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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 19, 2007

More houses to sprout in New Scotland

By Rachel Dutil

NEW SCOTLAND – Plans for two more developments have been submitted to the town.

A six-lot subdivision is being proposed by New Salem Properties LLC and would be constructed off of Meadow Brook Place. The other, a 15-parcel subdivision, is proposed by Boswell Engineering to be constructed off of Tekawitha Road.

The sketch plats were presented to the planning board at its April 3 meeting; both were passed along with favorable recommendations to the zoning board and will be presented to that board on April 24.

New Salem Properties wants to subdivide a 40-acre tract of land located in a residential agricultural (RA) district; it would be divided into six lots, varying in size – five lots would be roughly an acre, and the sixth would be about 33 acres, and would remain open for possible future development.

Access to the lots would be over a proposed 1,000-foot-long cul-de-sac, which would be constructed off of Meadow Brook Place.

Each lot would have its own well and septic system. Two wells currently exist on the property. One is 47 feet deep and pumps more than five gallons per minute; the other is 50 feet deep and pumps an average of eight gallons per minute.

The board asked that the applicant contact the New Salem Fire Company to be sure that it is able to access the location with a fire truck. It also requested that light posts with 911 street numbers be installed in front of the homes.

The board also asserted that its biggest concern is with drainage, and required that all appropriate storm-water management measures be taken.

The proposal from Boswell Engineering, named "Westover Subdivision," consists of about 30 acres in an RA district. The land is owned by Bruce Boswell and has 50 feet of road frontage on Tekawitha Road, located off of New Scotland South Road, which will provide access for a 1,650-foot cul-de-sac to access the subdivided parcels.

The area has no municipal water or sewer services so individual wells and septic systems are planned for each parcel. The lot sizes will range from just more than an acre to three acres.

The board expressed concerns over the name of the subdivision, asking that it be named something else. Iver Anderson, a project manager for Boswell Engineering, said that would not be a problem.

Keith Menia, an engineer with the town’s engineering firm, asked that Boswell provide an overlay showing the areas of the proposed subdivision that are not suitable for building.

Any area with a slope greater than 17 degrees is not considered buildable, he said. The zoning requires that there be a minimum of 44,000 square feet of buildable space for a building permit to be issued.

Other business

In other business, at recent planning- and zoning-board meetings:

– The zoning board approved a temporary-use permit for Henry Digeser, allowing him to erect a 40-foot windmill on his Copeland Hill Road property. The windmill is allowed for 12 months with one 12-month extension permitted. Digeser hopes the town will amend its zoning within the two year time frame to allow the windmill to become permanent;

– The zoning board approved a special-use variance for Bernard Rathke, allowing him to build an attached one-car garage to the north side of his Picard Road home. The variance grants 17.3 feet of relief to the side-yard setback;

– The zoning board referred an appeal of the building inspector’s decision regarding a special-use permit application submitted by David Zwack to the planning board. Zwack submitted the application for the "removal of fill, gravel or loam" from his properties on Indian Ledge Road and Zwack Lane. Zwack runs a decorative stone business that sells limestone that he removes by hand and hauls by mule from his property. The stone, though, does not fall under a special use, because it is not fill, gravel, or loam, said zoning board attorney Louis Neri;

– The planning board approved the annual renewal for a Junk Yard License #2 for Dunston Bros, Inc. at the intersection of routes 85 and 443. The site has been well maintained, said board Chairman Robert Stapf. "Thanks for running a much-needed business in town," he said; and

– The planning board heard an application for a minor subdivision submitted by Peter Landi for his property in the Residential Conservation (R2) district at the intersection of Font Grove and Krum Kill roads. The property is 13.8 acres. Landi is proposing to split his land into two parcels – one of 9 acres with a house; and the other 4.8 vacant acres. Landi plans to sell the lot with the house, and to build a house for himself on the smaller lot. The board passed his application on to the zoning board with a favorable recommendation.

Rapist claims innocence

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALBANY — After turning to mouth, "I love you," to his wife, sitting in the second row of the Albany County Courthouse, Jeremiah Conklin fell to his chair when Judge Daniel Lamont sentenced him to one to three years in a state prison for third-degree rape and endangering the welfare of a child.

Conklin, 26, was convicted on Feb. 1 and sentenced on April 12. He has maintained his innocence since his arrest and he is planning to appeal, his family said. They would make no further comment about Conklin; phone calls to his lawyer, Sheryl Coleman, were not returned.

