Bichteman resigns as Westerlo supervisor

The Enterprise — Noah Zweifel

Supervisor Bill Bichteman, right; Councilman Joseph Boone, middle; and Deputy Supervisor Matthew Kryzak sit at the dais during the Westerlo Town Board’s June 15 meeting, held at the town park pavilion. It was Bichteman’s last meeting before his resignation, effective June 18. 

WESTERLO — Bill Bichteman has officially resigned as Westerlo’s supervisor, cutting short a tenure that began in 2019, when Bichteman was appointed acting supervisor after the long-time supervisor, Richard Rapp, stepped down

Bichteman, a Democrat, was then elected to a four-year term as supervisor in the 2019 election. His term is set to expire in 2023.

Although Westerlo has nearly twice as many enrolled Democrats as Republicans, its town board now has just one Democrat and three Republicans. The deputy supervisor, Republican Matthew Krysak, is in line to be appointed supervisor.

In a resignation letter dated June 15, Bichteman attributed his decision to the stress of politics, stating that he can “no longer justify devoting my all in the daily struggle to move the town forward.” 

“For as much as I care about Westerlo,” Bichteman goes on, “it’s too large a sacrifice for anyone to endure. I wrote this letter in my mind several times over the past months. Each time I reconsidered, convincing myself that the environment would be less stressful with time and a measure of success.

“That has not proven to be the case,” he continues. “In fact, it has gotten worse. Maybe it’s just politics and if so, I apologize for my naivete, but regardless, it has become just too hard to deal with and I have reached the limit of my tolerance for nonsense. It shouldn’t be this difficult to achieve important goals for the collective good of this town.”

Bichteman ended his letter by apologizing to those who voted for him.

It is not obvious what incident or incidents Bichteman is referring to in his letter. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Although criticized by opponents for his suffer-no-fools demeanor, Bichteman received bipartisan praise for his 2020 budget, the first that he created for the town. 

Under former Supervisor Rapp, Westerlo budgets were infamously opaque, but Bichteman overhauled the town budget and fastidiously explained the purpose and value of each line item during budget workshop meetings. 

His next budget, for 2021, was created in the haze of the coronavirus pandemic, which enormously impacted sales tax revenues and obscured the amount of sales-tax-derived state aid municipalities would receive. 

Bichteman tackled the uncertainty head-on, ringing the alarms and sketching out a doomsday budget in May of 2o20 that set expectations for what would happen if the worst-case economic projections came to pass. 

However, he was buffeted by criticism from some residents when he insisted that the town should lay off two highway workers, eventually winning over the two board members necessary for a 3-to-2 vote in favor of the layoffs. 

When asked last October how he felt about residents who would describe his sometimes stubborn belief in a certain path forward as dictatorial, Bichteman said that it wasn’t “a fair characterization at all.”

“I’m totally goal-oriented and I look at problems in a non-political light, and that offends some people, I guess,” Bichteman said. “I look at things as a positive or negative: Does it or doesn’t it help? Solutions are solutions; you define the problem, you plot the solution, and you engage. And those things seem pretty simplistic.”

In addition to his budget lifts, Bichteman will likely be remembered for his determination in creating a comprehensive plan sufficient for guiding town development. The draft of a new version was released last month but has yet to be adopted by the town board. 

Westerlo had developed its first comprehensive plan in 2015 but it was never codified into zoning law. 

In 2019, after the town had established a moratorium on renewable energy development following a slew of accepted solar farm proposals, Bichteman’s town board put together a committee that would work for nearly two years to put together what turned out to be a robust plan, filled with research and data for various boards in the town to refer to when making decisions.

Bichteman is leaving office just as the town will formally review and adopt that plan. Also, the town recently learned that Congressman Paul Tonko is championing its request for nearly $2 million in federal funding. Tonko met with prominent members of the town earlier this month, including Bichteman, to hear their concerns about the town’s lack of broadband service.

 

Succession

Deputy Supervisor Kryzak, a business manager, was elected to the town board in 2019. 

As deputy, Kryzak is entrusted with the duties of a town supervisor while a supervisor is unable to fulfill those duties him or herself, according to New York State Town Law. When acting as supervisor, the deputy “shall have no vote in his capacity as deputy supervisor on matters coming before the town board,” the law states. 

The supervisor’s position will be filled at the next general election in November since the vacancy occurred more than three months before that election, according to Public Officers Law and to Albany County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Kathleen Donovan.

“As it stands currently, I am in line to become acting supervisor until we can hold an election this November for the supervisor position,” Kryzak told The Enterprise this week in an email.  

Of Bichteman’s resignation, Kryzak said, “I respect Bill’s decision, and his privacy regarding his resignation. I wish him the best in all of his future endeavors. I can tell you that Bill worked very hard as supervisor and brought a lot of good ideas to the table. 

“I will say that public service is not an easy undertaking,” Kryzak continued. “It can be just as frustrating as it is rewarding. I have a lot of respect for anyone who will give it a try. Especially those who decide to spend their retirement years serving the public. Public service is exhausting on the best of days.” 

When asked her thoughts about Bichteman’s stress over political factors in the town and what contentions he may have been referencing, Westerlo GOP Chairwoman Lisa DeGroff said she wasn’t aware of any “‘nonsense’ that you say he quotes in his letter.”

“It’s my observation that when he’s challenged or questioned about anything  … he didn’t like it,” DeGroff said. “But that’s par for the course when you’re in a position like this. You’re not going to please everybody all the time.” 

Acknowledging the possibility that something may have occurred “behind closed doors,” DeGroff said that she felt the most contentious town board meeting was when the board and public were discussing laying off the highway workers. 

