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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, September 22, 2005

Husek claims: Highway super won’t reveal records

By Matt Cook

RENSSELAERVILLE—A resident is suing Rensselaerville, charging that the highway superintendent is stymieing his attempts to acquire records on town projects.

Vernon Husek filed an Article 78 lawsuit with the New York State Supreme Court last Friday. In the lawsuit, Husek contends that Highway Superintendent G. Jon Chase "has public records in his possession that are the subject of two [Freedom Of Information Law] requests that have been willfully concealed from both public inspection and the town records management officer Kathleen A. Hallenbeck."

The lawsuit also accuses Chase’s son, a town board member, of threatening Husek.

Husek is chairman of the Independence Party in the Hilltowns.

On Aug. 12, Husek requested all town records pertaining to any equipment leased after Jan. 1, 2000 and anything prepared by the town’s engineering firm after Jan. 1, 2000. New York’s Freedom of Information Law allows citizens access to government records.

The lawsuit says that Hallenbeck, the town clerk, told Husek not all of the items he requested were immediately available because they were locked away in Chase’s office. Husek believes that, by not supplying the records, Chase is deliberately withholding information.

Chase did not return phone calls from The Enterprise.

Hallenbeck told The Enterprise the town was not able to complete Husek’s FOIL request because it was too broad.

"I think it was really too vague. If he was looking for something specific, we could have done that," she said. "We do have a lot of bills over five years."

Arnold Road spat

Husek submitted his request after an Aug. 10 town board meeting in which he asked Chase about a highway department project on Arnold Road. Husek had seen the project and wondered about leased construction equipment on the site and whether or not grade stakes were present.

Engineers place grade stakes on a work site to mark where work is to be done.

"It’s so you don’t end up digging in one spot and not another," Husek said.

Husek said that, if the town paid an engineer to design the project, grade stakes should be present. He didn’t see them, he said.

At the town board meeting, Chase said the grade stakes were there, and declined to comment further.

Husek said he checked the site three times.

"While I have cataracts, it’s not my experience that I can’t see grade stakes on a construction job," Husek told The Enterprise.

On Aug. 11, the morning after the town board meeting, Husek said, he went to Arnold Road to photograph the lack of stakes, and he encountered Chase’s son, Councilman Gary J. Chase, whose property touches Arnold Road.

According to the lawsuit, Gary Chase "came out of his residence yelled at and threatened retaliation against [Husek] for his interest in the road project."

Husek said Gary Chase asked him what he was doing there, and, when Husek told him, Chase became agitated.

"He started to get very angry and his voice became elevated," Husek said.

Husek said Chase told him that, if this fall’s elections, "go their way," there would be more special highway projects, particularly on Husek’s road.

"There’s an inference there," Husek said. "I think I know pretty much what he meant."

Jon Chase, a Democrat, is up for re-election in November.

Gary Chase told The Enterprise he only spoke to Husek that morning because he was on his property taking pictures. Chase said his children were in the house.

"I told him I didn’t want him on my property," Gary Chase said. "He was crawling through the woods."

Gary Chase said he did not try to stop Husek from photographing the road.

"I could care less if he wanted to take pictures of the road project," he said. "I was just concerned about my family."

Broad concern

The next day, Husek submitted his FOIL requests. He was able to get some vouchers from equipment rentals and one map, he said, but not the complete engineer’s plans. When he asked Hallenbeck about it, he said, she told him those records were in Superintendent Chase’s office, and she didn’t have access to them.

"At that time, I decided to start preparing the court case," Husek said.

Husek said he doesn’t blame Hallenbeck for anything.

"I don’t want my lawsuit to adversely affect her in any way," he said. "I didn’t feel she was responsible for what was going on."

Husek blames Chase for purposely hoarding the plans in his office.

Hallenbeck told The Enterprise the town makes photocopies of all the highway department’s records for the town’s files. However, she said, documents larger than 11 by 17 inches, like maps and plans, can’t be copied on the town’s equipment, so those are only available in their original forms and are kept by the highway department.

Husek would not speculate why Chase would withhold documents. "The refusal of the Highway Superintendent to answer questions about the project...[is] clearly of significant interest to the general public," he wrote in the lawsuit.

"My concern is a broad one," Husek said. "My concern is we have a highway superintendent who is refusing to answer questions about an expenditure of money...At some point, the town board has to take responsibility for allowing this situation to exist."

Husek is representing himself in the lawsuit. He is asking that the court require Rensselaerville to give him the records he requested and make Superintendent Chase relinquish control over any records.

Based on the disinterested reaction of the town board and the town supervisor when he asked about the project at the town board meeting, Husek said, he decided a lawsuit would be more effective than dealing with the problem through the town.

"I didn’t think I would get anywhere because I haven’t in the past," Husek said.

Citizens seek relief from ATV noise

By Matt Cook

KNOX—Complaints of noise from a property on Thompson’s Lake Road are motivating the town to investigate.

At a town board meeting last Tuesday, Timothy Thompson, of Thompson’s Lake Road, told the board about the sounds of motorbikes and all-terrain vehicles racing on a property adjacent to his. He showed a video on which the sounds of the machines were audible even inside his house.

Thompson also complained about the dust kicked up next door.

"I’ve got grandchildren coming up and I can’t have that because they’ve got allergies," Thompson said.

Knox Supervisor Michael Hammond said the town has received several similar complaints about the Thompson’s Lake Road property and another property on Witter Road. The town’s attorney, John Dorfman, has sent letters to the property owners informing them of the complaints, Hammond said.