In July of 2002, the victim, who is from Berne, went to Conklin’s house in Voorheesville to baby-sit, according to David Rossi, the prosecutor handling the case for the Albany County District Attorney’s office. The Enterprise does not print the names of sex crime victims.

Although Conklin was a friend of the victim’s family, the two had no prior sexual relationship, Rossi said. The next day, the girl reported the incident to her mother who took her to the police and then to the hospital, he said.

During arguments before the sentencing, Coleman questioned the credibility of the victim, pointing out that she had multiple sexual partners and that there had been mixed DNA when she was swabbed, indicating semen from more than one man. Conklin’s DNA was found on the girl; he said that he didn’t know how it got there. During the trial, Rossi said, the defense implied that the victim had access to Conklin’s used condoms.

Before he was sentenced last week, Conklin’s lawyer, Coleman, filed a motion to set aside the jury’s verdict, citing New York State Criminal Procedure Law, which can modify or set aside a guilty verdict in light of new evidence, improper conduct by a juror, or proof of ground in the trial record that would require the Appellate Court, the middle-level in a three-tiered system, to reverse or modify the conviction. Since Conklin was acquitted of a charge relating to oral sex, Coleman argued that the conviction for statutory rape was inconsistent.

Rossi opposed the motion and Lamont found in his favor. The evidence during the trial was legally sufficient to convict Conklin of the two counts he was found guilty of, Lamont said.

Coleman had also filed a motion contending that part of New York State Penal Law is unconstitutional, given modern-day knowledge about adolescents’ sexual activity. The law lists sexual intercourse between a person who is 21 or older and a partner younger than 17 as third-degree rape. Conklin was 23 at the time of the incident and the victim was 16, according to Rossi.

Again, Lamont denied the motion and said that the statute is constitutional.

Lamont also agreed to let the victim’s mother accompany her while she read an impact statement, to the protest of Coleman who argued that the victim is now mature, being the mother of a child herself.

"My life hasn’t been the same and never will be," read the victim from her statement, which was handwritten on a sheet of loose-leaf paper. She spoke in a small voice, rushing to the end of each sentence, as she sat slumped on the witness stand.

"Some people didn’t believe me until there was evidence to prove it," she said. She asked that the court send Conklin away, ending her statement by saying, "Think about all the other baby sitters he’s done this to."

He knows of no evidence of other rapes by Conklin, Rossi said in a phone interview after the sentencing. Following the victim’s impact statement, Lamont said that he would not take allegations of other crimes into consideration. Coleman objected to the new allegations, but focused mostly on the girl’s other sexual relationships in an effort to discredit her. Coleman asked the court not to "infantilize" the girl. Of being parental and protective, she said, "The time to do that was long before this trial."

When Coleman finished, Conklin addressed the court himself. "I am a young father, a husband to my lovely wife," he said. "I ask you, I beg you, if you have to sentence me to something – community service, probation, minor jail time," he said. Conklin, who looks younger than his 26 years, with sandy blonde hair and glasses, still maintains his innocence.

"We never had sexual relations at all," he said. "Have mercy on me."

Conklin faced a maximum of one-and-a-third to four years in prison, according to Rossi. Lamont gave him one-to-three in a state penitentiary, after which he will have to register as a sex offender. Rossi said that Conklin will most likely be registered as a Level 2 offender on the state’s three-tiered scale, Level 3 being the most likely to re-offend. He is on the borderline between Level 1 and Level 2, Rossi said; the deciding factor between which level he will be registered as depends on whether he takes responsibility for the crime or not.

"It is both unintelligent and unreasonable," for the probation officer to expect that Conklin would take responsibility for the crime since he maintains his innocence, Coleman said of the pre-sentencing report during arguments on April 12.

"It was his own doing," Rossi said last week. "And he isn’t taking responsibility."

School elections
Three run for Voorheesville School Board

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – Three candidates are vying for one school board seat on May 15. Thomas Jones, Timothy Blow, and Sean Signer are all long-time residents of the district, making their first run for the board. Each feels that, if elected, he could bring a new perspective to the board.

Richard Brackett is retiring after one five-year term on the board. "I did my five years," Brackett told The Enterprise earlier. "It’s time for someone else to take over."

The elected candidate will serve for a term of five years on the seven-member board. The position is unpaid.

On May 15, voters will also decide on the district’s $21 million budget proposal, an increase of about 4.7 percent over this year’s.

