Knox 2005 in review

KNOX—Things went much more smoothly in Knox this election year than the last.

Two years after an election full of legal battles over technicalities resulted in two Republicans gaining seats on the town board, the Democrats easily held their majority on the board in a legally uncontested election this fall.

The Republicans, however, did not lose ground in the town where Democrats dominate, two to one. Republican Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury trounced his opponent, August Landauer, 723 to 352, and, in a surprise victory, Republican newcomer Kimberly Swain edged out her Democratic opponent, incumbent Deborah Liddle, for town clerk.

For supervisor, Democrat Michael Hammond, who’s held the position for over three decades, faced Republican Mark Von Haugg.
"We need a change of regime, so to speak," Von Haugg said in July, after announcing his candidacy. "When somebody is in office for an extended period of time, they get complacent."

On Nov. 8, Hammond won, 618 to 443. Incumbent Councilman Nicholas Viscio and former Councilman Dennis Decker won the race for two seats on the town board over Republican Helene O’Clair. Decker will be returning to the board after losing his seat in 2003.
"I’m glad," Decker said the night of his victory. "It was more work than it was before. It was a complete effort."

Up until the election, most people in town thought the race between Salisbury and Landauer would be close. Landauer had been highway superintendent for many terms before losing to Salisbury in 2003. At that time, Landauer would have won the election, but 267 write-in votes were thrown out by the New York State Supreme Court because Landauer’s name was already on the ballot for the Conservative Party. The Democrats had launched a massive write-in campaign for their candidates after their names were taken off the ballot for late paperwork, a case pressed by the GOP.

In this year’s campaign, Salisbury claimed that the quality of the highway department’s work has improved under his supervision, and the department has modernized and become more accessible to residents. He attributed his victory to that.
"I think people really appreciate the work," he said.

Speaking from his home the morning after the election, Landauer sounded deflated.
"The people have spoken, I guess," Landauer said.
On her win as clerk, Swain said, "It caught me off guard, but I’m glad I won."

Conklin leaves board

The second Tuesday in December marked the last town board meeting for Councilman Charles Conklin after 10 years on the board. Conklin did not run for reelection because he has been ill with cancer.
"Your contributions to the board have been very valuable," Hammond told Conklin. "We hope the best for you."

The Knox Town Board voted unanimously in July to dedicate the new soccer field at the town park to Conklin. It was named the Chuck Conklin Youth Soccer Field.

Conklin has been an advocate for the young people of the town. He updated the board every month on the activities of the Knox Youth Council.
"It’s been very exciting for me," Conklin said of his time of the board. "I’ve learned a lot."

Crime and punishment

In November, Stephen Murphy, of Schenectady, was sentenced to 21 years in prison and five years of post-release supervision for first-degree manslaughter.

According to police, in September of 2004, Murphy stabbed and strangled a friend of his, Richard Agoney, in a camper on a Thompson’s Lake campsite after Agoney made sexual advances towards him. Murphy then lit the camper on fire and drove away in a truck he stole from Agoney, police say.

Murphy pleaded guilty in September, 2005.

In December, Justin Landauer, 27, of Knox, was sentenced to two-and-a-third to seven years in prison for vehicular manslaughter.

On June 23, around 8:10 p.m., Landauer, driving his pickup truck drunk, sped across the center line on Route 443 in Knox, and collided head-on with a car driven by Gary Lehmann, 47, of Binghamton, police said. Lehmann died within minutes.

Landauer pleaded guilty.

At the sentencing, friends and relatives spoke highly of Lehmann, a professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton.
"Gary Lehmann was a man full of kindness and love. He was a gentle soul with generosity for everyone he met," said Eric Cotts, a Binghamton professor of physics.
"Words can’t describe how truly sorry I am," said Landauer, struggling to get his words out between sobs. "I’m just sorry."

Thompson’s Lake lawsuit

In August, New York State Court of Claims Judge Judith A. Hard awarded the family of Nancy Phelan $2.5 million in a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Four years earlier, the Phelans were camping at Thompson’s Lake State Campground in Knox. Phelan was riding bikes with her 11-year-old son on a camp road near the beach when she lost control, going down a hill, and fell off, fatally hitting her head on the pavement, according to court records.

The Phelans’ lawyer, Christine M. Galvin, argued that the accident was due to a two-foot sinkhole in the road caused by an improperly installed culvert. The park staff knew about the sinkhole, Galvin said, but made no effort to repair it.

The park manager, the New York State Department of Parks and Recreation, and the New York State Attorney General’s Office all declined comment on the matter.

Fox Creek Flea Market

A Hilltown landmark reopened in Knox this summer.

Years ago, the Fox Creek Auction Arena held auctions and functioned as a flea market for vendors from all over the area, bringing hundreds of people into the hamlet of West Berne every weekend. However, in the early nineties, Douglas Cater, who owned and operated the arena, was taken to court for illegal auction practices and was forced to shut down.

Since then, the stream of out-of-town visitors to West Berne has slowed to a trickle. The new owner, Edward Allen, of Berne, hoped to change that.

The new Fox Creek Flea Market averaged about 20 vendors per weekend this summer, but there is room for 270.
"I knew the first year was going to be tough," Allen said.

Allen kept the flea market running despite being ticketed by the town for starting his business without the required special-use permit from the zoning board.
"I guess I’m going to have to get some tickets because I’m going to go bankrupt if I refund [the vendors’] money," Allen told town Judge Linda Quay.

Community efforts

Several Knox residents were involved in efforts to improve life, the environment, and the economy in the Hilltowns in 2005.
Alexander "Sandy" Gordon, a, Albany County legislator from Knox, along with former Knox resident Daniel Capuano; Kathleen Moore, of Berne; and Loren Pruskowski, of Delanson, are spearheading an effort to develop a model for putting wind energy turbines in the Helderbergs. The remarkable thing about the effort, the four say, is that it’s driven by a community, not a corporation.
"The idea is, if a project comes out of this, it will be a community wind project," Capuano said.

Funded by a grant from the New York State Research and Development Authority, the group is creating a business model for a small, community-owned windfarm in the Hilltowns. Currently, the four are assembling a focus group to plan the project.

With the blessing of the Knox Town Board, Amy and Russ Pokorny, with the Friends of the Helderbergs, are creating a Hilltown commerce map and trail as a way of helping local businesses. A tentative map, handed out as an example at the last Knox Town Board meeting, lists 53 different sites. They range from farms to convenience stores to craft stands to parks to taverns.
"You could spend the day, having breakfast at one end of the region and end the day with a nice meal at the other end of the region, and maybe a performance at Conkling Hall or something," Mrs. Pokorny said.

Participating businesses will be marked with yellow signs. Supervisor Hammond directed the town’s planning board to work with the Friends on putting up signs on town highways.

Finally, Robert Price convinced the town board to declare war on an invasive plant, purple loosestrife. Every year, Price, the planning board chairman, begs the town to take action against the weed, which, he said, is approaching the Knox town line along the Bozenkill Creek.
"If it gets in our wetland, we’re not going to get it out," Price said.

In August, the town board passed a resolution committing the town highway department to removing the plant from along town roads, and encouraging residents to do the same on their private property.
"Until Bob started talking about it, I thought it was a very pretty flower and I wanted it in my yard," said Councilwoman Patricia Gage.

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