Call for town planner to resign and for planning board to file a negative-findings statement on Pyramid FEIS

To the Editor:

It’s time for the Guilderland town planner to resign and the Guilderland Planning Board to stop taking his biased advice and guidance.

On Aug. 3, the Guilderland town planner, Mr. Ken Kovalchik, called into a virtual meeting of the Guilderland Coalition for Responsible Growth (GCRG) and in a 10-minute rant made a series of unsubstantiated accusations of misconduct at unnamed participants of our group and Save the Pine Bush. He claimed these people could be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor under Section 195 of the New York State Penal Code.

Before our meeting commenced, I asked Mr. Kovalchik why he had called in. He replied that he was attending for our first agenda item, which was to discuss the armed escort of members of the planning board from the town hall after they concluded their very short specially-scheduled planning board meeting on July 29, 2020.

As your readers already know from your article on July 30, “Planning board accepts FEIS for Pyramid’s Guilderland projects,” members of Save the Pine Bush had organized a small, socially-distanced, and mask-wearing protest for this special meeting and some people who associate with the GCRG participated as well.

At the time of our meeting, we had no idea why members had been escorted out of the building that way. Lynne Jackson from Save the Pine Bush wrote about the armed escort of planning board members in a letter to your paper two weeks ago. [“Why were planning board members escorted by armed police?” Aug. 6, 2020].

When given the opportunity to speak, Mr. Kovalchik started off by saying he called into our meeting because he wanted to keep the issue private. He then launched into 15 minutes of chastisement where he claimed someone who participates in our group made threats against a child of a planning board member as they entered the town hall for the special meeting and another planning board member overheard it. 

He also claimed that protesters were banging on the windows of the meeting room that night and shouting outside during the meeting. Mr. Kovalchik said this is why members of the planning board were escorted out of the town hall by a police officer after the meeting and that the protestors could be arrested and charged with misdemeanor under Section 195 of the New York State Penal Code.

He refused to answer any of our questions for additional details of what was said, who said it, or who was banging on the windows — and he abruptly hung up the phone after making these threatening and intimidating accusations.

Mr. Kovalchik also claimed that he has a recording of the offenses, but refused to share that with us as well. I filed a FOIL [Freedom of Information Law] request on Aug. 11 with the Guilderland town clerk to obtain this recording, but as of this time I have not received a response.

After speaking twice about the behavior of Mr. Kovalchik with the Guilderland town supervisor, Peter Barber, we now know that Mr. Kovalchik was referring to comments made by Karen White to Guilderland Planning Board Chairman Stephen Feeney when she asked him if he was considering the future of his child, with whom he plays basketball at the Y, with the vote he was taking that night as he entered the building.

Mr. Feeney scoffed at the remark and told her to read the letter from the Pine Bush Commission.  Planning Board Member Amanda Beedle was entering the building with Chairman Feeney at the time.

At this point, I think it should be noted that asking officials who are making decisions about our environmental future and the future they are leaving to their children is a very common question. Indeed, Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist and child herself, has become internationally famous for asking this same question. If one feels threatened by the question, perhaps they should ask themselves whose actions are really harming the future of children?

Mrs. White and I called Supervisor Barber on Wednesday, Aug. 5, to see if he was aware that Mr. Kovalchik called into our meeting and if he had any additional information about his allegations.

Mr. Barber acknowledged that he was aware that Mr. Kovalchik had called into our meeting, but had only learned of it the day after he called into the meeting. Mr. Barber told us that Guilderland Police detectives were working in the building the night of the meeting and heard a ruckus outside the back of the building that sounded like someone calling for help and went to investigate.

That’s when they discovered it was protesters. According to Supervisor Barber, who was not at the planning board meeting or in the town hall that evening, the detectives interviewed the planning board members after the meeting was over, except for Mr. Feeney, whom Mr. Barber was told had to leave quickly after the meeting to tend to personal matters. 

Supervisor Barber told us Mr. Feeney was interviewed on another day by the detectives and reported that he did not feel threatened by Mrs. White’s question. However, members of the Save the Pine Bush tell me they saw Mr. Feeney leave with Mr. Kovalchik long after the other members of the planning board had been escorted out of the building.

Mr. Barber indicated to us that he viewed the matter as closed and did not plan to take further action.

On Aug. 11, I met with Supervisor Barber again and he confirmed for me that Amanda Beedle is the board member who had expressed feeling threatened to detectives and that Mr. Feeney was interviewed by detectives the day after Mr. Kovalchik called into our meeting.

It would appear that Mr. Kovalchik took it upon himself as neither a town police officer nor town attorney to make accusations that seemed clearly intended to intimidate members of the GCRG and Save the Pine Bush and which go way beyond his authority as town planner.

As an employee of the town, Mr. Kovalchik is to maintain a conduct of behavior that is professional at all times. The Town of Guilderland Employee Handbook addresses many aspects of employee behavior, and what the consequences are of violating appropriate behavior toward other employees, but also to members of the public.

These can be found in three pertinent sections: Section 703-Anti Harassment Policy, Section 704-Workplace Violence, and Section 705-Employee Conduct. Mr. Kovalchik appears to have violated all three of these sections.

Neither the police nor the detectives confronted or questioned the protesters that night or any other time. We can only conclude this means they did not consider the behavior of any protesters to be inappropriate or threatening.

Because of this official misconduct, I am calling on Mr. Kovalchik to resign. I’m also calling on the Guilderland Planning Board to file a negative-findings statement for the Final Environmental Impact Statement on Aug. 26 as Mr. Kovalchik has expressed a bias toward Pyramid and against Guilderland residents since I first met him at a meeting in the cul-de-sac of Westmere Terrace in 2019.

If Pyramid wants to proceed with these proposals, despite the fact that they apparently cannot afford to pay their current property taxes, we should have a process that is fair to the residents and truly takes into consideration the full environmental impact of this proposed development, which is not accurately and completely reflected in the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The first version of this letter, which I provided to Mr. Barber, was too long for publication in this newspaper. If residents wish to see the original letter that I submitted last week with more details of Mr. Kovalchik’s bias in favor of Pyramid’s projects, they can find it on the GCRG website: 

We are also planning another protest starting at 6 p.m. on Aug. 26 at the Guilderland Town Hall for the next special meeting of the planning board.

Steve Wickham


Steering Committee

Guilderland Coalition

for Responsible Growth

Editor’s note: Kenneth Kovalchik did not return calls from The Enterprise, seeking comment on this letter.



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