The district will hold a "meet and greet" the candidates meeting on Wednesday, May 9, at 7 p.m. in the performing arts center at the high school.

The Enterprise spoke with each candidate and asked about several issues relevant to the Voorheesville School District:

– Tech Valley: Candidates were asked about their views on technology-rich learning, and the concept of the Tech Valley High School, which is set to open in the fall. The school will draw students from across the region; participating districts will pay $18,000 per student, eligible for state aid the following year. Tech Valley High plans to focus on teaching skills that the students will need in the real world. The curriculum will be student-centered, and subjects will be interrelated.

– Communication: Candidates were asked how they would handle a situation such as the one that resulted from the state comptroller’s findings that former Superintendent Alan McCartney and former Assistant Superintendent for Business Anthony Marturano inappropriately paid themselves $216,000. The school board, at the time, voted unanimously to file civil suits against the two men to try to recoup the money. The district recently settled with McCartney; he paid the district $40,000. The case with Marturano is ongoing.

Candidates were also asked how situations like the resignation of popular music teacher Charles Reader might be avoided in the future. Reader resigned from his job with the district about a month after he was placed on administrative leave by Superintendent Linda Langevin because he had "engaged in inappropriate conduct with a student of the District," according to a letter she sent to Reader. Later, an agreement between Reader and the district, stated the resignation was "for various medical reasons." The Enterprise submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to the district to obtain the documents relevant to Reader’s resignation. The paper was unable to determine the reasons why Reader felt compelled to resign.

– Enforcement of policies: Candidates were asked how they feel about district policies being enforced at the discretion of the school administration. The school board was divided over a stricter dress code passed in July. The three board members who opposed the policy had issues with the enforcement being at the discretion of administrators and other adults in the building. Students were invited to speak at the November school board meeting on their reaction to the dress code. The students who spoke said that the popular kids received special treatment and the enforcement is unfair.

The school board is also discussing a tobacco policy that would be enforced at the discretion of administrators. "All administrators, faculty, and staff will be encouraged to enforce the tobacco policy," the policy reads.

– Social worker: Candidates were asked if they felt that adding a social worker is a good direction for the district. The 2007-08 budget proposal includes the addition of a full-time social worker, the first to be employed by the Voorheesville School District. "There is an increasing demand on our guidance staff and psychologist," high-school Principal Mark Diefendorf told The Enterprise earlier. The position is budgeted at around $60,000.

– Growth: Candidates were asked how they would address increasing enrollment and the concerns it brings to the district. The 2007-08 budget proposal also includes the addition of a fourth-grade elementary-school teacher in response to growing enrollment at the school. Enrollment numbers are expected to continue to increase, especially with numerous developments in the works, including the Vista Tech Park, which is estimated to bring "an annual average increase of 409 new jobs" to the area in the 10 years from 2009 to 2019, according to the draft environmental impact statement for the project.

Candidates were also asked how the district could work at minimizing taxes while maintaining a good quality of education.

– Security: Candidates were asked if Voorheesville should look at the status of the security within the district in response to the massive school shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech University on Monday.

Timothy Blow

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – Timothy Blow says it’s time to be a part of the school’s decision-making process, instead of just complaining about it.

"I’ve always been on the outside, interested," Blow said. He is unhappy with some of the decisions that have been made in recent years, he said.

Blow, 40, has been a resident of the district for 17 years. He has been involved in the community for the last 10 or 12 years, he said.

He has three children – one in each school – third-grade, seventh-grade, and tenth-grade. It gives him a "good spectrum of what’s going on," Blow said.

Blow is the chief financial officer for Ballston Spa National Bank. He has a bachelor of science degree in accounting from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, and has been a certified public accountant since 1990.

Fiscal responsibility is something that Blow takes very seriously. "I demand that my employees be fiscally responsible," he said. "It’s not an unending pot of gold you’re dipping into."

He hopes that the school board can have "one voice or opinion," said Blow.

"I think a lot of people are concerned with rising taxes and keeping the education bar high," he said. "I think a lot of my views are reflected in the community.

"It’s important to get the focus back on the important thing – the kids," Blow said.

Blow said that he can see the benefit of Tech Valley High School, but, he feels that attending should be a choice left to individual parents, and not something the district should pay for.

"I can’t see how it benefits the school district and the community," Blow said. "I’d rather see something brought into the school that would benefit more students."