Hammond referred theEnterprise’s questions to Dorfman and zoning administrator Robert Delaney. Delaney did not return theEnterprise’s calls.

Dorfman said the town’s zoning does not forbid operating ATV’s and motorbikes on private property.

"But, that aside," Dorfman said, "if it’s too loud, that’s a violation."

The town has an ordinance regulating noise on residential property.

Dorfman said the town would investigate, and, if enough evidence were found, issue a citation. The case would be heard before the town court or the New York State Supreme Court, depending on the type of violation.

"The town is responsible to enforce the zoning and we’re going to enforce our zoning," Dorfman said.

Dorfman would not comment on the specifics of the investigation, including the names of the property owners.

Other business

In other business at its Sept. 13 meeting, the Knox Town Board:

—Agreed to petition the county for a speed-limit reduction on White Road. A group of White Road residents said people are using the dead-end road for a dragstrip and a raceway.

"It’s amazing how many cars go up and down the road," said Linda Bopp. "I have seen 40 cars go by in one day."

As an unmarked road, the speed limit is currently 55 miles per hour.

Hammond said he would also ask the Albany County Sheriff’s Department to patrol White Road. He cautioned the group that it takes several months after a petition for the county to change a speed limit;

—Listened to a report from Cheryl Frantzen, president of the Knox Historical Society. After a period of very low membership, the society recently reorganized, adopted new by-laws, and welcomed several new members. The society has also started a website and a newsletter, Pillbox News, Frantzen said; Knox once manufactured pillboxes.

The society opened the Knox Museum, a 19th-century house, next to the town hall, on Memorial Day, and received between 35 and 50 visitors, Frantzen said. On Berne Heritage Days, Frantzen said, the society displayed the rediscovered World War II honor-roll plaques, which list the names of 68 war veterans from the Knox area.

Frantzen also had a list of concerns about the state of the museum, which is owned and maintained by the town. She pointed out the cracked windows, deteriorating porch posts, and peeling paint.

While Frantzen didn’t care what kind of windows were used, she said she would like the new porch posts to fit the historical character of the building. Hammond said the town would look into making the repairs;

—Scheduled a budget workshop for Sep. 26 at 7 p.m.;

—Listened to a presentation from Amy Pokorny of the Friends of the Helderbergs. Pokorny said the Friends are putting together a farm and commerce trail map and directory of the Hilltowns. The map would direct people to places of business in the Hilltowns, from farmers, to artisans, to doctors. Each participating business would put up a yellow exclamation-point sign, Pokorny said.

In addition, the Friends would create "Discover the Hilltowns!" signs for the highway entrances to the Helderbergs, Pokorny said.

The town board said it was a good idea, and appointed the planning board to oversee the erection of the highway signs.

"I think this is wonderful. I’d love to point somebody into my store," said Councilman Joseph Best, who owns Papa Joe’s Country Store in Knox;

—Passed a resolution to hold a public hearing at the next regularly-scheduled town board meeting on a proposed amendment to the zoning ordinance that would require applicants for a special-use permit to inform their neighbors; and

—Discussed writing job descriptions for transfer-station employees. Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury said that, since the town hired a third employee there, it has been unclear who has what duties.

Tourney to support Porter in her battle with cancer

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

Every bit helps, says John Conklin.

"No donation is too small," he says as he talks about an Oct. 2 golf tournament he’s organizing to raise funds for April Porter who is fighting cancer.

Conklin knows what it’s like; he’s been there.

The tournament has a slogan — "Playing golf to help others" — and it’s named after his daughter: The Third Annual Heather Conklin Huth Golf Tournament.

Last year, for the second annual tournament, the funds went to help Anthony Hill, another Hilltown youth who is fighting cancer. "He just turned 17 this summer," said Conklin.

Huth’s own child, Heather, was diagnosed with a blood-related cancer five years ago, he said. "I organized the first tournament to help her and her husband with medical expenses," said Conklin.

Things have worked out well for Andrew and Heather Huth, who married in the midst of her cancer treatment. "They call it cured," said her father.

Heather Huth is now working as a biology researcher in a local laboratory, he said.

"My wife and I just looked at each other this morning," said Conklin, with a wide smile spreading across his face. "In the spring, it will be five years since they married."

Now it’s time to help someone else.

April Porter, a 2005 Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School graduate was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 2003. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments and was considered in remission until a checkup in January of 2005 revealed a relapse. She is currently starting a third cycle of chemotherapy and preparing for a peripheral stem cell treatment.

"We have fun"

Although the tournament has a serious purpose, the afternoon will be fun, Conklin said. The tournament, at Hiawatha Trails in Guilderland, will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. on Oct. 2, and will be postponed to Oct. 16 if it rains.

The greens fee is $12 per person and the entry fee is $50. "All of that fifty dollars goes directly to April," said Conklin. "No costs are taken out of that."

People who don’t play golf can contribute directly to: April Porter, 13 Pine Park Road, Berne, NY 12023.

Local businesses are donating gift certificates for a drawing, and there will be hot dogs, hamburgers, and baked goods to eat.

Two friends of Conklin, Pat Timme and Barry Udell, are helping with the tournament. For more information or to play, golfers can all Conklin at 872-0681, Timme at 573-2120, or Udell at 369-2089.

"People can call one of those numbers or just show up," said Conklin.

"We have fun playing golf," he said. "We get a little crazy...Some people come to play seriously and some don’t even care if they hit the ball."

Conklin, who works as a gym teacher for the Office of Children and Family Services, says of his own skill level, "I’m in between."

He concluded of organizing the tournament, "It makes me feel good. It makes me feel I can give something back to help somebody else."

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