Veterans rally for Berne councilman after Dems skip meeting over safety

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Berne Councilman Dennis Palow speaks to a crowd of supporters after an Aug. 28 meeting.

BERNE — On Wednesday night, the Berne Town Hall was packed, not just with town residents but with people from various places. But at the dais, the three Democratic council members — Joel Willsey, Karen Schimmer, and Dawn Jordan — were not present for the scheduled board meeting and public hearings.

Willsey, Jordan, and Schimmer told The Enterprise earlier that day — after submitting a letter to the Enterprise editor about their planned absence — that Supervisor Sean Lyons, a Republican, had refused to provide a requested technician to properly operate a metal detector at the town hall for the meeting.

Willsey had requested this two weeks ago, as well as a police presence and a sweep of the building for weapons hidden in the town hall, in an email to the supervisor, citing concerns about a threat made by Councilman Dennis Palow, a Republican as well as a combat veteran, at the regular July town board meeting.

Social media helped fuel attendance. Melody Burns, a conservative talk-radio host, had said in a post on the Channel 6 Facebook page that the Democratic board members had labeled Palow a “mass killer,” and are “labelling all Combat veterans as being damaged and killers,” something they adamantly denied.

Lyons told The Enterprise that was Burns’s interpretation of confidential emails he had shared with Burns. Lyons said he knew Burns from his volunteering with the Veterans’ Miracle Center.​ What Willsey had actually written to Lyons in an email was that he was “very concerned about the potential for a PTSD situation.”

When The Enterprise asked Palow if he’d suffered from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, he responded that it wasn’t anyone’s business except his and a doctor’s.

Liz Joy, a Republican Congressional candidate, was there because her husband and son are both veterans, she said, and she wanted to be supportive. She was contacted by Lyons and also saw a post on the Westerlo Republicans’ Facebook page, she said.

Some said they had found out through Michelle Viola-Straight’s Facebook page. She is an Altamont resident and president of the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce, as well as the mother of two sons in the military; she has been active organizing Hometown Heroes banners for Guilderland and founded the Capital Region Military Awareness Expo, held at Crossgates Mall.

Others knew Lyons through his volunteering with various veterans services.

 

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
A crowd of around 50 people in Berne Town Hall rallied around Councilman Dennis Palow and Supervisor Sean Lyons Wednesday night.

 

Willsey said that, while the board members had already decided they would not attend the meeting, the comments under Burns’s post suggesting supporters storm the meeting escalated the situation further.

“I say we swarm this meeting. Any combat vets wanna show up?” asked a poster, responding to Burns’s post.

“I’m a combat veteran. I really want to go. When and where is it?” responded one.

“Sounds like these snowflakes need to be in a padded room,” wrote another.

A third wrote, “OK, these liberals are truly the most unamerican people there are, going after combat vets truly despicable.”

Dogs did sweep the building for weapons earlier, and around four or five Albany County Sheriff’s deputies were present, said Lyons. He had requested more deputies once he realized a larger crowd might be present and parking guidance could be needed.

 

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
“I stand with Dennis,” says a flyer being passed around at an Aug. 28 meeting in Berne. People from both in and outside of Berne flocked to the meeting to support Councilman Dennis Palow, a combat veteran, after information about emails from other town board members’ expressing concern that Palow could be a threat was spread online.

 

History

Tensions had been simmering since the 2017 elections when the town board, dominated for decades by Democrats, held onto its majority by a single vote, electing Willsey. Lyons and Palow, both Republicans, were new to politics. Willsey and Palow had frequently been at odds.

The August town board meeting had been scheduled for Aug. 14, but was delayed by Lyons due to the security increase Willsey had requested earlier that week.

At the Aug. 28 meeting, because only Lyons and Palow were present, there was no quorum so the scheduled public hearings and meeting could not be held. Instead, in addition to an already scheduled presentation, numerous people spoke at the lectern in support of Lyons and Palow, and condemned the Democratic board members.

Willsey had requested the email with his security request be kept confidential, he told The Enterprise Wednesday, because he did not want his concerns about Palow to be made public.

“I understand that there’s nothing that really is confidential about town emails,” he said. “But I didn’t want Dennis to be perceived as having a problem when we don’t know it.”

Lyons told The Enterprise Wednesday he had shared the emails with Palow because he wanted to address the matter with him, adding that Willsey had also already shared information about the emails with The Enterprise two weeks ago. The supervisor said that, after looking into the matter, he did not see Palow’s comments as a threat, and did not think it was necessary to have the metal detector in use.