Blow said he doesn’t understand why the district should pay the tuition so that a small number of students can attend the high school. "I am confused as to how we can support that and be fiscally responsible to our constituents."

Blow said he’s "not sure that we made the right decisions" regarding Alan McCartney and Anthony Marturano – the two former school administrators accused of inappropriately paying themselves more than $200,000.

He said that, in a similar situation, he would try to "temper the enthusiasm" and investigate and uncover the facts. "There was a much more beneficial way of pursuing this thing," he said.

"It seemed we were chasing the horse, not knowing if we even owned the horse," he said.

Regarding Charles Reader’s resignation, Blow said that he often wonders what the process of oversight and review is. "If there’s people noticing smoke, I think they’ve got to start looking for the fire sooner," he said.

If there are rumors of inappropriate conduct, what is the mechanism to address it, Blow asked. "We need to be more responsible to the students."

With regards to policy enforcement, Blow said, "Administrations are not subjective." If there was a problem with continuous complaints, then it would need to be looked into, he said.

"I don’t feel all situations are created equally" I’m not a fan of zero-tolerance policies," Blow said. "Give the administration the benefit of the doubt that they will enforce with common sense."

The social worker is "absolutely not a good direction" for the district, Blow said. The district has a "plethora" of staff as it is, he said, citing guidance counselors, deans, principals, and the school psychologist as examples.

"We are not New York City. We are not downtown Albany," Blow said. "Every school has its issues, and I’m not sure having a social worker will address these issues."

Adding a social worker, Blow said, "is blurring the lines and throwing bodies at the issues."

Regarding enrollment, "Student-to-teacher ratio is important" I don’t think we want to be average," Blow said. "If we want to hold ourselves above average," he said that the classroom is the place to start.

"As the district grows, we need to sit down and plan for the future," Blow said.

Regarding minimizing taxes, Blow said that the board needs to "take everything we spend money on, and see how we can scale back," asking the question, "Does the benefit outweigh the cost"" He added that it is important to "evaluate what we’re doing, and question ourselves to see if it’s benefiting the taxpayers and students."

Blow said he has never been in favor of the security measures the district took following Columbine.

"We all chose to live in America, not in a military society," he said. "I don’t think we need to have knee-jerk reactions to some deranged individual in Virginia or Colorado or any other place."

If elected, Blow is looking forward to being able to "add my knowledge into the decision-making," he said.

Blow said that he contributes to the community in many ways, and being elected to the school board is "one more step" to help out.

"My interests are aligned with individuals who want good education for their children and also those who don’t want taxes to spiral out of control," he concluded.

Thomas Jones

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – Thomas Jones says, "The school board is there for the school, and to be a voice for the taxpayer." It is not a conduit for any personal goals, he said, adding that votes and actions should be done impartially for the district.

Jones, 52, works as an associate director for technical services in Information Technology for the State University of New York at Albany. He has been a resident of the district for 18 years.

"I’ve lived here long enough to understand the issues," he said.

Jones has three children – two have graduated from Voorheesville, and one child is still a student in the district.

Jones said that he thought, if he were to do anything more with the school, "I’d better do it while I still have an interest in the school."

Voorheesville is a good school district, Jones said. "It is the jewel of our community and I’d like to keep it that way" with the type of excellence that’s been in it."

He is looking for a "common voice" within the school board, Jones said. "You’re really serving the Voorheesville community, comprised of students, parents, and educators," he said of the board’s function. "If the school board is doing its job right, everybody benefits."

Jones said that he believes that Tech Valley High School is an opportunity for some kids. He said he isn’t sure how economically feasible it is, and there are still a lot of issues that he doesn’t know.

"I’m all in favor of trying out new things, if it does not require a large capital investment," Jones said.

Jones said that he has "no major complaints" about how the district handled the situation with the two former administrators who were accused by the state comptroller of inappropriately paying themselves $216,000. "It’s too bad some of it happened," Jones said. "I’m just willing to put that behind us."

The real problem, he said, was internal controls. "You’ve got to have internal controls, and feel comfortable enforcing them."

He said he doesn’t have a huge problem with how the resignation of Charles Reader was handled.

"We pay people a lot of money to be administrators in that district," Jones said. "I don’t want to second guess every decision they make.

"Sometimes when you look under the covers, it might be too late to put the covers back up," he added.

The school district is a public setting, and, he said, "In general, I prefer the school district to be open. There’s really no reason for most of the stuff to happen behind the scenes."

