New Scotland clerk set to retire, Williams appointed to fill out term

Enterprise file photo — Sean Mulkerrin

After a quarter-century in the employ of the residents of New Scotland, Town Clerk Diane Deschenes will retire on Jan. 1. Deschenes — shown here taking the oath of office as town clerk — spent four years in the assessment department before running and winning the clerk position. 

NEW SCOTLAND — Like the presidential candidates in the 19th Century, Diane Deschenes was asked to run for office; she did not seek it out. 

Deschenes said that she was approached by Darrell Duncan, the town’s highway superintendent at the time and a future county legislator, in 1999, who asked her to attend a New Scotland Town Democratic Committee meeting,

“I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I went to that meeting that night,” Deschenes said; she was asked that night to run, and accepted. 

The next day, Deschenes went into the office — she worked in the assessment department at the time — and told the deputy clerk, a Republican, and a friend of hers, that she planned to run against her.

“I just felt that I could do the job; I really enjoyed being here and working for the people — and so I ran,” Deschenes said.

Ten elections later, elections where she was often unopposed and often received more votes than any candidate running for any other office, Deschenes is set to retire on Jan. 1, with a year left on her two-year term. 

The New Scotland Town Board at its Dec. 9 meeting unanimously appointed Lisa Williams to fill the position, starting on New Year’s Day. 

Williams works for the state. Two years ago, she won a seat on the town’s Democratic Committee was as part of a reform slate of candidates recruited by Vicki Plotski, who had thumped the incumbent Duncan by 50 points in the 2017 Democratic primary for the 38th District in the Albany County Legislature.


“Been an honor”

During the Dec. 9 meeting, the board members were effusive in their praise for Deschenes. 

Councilman William Hennessey said it had “been an honor” to work and know her through significant changes in Town Hall. 

Councilman Daniel Leinung said that he didn’t realize all the things Deschenes was involved in and all the things she did for residents. 

She always looked out for the best interests of the town and its residents, Leinung said.

Councilwoman Bridgit Burke, as both a member of the public and the board, “had always been impressed” with Deschenes and said that the negative connotation of a bureaucrat didn’t exist in New Scotland because of Deschenes. 


“The magic number”

Deschenes started to work for the town in January 1996, in the assessing department. After four years in assessing, she won the town clerk’s job and took over the position in January 2000. 

In 2005, the town clerk and tax collector position were merged, a point of pride for Deschenes — because it saved the town money. 

She felt it was a benefit to the town because her office fielded tax questions year-round and the tax collector had been a part-time position, filled by someone who also worked from home and just came into the office during tax season.

“I think that was a big benefit to the residents,” Deschenes said, “not only the money-savings but the availability.”

Asked what prompted her retirement, Deschenes said that she hit “the magic number” of 62 this year, and with her husband, Albert, already retired, she “really just wanted to be able to retire and spend quality time with him.”

The best part of being town clerk, Deschenes said, is the people.

“I’m just working for the people of New Scotland,” she said, adding that she also likes the variety of the job, “There’s so much going on in this office; there’s never a dull moment.” The clerk’s office processes many different licenses, from wedding licenses to hunting licences and the clerk also notarizes documents, works on taxes, and prepares the town board’s meeting minutes.

As for her retirement plans, Deschenes said, “We hope to do some traveling; we want to do the National Parks.” But that’s on hold until after the pandemic.

Asked about advice to Williams, her successor, Deschenes said, “Be flexible,” because there is so much going on in the clerk’s office — and treat everybody fairly. “Just keep that in mind at all times,” she said. “You just have to think about: What is the fair answer to this question?”

And never make the job political, Deschenes concluded, “because you’re here to serve the people.” 


Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Set New Scotland’s reorganizational meeting for Jan. 1, at noon, via Zoom;

— Set a Jan. 13 public hearing for a proposed law on keeping chickens.

The new law would allow residents in certain zoning districts to apply directly to the Building Inspector to keep chickens — instead of having to go through the full special-use permit process before the planning board;

— Passed a new lighting law to more clearly identify what an acceptable holiday light is;

— Approved a frisbee golf course at Swift Road Park;

— Made it permanent that residents are now allowed to have their dogs off-leash at Swift Road Park between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., but dogs need to be licensed with the town; and

— Accepted a donation of a 2000 Mercury Sable to the town’s senior outreach program. ​

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