“I refuse to have the residents go through a metal detector to come to the town board meeting — to their town board meeting,” Lyons had said earlier that night at the gathering. Someone in the back asked when the meetings would resume normally.

“The election,” said someone else.

Palow is a former United States Army first sergeant who retired in 2014. He announced at the meeting that he has received a security clearance to work for the federal government again, training soldiers in Germany on three-week rotations.

“So, obviously the government has trust in me,” he said.

Willsey told The Enterprise two weeks ago, after the town board meeting had been delayed to increase security measures, that he had been concerned when Palow had shouted at him during their July board meeting, “If you keep talking crap about me, Joel, I’ve got something for you.” The “crap” Palow was referencing were letters to the Enterprise editor from Willsey critical of Republican officials in town.

“When’s this going to happen?” Willsey then asked Palow.

“It’s going to happen right here,” Palow replied.

At the Aug. 28 gathering, Palow responded that he had been saying he wanted to settle the dispute at the dais in a town board meeting and not “hide behind The Altamont Enterprise,” again referring to Willsey’s frequent letters.

Palow, unhappy with Enterprise coverage, had emailed the Hilltown reporter on July 25, “don’t ever contact me again regarding anything for the Altamont Enterprise or the Town of Berne.”

 

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Robert Porter, a Republican from Albany and veteran, speaks about post-traumatic stress disorder and the stigma associated with it. 

 

Call for resignation

At the meeting, Palow approached the lectern to speak as a town resident, thanking the 50 or so people for coming, including veterans and two “blue star mothers” — mothers of active-duty service members — who had barely known him before. He proceeded to read the emails from Willsey, Schimmer, and Jordan and offered his own comments on the matter, before telling the crowd he was asking the three council members to resign.

“Apparently they have no idea what would happen if the three of us resigned,” said Jordan late Wednesday night when asked about Palow’s demand. She said there would be no quorum to act on any items and the board would not be able to function or even appoint new members.

Neither Schimmer nor Jordan are running for re-election.

Willsey said he was not sure if he would resign, particularly given the stress on his family. He said his wife has been concerned about the threats.

Lyons said he did not want the three board members to resign, but rather to apologize and to continue running board meetings as usual.

“We have a number of important business items pushed out another two weeks,” he said.

 

 

 

Palow read outloud Willsey’s emails, which included a line stating Willsey was “very concerned about the potential for a PTSD situation,” which drew an angry reaction from the crowd.

In the same email, Willsey referenced a March 1, 2018 email from Palow in which he noted his status as a combat veteran as well as a town board member and later said he would not tolerate disrespect from the other board members.

“In that email he advised of us his combat tours, making it clear he is a capable killer … ,” Willsey wrote.

Palow also read an email from Jordan in which she agreed with Willsey’s request.

“As much as I would like to believe the threat would never be carried out, with what has been happening in the US lately, I feel it would be negligent to simply ignore it.”

“Now they’re labeling me a mass shooter,” Palow remarked to the crowd.

“They are labeling all combat veterans as being insane and killers,” he later added.

 

Crowd support

After he spoke, Amie Burnside, a Republican councilwoman from Westerlo, remarked from the crowd that she would trust Palow with her own children. Lisa DeGroff, the Republican chairwoman from Westerlo with a child in the military, said veterans should never be a “political football.”

DeGroff handed out flyers, depicting an American flag and a picture of Palow in uniform, that said in capital letters, “I stand with Dennis.” She wore the flyer taped to the back of her T-shirt.

“Is he a veteran?” asked another person in the crowd, of Willsey.

Numerous people spoke in support of Palow and Lyons, who is not a veteran himself but is an active volunteer for veterans services. Lyons works at the Army’s Watervliet arsenal.

Others in the crowd said they were tired of the escalating conflict between board members and others in town, some remarking they were very close to moving.

“Today, when I caught wind of this, I sat in the kitchen for two hours crying,” said Michelle Viola-Straight. “This cannot be allowed,” she later added.

Robert Porter, an Albany resident who had run for State Assembly on the Republican line in 2018, and a veteran himself, said that there has been a negative stigma about PTSD since the Vietnam War. He added that learning combat or how to kill someone makes up a small portion of training in the military.

Someone shouted “cowards” from the crowd when Porter mentioned the three absent board members.

“Not cowards,” said Porter, advising the group not to “sink to their level.”

He encouraged the crowd to keep returning to meetings until the issue is resolved.

“We’ll need you back,” Lyons later added as the meeting drew to a close.

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