Questions emerge over who will take the reins in Westerlo

Richard Rapp

Enterprise file photo — H. Rose Schneider
Richard Rapp, at center, was accompanied by Patricia Boice at a shared services meeting earlier this year.

WESTERLO — Republicans took many seats this year in elections across the Hilltowns. In Westerlo, the upset means that one of the main players on the town board, Democrat William Bichteman. Bichteman has done the bulk of the work on many town projects since Supervisor Richard Rapp suffered a stroke.

At last week’s session, residents in the gallery asked if any other town board members were aware of how to build a budget.

Rapp told The Enterprise he intends to finish the last two years of his term after serving as supervisor for 45 years.

Bichteman was ousted by Republican challenger Richard Filkins, and will be leaving his post in January.

When The Enterprise asked him about his role on the board following his loss, he said he had taken on “extra responsibility” since Rapp had less time to commit due to “personal issues.”

At the Nov. 8 town board meeting, when the board held a public hearing on the 2018 town budget, Westerlo resident Leonard Laub asked from the gallery about the process of creating the budget, noting that Bichteman was the only one explaining the budget and that it appeared that “he’s the only cognisant person at the table.”

Councilman Joseph Boone, a Democrat who kept his seat, gaining the most council votes in the election, said that, while Bichteman is able to complete the groundwork since he retired from a full-time job, the other members weigh in on the budget, either in person but often through email.

Bichteman emphasized to The Enterprise that, as the only retired board member, he had made it a point to commit this extra work, and concluded the voters didn’t like it.

When asked by The Enterprise if someone could take his place, Bichteman said, “I don’t know — the current members of the board seem to be very intelligent people.”

Rapp was not at last week’s meeting, having just been released from the hospital after suffering a heart attack, he said.

“Bill was a good board member, I’ll miss him,” Rapp told The Enterprise of Bichteman.

When asked if someone on the board would complete the many tasks Bichteman did, Rapp said, “We’re gonna have to … He lost. I wish he hadn’t, but he did.”

Rapp said that he had been the one to draft the 2018 budget, although Bichteman did meet with the various groups involved in the budgeting process. Rapp said at that time he was in the hospital.

He noted it was true that Bichteman has taken on extra responsibilities, and said that Bichteman, “was a very good help,” but said, “I’m here every day … I sign all the checks, I do all the things I’m supposed to do as far as I know.”

When asked if he was committing the same amount of time to his office as he did 45 years ago, Rapp said, “I think so. I’m sure going to try … You can ask anybody there. I’m there every day, even the weekend … .”

Filkins was also present at the meeting, and told The Enterprise last week that conversations that he had had with other residents before the meeting discussed the fact that Bichteman could take charge should Rapp step down. Bichteman is one of two deputy supervisors, the other being code enforcement officer Edwin Lawson. Lawson ran last week’s meeting. And Rapp correctly noted that Bichteman can’t run meetings after his term is up.

“In all the years I’ve been here, I think it’s been three that I missed,” Rapp said.

He said was not planning to resign.

“If I was to get sick or something again, I certainly would,” he said. “But now I’m all right.”

Rapp was adamant that he would not be leaving his position, even if there were pressure for him to. The people elected him, he said, and he would be finishing his term. Rapp, who has been supervisor for 45 years now, intends to finish the last two years of his four-year term, after which he will not run again.

“I did nothing wrong except I had a heart attack,” said Rapp, adding that there was nothing wrong whatsoever with himself.

Rapp did say that his wife is not doing well.

“My wife is very, very sick,” he said. His wife of almost 60 years has dementia, he said, and he must “take care of her night and day.” Both will be turning 80 soon, he said.

Rapp said his wife is also deaf, and he is up most days and nights caring for her. Although he goes to work at the town hall, he must ensure she has something to eat because he can’t trust her in the kitchen. His two daughters and granddaughter live nearby, he said, and will sometimes help.

Rapp said he intends to be at the next town board meeting.

“Oh yeah, unless I die before then,” he joked.

 

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