Peggy Christman is an independent thinker and a force to be reckoned with

To the Editor:
I preface this letter by informing readers that I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I have spent more than 30 years of my life working in the criminal-justice field and felt that, while serving as a sworn member in the law-enforcement field, I should remain neutral and keep my political views private. Nonetheless, I will say that I have typically voted for political candidates based on their character and alliance with conservative values.

Since retiring from the New York State Police a few years ago, my wife and I decided that, after more than 20 years of residence in the town of Guilderland, we wanted to move to a rural area where we could have more property. After an extensive five-year search for a rustic home with acreage, we landed in East Berne not far from Warners Lake.

In addition to our desire to have more space and live where wildlife abounds, we were increasingly disappointed with the continuously expanding development in the town of Guilderland and the failure of the town government to consider the character of the town, its impact on the existing infrastructure, and the opinions of its residents when making decisions concerning whether to approve future development.

While I knew nothing about the town government in Berne prior to purchasing property in East Berne, I was not particularly concerned because of the rural character and the smaller population. Besides, the excitement of finding our dream property overshadowed any perceivable concerns with local government. Suffice it to say I had no preconceived notions about any of the local politics, people in government, or anyone else for that matter. I didn’t really know anyone in the town.

Not long after we moved to East Berne, we started getting The Altamont Enterprise, which seemed to be the best way to get in-depth information on events and news pertaining to our new area: the Hilltowns. The first couple years were fairly uneventful, with the possible exception of a dispute between the current highway superintendent and the town supervisor over a four-day workweek for highway employees.

Nevertheless, I still really didn’t think much about the town government either way, with perhaps one exception. I will say there was one instance early on when I did question our move, but only briefly, after an interaction with the town clerk.

Shortly after we moved into the new abode, I needed to get myself a permit for the transfer station so I could deposit our weekly garbage. In typical euphoric honeymoon fashion, still beaming from our move to the country, I happily stopped by the town hall one day to retrieve my permit, introduce myself as a new resident, and hopefully learn a little bit about what services or activities might be available in our new town.

Then I met our town clerk, Anita Clayton. I stood in front of her desk for what seemed much longer than it probably actually was, while she continued looking down at some document she was completing. No, “hello”, or “just give me a minute.”

When she finally looked up and grunted, “What can I do for you?”, I felt my heart descend to my stomach and thought to myself, I guess I am an outsider. So, I simply stated that I just moved here and needed a permit to use the transfer station. There was no smile, no “welcome to the town,” or “can I tell you a little about the town.” She abruptly asked for my registration and gave me my permit (after inscribing it with the wrong plate number).

Suffice it to say, I didn’t bother asking any questions. Contrary to what I would have expected and hoped, I found myself thinking I will be limiting my interaction with our town clerk. So, I left that day, head hanging a bit low, somewhat disappointed, and with some of that honeymoon-like euphoria dashed a little; almost akin to a male dog leaving the vet’s office after having been neutered.

Despite that negative interaction, I focused on why we moved here in the first place and didn’t think much about the local politics — for a little while, anyway.

Then, we had an election and there was a significant change in the town government’s political majority. At first, I wasn’t all that concerned and as I mentioned, I didn’t really know anyone personally. However, over time I did become concerned.

I started reading Enterprise articles about issues that didn’t seem to be existent prior to the change in administration. I found myself getting embarrassed about what was being printed about my town government. I began to observe a growing back-and-forth of disagreements between two factions.

At first, I presumed it may be simply differences of opinions fueled by party affiliation but, after distilling information provided in article after article, I surmised it was much more than that. What I learned over time is that the new town government majority does not value the input of others, especially those of the opposing party, whether it be town residents or board members.

Initially I thought that perhaps Joel Willsey, who would become the lone Democrat left on the board, may just be a difficult person. However, I have come to realize that is not the case. He has a great deal of knowledge, conducts research on what he does not know, and above all, has the best interest of the town and the safety of its people as his primary focus.

Not only do the current board members repeatedly dismiss concerns and questions raised by Mr. Willsey, but they ignore him, talk over him, deliberately withhold information and documents relevant to town business, and are downright disrespectful to him.