With regard to the enforcement of policies, Jones said, "I hate to spend a lot of community resources debating that little piece of it."

Allowing district administrators to use their judgement when enforcing policies, "is what we pay them for," Jones said. "That’s what you do – you use your judgement."

Jones said that he doesn’t really know enough about the new social worker post. "You really don’t hear the detail about why this is needed.

"There has to be some reason it came to the forefront" Something happened," he said. The addition of a social worker to the staff "could be the greatest move the school district has made, or, it could not be."

On growing enrollment, Jones said that the school district has a pretty good history of moving teachers to where the student demand is. "They seem to have a good handle on what their capacity is."

Jones said that he agrees with many district residents who feel the taxes are high, but, he said, "They’re not out of line with a lot of Capital District areas."

The best thing the district can do to curb taxes, Jones said, "is to prioritize what we’re spending." The goal is to be able to stand in front of the taxpayer and say, "Your money is being well spent," Jones said.

He admitted that the budget process must be difficult. The district has no control over assessments, and no control over state aid; the only thing that can be controlled is the budget, and it "never seems to go down," Jones said.

Security should be something that is constantly re-evaluated, he said. It’s a good idea to ask, "How would our plan work"" he added.

"I’m thrilled to at least be participating in this process," Jones said. "If it works out, I’m looking forward to spending time on the school board."

Sean Signer

By Rachel Dutil

VOORHEESVILLE – Sean Signer believes that he can make a difference.

He understands how to be a "good team player and make good budget decisions that are good for everyone," he said.

Signer, 47, manages a large network for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) across New York State. He has lived in the school district for 17 years.

Signer has three children, and also has custody of his godson, whom he helped to graduate from high school, and go on to college, he said.

Through his experience with his godson, he became "so impressed with the programs at the school," Signer said of Voorheesville.

He has "a lot of experience dealing with different people and situations," said Signer.

He has 31 years of state service under his belt, he said. He managed facilities for the state’s Office of General Services; he has a grasp for the logistics of transportation; and he understands the New York State contract, which is used by most schools for purchases, Signer said.

If elected, he would "make sure kids can get what they need to stay current with what’s happening globally," he said. "I’m a tech guy."

Signer said that "in this day and time," Tech Valley High School is "a very good thing." He said it is important to balance regular education with tech education.

"These students are being afforded an incredible opportunity," Signer said. In order to grow the Tech Valley, he said, "We’re going to need more IT [Information Technology] people with good, strong backgrounds." Math, communication, and writing skills should be strong, he said.

Regarding the situation of the former administrators who were found by the state comptroller to have inappropriately paid themselves more than $200,000, Signer said, "I would ensure the proper procedures and controls are in place to be sure this doesn’t happen again."

He said he hopes that the current board has "already put in place controls to track and monitor finances."

Regarding the resignation of music teacher Charles Reader, Signer said, "There’s no perfect world."

If there was conduct "unbecoming" of a teacher, Signer said, "it’s something the district and the individual parents need to handle themselves.

"Every situation has to be handled individually" There’s no cookie-cutter mold," he said.

Signer also said that he doesn’t see why The Enterprise should submit a Freedom of Information Law request to the district; he could understand why a district parent might, but not a newspaper.

"Districts don’t give all the information the paper might want because you can change those words," Signer said. "I don’t think the newspaper’s responsibility is to look into a child’s trauma.

"We have to watch out for our children, first and foremost," he said.

Signer said that he didn’t have enough information to comment on the enforcement of school policies or the new social-worker position.

The growth within the district, he said, is something that "all parties should be able to have input in." The need for additional teaching staff should be evaluated by teachers, parents, and the district, he said.

"The quality of education is what is paramount, and is the most prideful thing in Voorheesville," he said.

Signer said that he doesn’t hear complaints about the district’s taxes being high.

"I see an awful lot of great kids graduating from our district" Can you put a price on that"" he asked.

Signer, who has a background in making state office buildings safe, said, "I think we’re fairly safe, but we should always be looking at ways to enhance it."

Security could be strengthened by observing traffic flows and patterns, and rotating teachers in the hallway to look for behavior problems, Signer said. "A teacher that’s got their eyes open should hopefully see things going awry."

Signer said that his understanding of new technologies and his talents in the "facilities side of things," along with his involvement in the community make him a good candidate for the school board.

He should be elected, he said, "because I truly care."

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