Citizens will walk through a metal detector at the next Berne Town Board meeting

BERNE — The last time the Berne Town Board was scheduled to meet, on Aug. 28, only the two Republicans — along with a large crowd — showed up at Town Hall. Supervisor Sean Lyons and Councilman Dennis Palow couldn’t conduct any business without a quorum.

Last Wednesday, Sept. 11, just the three Democrats — council members Dawn Jordan, Karen Schimmer, and Joel Willsey — were there along with about a score of onlookers.

The trio efficiently went through the items listed on the meeting agenda with no objection from the onlookers until the board got to two resolutions that would clear the way for a metal detector to be used at town board meetings.

Councilwoman Dawn Jordan told The Enterprise that Palow was out of the country and that Lyons had emailed hours before the meeting that he was too sick to attend.

The board never held its August meeting or the two scheduled public hearings. Lyons had postponed the regularly scheduled August meeting, on Aug. 13, “due to recent safety and security concerns.”

Palow had threatened Willsey at the July meeting, and the three Democrats wanted a metal detector used, which Lyons had declined. The Democratic board members, citing safety concerns, did not attend the Aug. 28 meeting.

Lyons had shared confidential emails from Willsey with a conservative talk-radio host who had posted on a local television news station’s Facebook page that Berne’s Democratic board members has labeled Palow, a veteran, as a “mass killer” and were “labelling all Combat veterans as being damaged and killers.”

Although there was no evidence of this — and the Democrats vehemently denied it — the post caused a frenzy on social media, swelling attendance at the August meeting, drawing people from outside of Berne. Many veterans and supporters of veterans rallied behind Palow.

“I refuse to have the residents go through a metal detector to come to the town board meeting — to their town board meeting,” Lyons told the crowd on Aug. 28.

At the Sept. 11 meeting, the three Democratic board members passed two resolutions that will put the metal detector, which the town already has and uses for its court sessions, in use for town board meetings, and also for zoning board and planning board meetings if the people who chair those boards call for it.

The resolution on weapons possession explains that Berne’s town code already prohibits the public from carrying guns, concealed or not, in a town park and that the Employee Handbook forbids town workers and officials from “possession of weapons, including but not limited to knives, firearms, and explosives on Town property.”

But, since the town had no prohibition in place to restrict the public from weapons possession, the new resolution makes the restriction for any town building while a meeting is in session. The resolution says this is to “ensure the performance of essential governmental functions by town employees without threat or intimidation to such employees or others.”

Signs are to be posted saying this, in town buildings.

The resolution on metal detectors at board meetings says that, since weapons are now prohibited at board meetings, a sheriff’s deputy will see that everyone entering the Berne Town Hall for a board meeting passes through the metal detector. Further, those who chair the zoning and planning boards can make a written request to have the metal detector used for their meetings.

Jordan told The Enterprise this would cost $20 to $50 per hour, depending on the deputy’s rate of pay.

“It’s not what I like to see,” said Jordan. “I support the Constitution and the Second Amendment … But we have the right to feel safe at our meetings and not feel intimidated or harassed.”

She went on, “One person’s rights end when they infringe on another person’s rights.”

Jordan added, in an email, “It has been my experience that the vast majority of people inherently understand and operate by that tenet. Unfortunately, there are a few who tend to throw it out the window when it suits their narrative to do so.”

None of the other board members could be reached for comment.

Jordan and Schimmer are not running for re-election in November. Neither Palow nor Willsey are up for re-election. Palow, at the Aug. 28 meeting, had called for the resignation of all three Democrats. 

Willsey told The Enterprise then 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.

Tensions had been growing 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.

Legislation

Only one person spoke at the long-postponed public hearings.

Matt Harris, who is running for the town board on the GOP line, spoke on the proposal for a moratorium on industrial-scale solar-energy systems. 

“There are only two entry points to the grid in the whole town of Berne,” Harris said, adding, “The most you can plug in is five megawatts.” Harris also said it would cost a company millions of dollars to upgrade.

“If people start slapping these things on their roof, we’re going to run out of that by natural causes,” he said of the available megawatts..

Harris also said it takes between 2 and 4 acres per megawatt so the most Berne could have would be a 20- or 25-acre solar farm. “The only visual you could have is if you were looking on Google Earth,” Harris said.

He recommended shortening the moratorium from the proposed six months to three months so that neighboring towns wouldn’t have the advantage of getting “public buildings lit up” for free if a solar company went there instead.

“Writing a giant law doesn’t make any sense … ,” said Harris.”We’re over-working it.” He suggested, rather, “putting in something that makes sense for that one application.”

No one spoke on the proposed hydrofracking law. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas.

Later in the meeting, the three Democrats voted to adopt both the hydrofracking and large-scale solar moratorium.

“We’re working on a zoning code for industrial solar,” Jordan told The Enterprise. “You don’t want to end the moratorium until you have something in place.”

Although in 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing, Jordan said, “New York State could reverse its decision.”

She said she hopes both the solar law and the fracking law will be passed before January. She noted that, since the planning board submitted a draft of the solar law to the town board that will go faster; the fracking bill has to go to the planning board and then back to the town board.

At the Sept. 11 meeting, the board also introduced a local law establishing a six-month moratorium on applications, approvals, or construction or installation of small-scale battery storage system in Berne.

“The planning board attended training sessions on that. NYSERDA has put out a model,” Jordan said of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. “Because of the danger, there’s a moratorium until the planning board puts something together.”

Other business

In other business at its Sept. 11 meeting, the board:

— Heard a request from the Little League for a new fence and improvements to the ballfield and dugout. The Little League representatives said that, for more than 50 years, on a handshake agreement, they had maintained the ballfield, which the town owns, but that now the renovations exceed their expertise and finances.

The organization raises funds from concession-stand sales, sponsorships, and a per-player fee of $65, which they don’t want to increase.

Last year, they said, the town of Knox helped out with its ballfield, and, before that, Westerlo did, so now it is Berne’s turn;

— Authorized pay for four summer recreation interns who worked from Aug. 5 to 16: Ashley Cooper, Aaron Bilello-Undelson, Omarra Hannibal-Williams,, and Jordan Mann;

— Appointed Kathllen Putzig as town historian; her earlier appointment had lapsed as she traveled abroad;

— Authorized Lyons to write a letter to the neighboring towns of Knox and Westerlo, asking for commitment to a 2020 Household Hazardous Waste Day;

— Accepted Amy Powarzynski’s resignation from the Berne Public Library;

— Accepted Jeff Alexander’s resignation as as solid waste coordinator, an appointed position, and in buildings and maintenance, effective Aug. 23, and authorized the town clerk to advertise to fill the building and maintenance position;

— Authorized Carrie Needham as a Civil Service library clerk at $12.86 per hour;

— Authorized emergency repair of an industrial-sized refrigerator at the Switzkill Farm retreat house; it will be repaired by Cliff Selig for not more than $950;

— Declared the abandoned house at 564 Helderberg Trail an unsafe structure;

— Approved payment to Vantage for $4,838 to repair the blade on the highway department’s Champion grader; and

— Approved purchasing two laptops, at $900 each, to replace outdated computers , for the town clerk and the senior account clerk.

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