In fact, they were beyond disrespectful. At one meeting, the deputy supervisor, Dennis Palow, went on a tirade when Mr. Willsey raised some concerns. On another occasion, Willsey attempted to convey safety concerns with the improper erection of signs along the highway, after which Palow made a sexual-harassment complaint against Willsey for using the word “erection.”

Prior to my retirement from the New York State Police, I held the position of Major – Director of Human Resources. Not only did I attend a number of outside training sessions about sexual harassment and discrimination, but I was also significantly involved in the development and implementation of the New York State Police EEO (equal employment opportunity) policies and training for the agency.

I can assure you the ridiculous complaint by Mr. Palow was absolutely a waste of taxpayer resources. I mention this because I believe it speaks volumes about the character of those board members who completely disregard the notion that Mr. Willsey was elected by the people and deserves to be heard when he is performing his responsibilities to those constituents.

Not only do they not want to hear from Mr. Willsey, but they really don’t want to hear from town residents either. At one point, they decided meetings would be closed with no public comment.

Leo Vane was quoted by The Enterprise as saying he agreed with closing the meetings to comments because people come in and get on their “high horses.” He did say that, maybe if the comments were time limited, and eventually they decided to allow some limited public comment.

When the town started opening meetings again via Zoom, I listened in. When they were able to finally have an in-person meeting, I attended. I will say that it is true that watching a circus on a screen is nothing like seeing it in person.

I was able to experience Palow lose his temper when he got angry after public comment about the money the town spent on fireworks when they were unwilling to provide financial assistance to Jean Guarino’s Hugs for the Hilltowns.

I also witnessed Willsey call Palow out on a falsehood he presented concerning the dog-control officer position. I have worked as a corrections deputy in a jail, as a campus police officer in Buffalo, and a State Trooper, as a road trooper, and later as a commissioned officer who interviewed job applicants. After that type of experience, you develop a little cynicism, but at the same time some skills in assessing whether someone is telling you the whole truth.

Although Palow denied lying during that interaction with Willsey, I found myself scanning the room for the nearest fire extinguisher in the event that Palow’s pants set themselves ablaze.

I listened to Chance Townsend present why he wanted to purchase some electronic pads for the overabundance of code-enforcement officers without having information on what they cost and the details of how they transfer data.

I also observed Randy Bashwinger characterize former Dog Control Officer Cheryl Baitsholts as ineffective because she wouldn’t retrieve a dead dog from the highway at his request. I also noticed how he influenced Sean Lyons and Dennis Palow during that discussion and vote.

Randy asserted that his highway staff are not certified to remove dead animals. Now, I haven’t worked in every part of the state, but it has always been the State Police policy to notify the highway department responsible for that highway’s maintenance when there is a dead animal in or alongside the roadway.

In fact, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation website instructs the public to notify the corresponding highway department of dead animals on the roadway as well. (I do know that some larger municipalities contract with a company to perform that function because it is financially prudent to dedicate their staff to other tasks. I doubt that would be the case for our town.)   

Unfortunately, the lack of resident input into town matters, lack of respect for others, and dysfunctional meetings are not the only issues I have with this board. Publication after publication of The Enterprise presented a litany of issues leading me to conclude that the board leadership was incompetent and did not have the best interest of the town and its residents as their primary focus.

From fiscal irresponsibility to repeated failed leadership I concluded the board presents a threat to the safety, financial and physical wellbeing of this town. So, I contacted the former supervisor to ask who might be running in the next election and how I could contribute.

While I had no real interest in running for political office, the Democratic party was in the process of forming a team. To make a long story brief, I recommended that my wife, Margaret “Peggy” Christman, who is a registered Democrat, become involved by running for a board position. As it turns out, she would soon be the choice to run for town supervisor.

Let me tell you why I urged her to become involved. I met my wife at work. She held the rank of trooper assigned to the recruitment office at Troop G headquarters in Loudonville, and I had recently been promoted to lieutenant at division headquarters in Albany, in charge of statewide sworn member recruitment and entrance testing for the position of State Trooper.

With Troop G being so close to Division Headquarters, troopers assigned to Troop G often temporarily assist with projects at Division Headquarters and the Troop G recruiter often worked closely with the Headquarters Personnel and Human Resources office. 

