving a grant for an EV station. Although a grant would have been used to install a station, Lefkaditis said that the sitework and a fee charged per-use of the station to the town would have cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars.

A representative of the company producing the station estimated this past December that the cost it would be about $9,000, with the state grant covering all but 20 percent of the total cost. The town could contribute the remaining $1,800  in the form of in-kind services such as installation and maintenance, he said.

Lefkaditis said that replacing lights in the hamlet with LEDs would be installed faster in order to secure the NYSERDA grant sooner, saying that the highway superintendent indicated an EV station couldn’t be set up until July. He added that the LED lights would save taxpayers money by lowering the town’s energy bill by about 20 percent.

The supervisor also said the highway garage improvements would be under a new capital project, and said that the issue would have to be looked at carefully.

“The only thing worse than ignoring the highway garage for the last 50 years is foolishly rushing to spend taxpayers’ dollars...and putting a bandaid on a severed limb,” he said.

He added that he had an open dialogue with the county about possible shared facilities.

Lefkaditis believes that new business districts would benefit the town if there were appropriate oversight that would ensure rural character is maintained.

“I support the business districts and responsible growth,” he said.

He said that, since the planning board and zoning board of appeals must review new businesses in the town before they can be established, proper oversight should be maintained for any business in a business district.

The planning board has twice recommended against one of the proposed business districts, a recommendation the town board went against in deciding to hold a public hearing.

Lefkaditis said a business district would benefit owners by allaying blighted property and increasing property values, as well as employ residents and bring the convenience of a nearby business. More business districts would increase the economic vitality of the town, he said.

Lefkaditis also referenced the survey designed to provide a vision for the new comprehensive plan. Emphasizing that the plan would be determined by the survey results and not an individual desire, he said that residents requested preservation of rural character and open space in the town, as well as more business opportunities.

“Not only can they coexist, they complete each other,” he said, of these requested traits, adding, “You can’t have businesses outside of a business district.”

Lefkaditis said his own business experience has helped him as supervisor.

“I’ve used my business experience to achieve unprecedented savings,” he said, “I’ve had a million-dollar year-and-a-half.”

He said his skills in building relationships with politicians and officials such as state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, county Legislator Chris Smith, and Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple had helped obtained grant money, donations, and other funds for the town.

Lefkaditis said that line items in the town budget would save Knox $50,000 to $100,000 and that he helped to secure a $608,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration for damages associated with Hurricane Irene.

Lefkaditis also has worked on youth programs and senior service programs and is in the midst of developing a park improvement plan.

“I’m grateful of the support [the town council does] give me...but they’ve made it challenging, to say the least,” he said.

Lefkaditis moved to Knox from Huntington, in Suffolk County, nine years ago. From 1994 to the early 2000s, he worked as a certified financial advisor and equity trader before he started his own fund for lending, registering banknotes, and working in real estate. He currently still manages this fund.

Lefkaditis said he moved to Knox “for the same reasons as most people,” the rural character and open space. Before running for town supervisor in 2015, he served on the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board for four years. He also has been a member of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association, has coached Little League Baseball in town, and has appeared with his family in the Hilltowns Players production.

“I wish [Pokorny] a lot of luck — but not as much as me,” Lefkaditis quipped.

Getting endorsed

According to Albany County’s April 2017 voter rolls, approximately 37 percent of Knox voters are enrolled as Democrats, 24 percent are Republicans, 30 percent are in no party, 7 percent are in the Independence Party, and 5 percent are in other parties.

Dee Woessner, co-chair of the Knox Democratic Committee, said she personally believed that Pokorny would be selected, but noted that a caucus would be held later in the summer or fall to endorse a candidate. Should Pokorny and Lefkaditis both seek a nomination, either could be chosen.

“I’m sure [Pokorny] would be,” said Woessner, saying that Pokorny does much for the town in initiatives and volunteer work.

“She seems to have a really strong sense of community and values to build community,” said Woessner

The Democrats endorsed longtime supervisor Michael Hammond, said Woessner, rather than Lefkaditis two years ago. Lefkaditis then ran on the Conservative line and ousted Hammond.

Corrected on May 16, 2017: Vasilios Lefkaditis is exploring sharing facilities with the county, not services, as originally reported. And he served for four years, not one year, on the school board; he was president of the board for one year.

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