“That’s what I think was the worst of it since I’ve been involved,” said DeGroff, who’s regularly attended town meetings since at least Bichteman’s 2019 election.

Of Bichteman as supervisor, DeGroff said, “Although we differed on policy and procedure, I have respect for anyone that will step up and run for office. It’s certainly not an easy job.”

Republican Councilwoman Amie Burnside told The Enterprise this week, “It’s been a difficult year for all in Westerlo and I am very much looking forward to the future and not looking back.”

Republican Councilman Richard Filkins, meanwhile, told The Enterprise in an email that he’s “not disappointed” about Bichteman’s resignation.

“In his cover letter to the board he accused some of the board members at looking at shiny things and not what is good for the town,” Filkins said. “I am afraid it was the other way around.”

Filkins went on to accuse Bichteman of ignoring budget proposals made by himself and Burnside that they believed would allow the town to keep the two highway workers who were ultimately laid off, and of mistreating town employees and officials.

“There were times when I went to the association of towns (AOT) to get answers as I was not sure the direction we should take,” Filkins said, “and when I brought up info they provided at a board meeting Bill said he didn’t care what the association of towns said or thought as HE was in charge of the town not the AOT. 

“He got very angry with me when I said the town board members are in charge of what happens to the town and he was only the financial officer and could not make decisions without the town board,” Filkins went on. “Supervisor Dick Rapp always asked the board what direction to take whereas Bill told the board what he decided.”

Among many other examples, Filkins said someone had brought a formal harassment complaint against Bichteman. He later confirmed this was Dotty Verch, who had chaired the planning board and who had run unsuccessfully against Bichteman in the 2019 election; Bichteman won 62 percent of the vote. 

Verch, who recently moved out of town, confirmed for The Enterprise this week that she had accused Bichteman of harassment during an executive session last year, but would not elaborate, calling it “old laundry.”

When asked what came of the accusation, Verch said, “Nothing.” 

Filkins said in his email that there are board members, including himself, who “make themselves sick … before a meeting wondering what he’ll pull next or him saying the board don’t understand how the budget works when he moves money for his agendas.”

“I know a lot of residents who were rejoicing when they found out he was going to leave so it’s not just me,” Filkins said. “As we go forward on the board we will all be working very hard to do what’s in the best interest of all the residents of Westerlo not a personal agenda for just one or two persons.” 

Not all residents were rejoicing. Dianne Sefcik, who frequently attends town board meetings and whose husband, John Sefcik, formerly chaired Westerlo’s zoning board — both are Democrats — writes in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, “Bill has done an outstanding job under extremely challenging circumstances, I don’t know anyone who could have done what he did for the town in the relatively short time he was acting and then elected supervisor. He brought integrity and accountability to bear on the decades-old neglect, dysfunction and cronyism of the previous administration.”

Sefcik also addresses Bichteman’s stubborn demeanor, which she suggests was misinterpreted or exaggerated.

“While he was supervisor, I saw none of the ‘my way or the highway’ attitude some people recently identified,” Sefcik writes. “To the contrary: He always presented detailed assessments of agenda items, including well-researched pros and cons, for the town board’s consideration and open discussion, and he listened to what the public had to say.

“Bill worked endless hours for nominal pay and put up with nonsense, all right, all for the benefit of the town,” Sefcik goes on. “I’m sure it has taken its toll. We are losing a uniquely dedicated and effective supervisor. The townspeople owe him an enormous debt of gratitude, one he may never see.”

Burnside and Councilman Joseph Boone told The Enterprise that the board had been aware of Bichteman’s decision to resign since last month, but Burnside said that “it just wasn’t really disclosed until we knew the exact date his resignation would take place.”

The draft minutes of the town board’s June 1 special meeting show that the matter came up briefly during a discussion about the Heritage Museum. 

Burnside had asked Bichteman if his last meeting would be on June 15, to which Bichteman replied that he intended to stay on the board through June 30. Kryzak then “advised this should be discussed during executive session,” the minutes state. An executive session was held at that meeting, but for the purposes of discussing non-town board appointments.

No indication was given at the June 15 meeting that Bichteman was resigning, except when Joseph Boone — who had been Bichteman’s deputy throughout his tenure until Boone stepped down from that role in March — praised Bichteman for his service to the town during the public comment period at the end of the meeting. 

“I can think of only one other person in our town who has taken on the multitude of responsibilities and challenges and the time commitments of the position of supervisor like Bill has,” Boone said. “While Bill was a board member under Dick’s tenure as our supervisor, and I was the newest appointee to this board, I relied on every one of our board members for help in understanding my new role. 

“But it was Bill who really pushed me to get my feet under me, take up the tasks at hand, and put in the work to get the job done,” Boone continued.  “… In short, he helped me find my voice as a board member. At every opportunity to try to improve the town, I honestly felt that Bill’s heart was in the right place … I thank Bill for trying to do what he felt was best and for putting in the abundance of time and energy for the town.” 

Bichteman responded by asking if there were any further comments and, there being none, requested a motion to adjourn the meeting.

More Hilltowns News

  • The Albany Water Board, steward of the Basic Creek dam in Westerlo, has received $100,000 from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to come up with a design for a rehabilitation project for the high-hazard dam, which is in substandard condition.

  • A digital equity map, put together by a coalition of organizations including the New York State Education Department and the New York State Library, shows that approximately 15 percent of Hilltown households don’t have internet access, whether because they don’t have an internet subscription or because they don’t have internet-capable devices.

  • Co-pastors Greg and Becky Town arrived in the Hilltowns in January 2021 to begin their calling at the Reformed chores in the Knox hamlet and at Thompson’s Lake, after the previous pastor had been abruptly removed by the consistory in early 2019.  

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