It didn’t take long to realize how sharp and reliable Peggy was. She handled assignments quickly, didn’t require close supervision, and didn’t procrastinate. (One of the reasons I did not choose to run for political office in Berne, other than being a fairly conservative Independent, is that, unlike Peggy, I am a procrastinator.) To fast forward a bit, sometime later we found ourselves spending time together outside work after she had asked me out (LOL), and a couple years later getting married.

Over the ensuing years, I watched her study for sergeant and get promoted, and then study for lieutenant and get promoted. As a lieutenant in the Bureau of Criminal Investigation at Division Headquarters, she was responsible for a variety of programs, from tracking and processing asset seizures and forfeitures from drug arrests totaling more than seven figures, to the Amber Alert program, applicant background investigations, cold-case file review, and the internationally renowned Henry Williams Homicide Seminar, hosted annually at the New York State Police Academy and attended by police personnel from across the globe.

She was well known for learning new tasks, performing them well, and getting the job done. A recent letter from current highway superintendent, Randy Bashwinger, alleges that if a new board is elected that Peggy and the other members of her team will be the puppets of Kevin Crosier.

I can tell you that Peggy will be no one’s puppet. She is an independent thinker and a force to be reckoned with when faced with adversity. Perhaps Randy is projecting, since he seems to have an inordinate influence over the current board, although he is not a board member.   

I can assure you that she will seek input from town residents regardless of party affiliation to make sure they have a voice in the future of this town. Unlike the current board, she will spend hours reading and conducting research in order to know the facts and the details of all the issues affecting this town and will carefully consider all options.

Over the last few years, it has become quite apparent to me that the other members of this board, with the exception of Bonnie Conklin, operate by the principle: I have made up my mind, don’t confuse me with any facts.

I had the privilege recently of attending a meeting hosted by the Berne Library, which presented a video of questions asked of participating Berne political candidates. This session provided an open forum for the public to watch the video, ask questions, and make comments and suggestions for where the town needs to go in the future. Bonnie Conklin was in attendance.

After listening to her comments, I was deeply saddened by her resignation from the board. She clearly cares about the issues affecting our town residents and actively engaged in the discussion demonstrating a willingness to listen to other ideas, without regard to their party affiliation. She will be a loss, and I know if my wife is elected, she will solicit input from Bonnie and I am sure will encourage her to continue to serve the town in a worthwhile way.

I recently received a mailing from the Berne GOP candidates, which includes Democrat Anita Clayton, stating that they are a bipartisan team. Well, based on what I have observed, they are only bipartisan when the member of the other party is willing to accede all decisions, ideas, and comments to their personal ideology.

Actions speak louder than words. Their treatment of members of the same or the other party who do not agree with them or merely have questions or concerns about decisions should speak volumes.

Peggy Christman, on the other hand, and the rest of her team will seek differing opinions and give all who want to participate in the future of this town in a positive way the opportunity to do so.

Contrary to what Randy Bashwinger would have you believe, this group is not coming for your guns. The idea that a town government can take your guns away is preposterous. The truth of the matter is most of the group are gun owners and many are hunters or gun enthusiasts.

I will say that I doubt they would consider passing a meaningless and detrimental Second Amendment sanctuary resolution. Not only is such a resolution dangerous in terms of creating a false idea that town residents can violate current state gun laws, but it also puts our law enforcement officers and local justices in a difficult position when enforcing and adjudicating violations of those laws.

Bashwinger would also have you believe that the town highways will suffer if Barb Kennedy is elected. Bashwinger should be realistic about his own record. There are town roads that are unsafe, he awarded a contract to the same paving company that did a poor job paving parts of Knox Cave Road, he has purchased equipment that was either unnecessary or the wrong equipment, and the list goes on from there. Barb will at least be there, doing what’s best for the town, enforcing safety codes and requirements, and listening to experts who know more about highway safety and highway engineering than she or Randy knows.       

After seeing the proposed budget for the town and assessing what this board has accomplished in four years — nothing of significance, I believe the town is on a precipice and facing challenges that this board does not have the competence nor ambition to address.

I am an Independent. I would like to see this town and its people prosper. I would like to see the town’s beautiful character preserved. Peggy Christman will work hard to do that. The entire team on Row A will work hard to do that. I ask you and urge you to vote Row A for the sake of all of us.

Bryon Christman

East Berne

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