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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, June 21, 2007

Asks town to repair culverts
Farmer waits as his fields flood

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

RENSSELAERVILLE — Robert Seeger has waited for two years as his pastures and fields flood and erode.

He is waiting for the town to fix the culverts on Tanglewood Road that he says are causing excessive water runoff.

"We’ve lost another year when I can’t plant corn because the field is too wet," Seeger told the Rensselaerville Town Board last Thursday. "When can I expect action""

The town hired Lamont Engineers to evaluate the problem and had just received the report.

"We need 30 days," said Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg.

The report was based on a review the engineers made of Seeger’s land on April 27.

In his report, Lamont project manager Doug Van Deusen estimates the construction costs for removing two of the culverts and replacing the third at $27,863.

"I think this citizen is losing value because the culverts were put in the wrong way. Something has to be done," Nickelsberg told The Enterprise this week.

Asked if the town is likely to pay what the engineers’ recommended to fix the problem, Nickelsberg said, "Maybe not $27,000, but, as long as water from the town is making it hard to plant corn and feed his cattle, we have to find a solution. That’s our job."

Asked why it has taken so long, Nickelsberg said he couldn’t speak for what went on before he took office 18 months ago, but he said he looked at the property once he realized there was a problem.

"I saw it was serious enough to get the highway superintendent and an engineering firm involved," he said. "It doesn’t move quickly," he said of the process, "but it definitely moves."

Nickelsberg said he would like "to have a plan in place" at the town board’s next work session, scheduled for July 11.

Patient man

Seeger had told the board, in a letter, at its April meeting, "My property value is depreciating, and I have spent several thousand dollars on drainage pipes, culverts, and excavating, desperately trying to alleviate these problems with limited success."

He also said he had had trouble getting any response from the highway superintendent and went on, "Over the past four-and-a-half years, I have tried to do things diplomatically and avoid seeking legal action against the town or anyone involved as I want to be a good town citizen and neighbor and not one that causes trouble....

"I am now demanding answers from the town on how it is going to keep my property from being washed away. We want to keep our 100-plus acres for agricultural use. We have a small herd of Hereford steer that we plan to expand, and want to use our fields for crops. It is more and more difficult to do that when water is washing away our good topsoil and eroding our fields and forest."

The engineers’ report says the three Tanglewood Road culverts have, according to highway-department records, been there for 65 to 70 years but were replaced within the last nine to 10 years.

The two culverts that the engineers propose removing "do not have receiving channels and the discharge from these culverts is dispersed onto the Seeger property," the report says.

The third culvert, it says, discharges near the remnants of a stonewall that partially directs the discharge flow to a drainage channel that ultimately reaches a tributary to Potter Hollow Creek.

The report also details "several conditions that would contribute to wet and soggy conditions that on their own could result in the erosion damage to fields." This includes soil conditions, naturally sloped terrain, a pond that has no emergency spillway to a controlled outlet, and an agricultural diversion ditch that is "spilling drainage randomly overland towards the lowermost fields."

The engineers recommend that Seeger consult with the Albany County Soil and Water Conservation Service or the regional office of the Natural Resource Conservation Service to develop a land-management plan and "implement specific practices that would help manage seasonal and natural wetness...."

Athena not reserved about missing volleyball

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — As a high school student at Berne-Knox-Westerlo attends basic training this summer in the Army Reserves, she will miss some of the team’s try-out practices. However, the school will extend the try-out period to allow her to play, BKW’s athletic director said this week.

"I really want to play. I love volleyball," said Athena Kelly, who was uncertain about her chances to play on the team just weeks ago. Kelly will be a senior at BKW next year.

She takes two sports seriously — bowling and volleyball, she said.

"She’s not going to miss out," BKW’s athletic director, Fred Marcil, said this week, adding that Kelly’s being away for basic training is "certainly an extenuating circumstance."

"She’ll just have to try out later," Marcil said. "We’ll just have to extend the try-out period."

A junior, Kelly said she talked to a recruiter and also has a friend in the military. She decided to join the Army Reserves in October, and will be at Fort Jackson in South Carolina this summer for 10 weeks of basic training.

"It helps me pay for college, and also helps with getting job training so I can pursue a job in whatever I want," Kelly said.

During the upcoming school year, she will train one weekend each month until she graduates next spring. Kelly said she will return from basic training this summer just three days before the first day of school on Sept. 6.

When asked if she’d had second thoughts about joining, given the state of world affairs, Kelly said, "Nope. I’m ready to go."

Kelly, who began playing volleyball for BKW as a sophomore, said that getting in shape for the season "is not going to be an issue for me." The elder of two children, Kelly grew up on a farm off Knox Cave Road in Berne and enjoys the outdoors. Kelly said she wants to join the infantry, but can’t because women are not allowed "in the line of fire."

"If our school had a football team, I’d play football," Kelly said.

School view

Marcil said that extenuating circumstances which excuse student-athletes from practice might include a death in the family or family vacation.

The New York State Athletic Association sets the dates for when a team is able to conduct its practices.

Fall practices for sports, such as soccer and cross-country, begin either two or three weeks prior to the first day of school. Practices for this fall’s sports teams begin Aug. 20.

Starting team try-outs three weeks before the first day of school, he said, "puts us in an awkward position," Marcil said, adding that starting earlier may cut into a family’s vacation time.

The state athletic association sets the amount of practices a student must attend in order to compete; varsity volleyball players are required to attend four practices prior to a scrimmage, and must attend six before competing against other schools.

Kelly said she doesn’t think her teammates will be unkind toward her for missing some practices.

"They know," she said. "They understand my situation — trying to prepare myself for a career."

Working at Stewart’s in Altamont, Kelly was happy Monday as she scooped ice cream for customers, looking forward to playing on the team and leaving for South Carolina. "I’m excited," she said.

Berne board bickers

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — Frustrations mounted last week as officials discussed purchasing new trucks for the town’s highway department.

After a heated discussion, no decision was reached.

Raymond Storm, Berne’s highway superintendent, said one of the highway department’s trucks, which is 30 years old, "needs work," and another truck, a 1984 model, has "serious drive-train problems."

"We just can’t keep fixing these things," Storm said. "They all break. Even the new ones break."

Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier said the department’s trucks get "heavy service."

"That’s the problem," he said.

Storm estimated a new fully-equipped four-by-four truck at $194,000 before emissions controls are added. Storm said the department also needs a smaller truck, which, he said, would cost about $80,000.

Crosier and Councilman James Hamilton, who ran against each other for town supervisor in 2005 and are often at odds, argued over this year’s budget. Hamilton speculated about the amount of money in the town’s savings.

"We don’t have a million dollars. I wish we did, but we don’t," Crosier said.

Crosier did not approve this year’s spending plan. His budget proposal included a merger of the town’s highway department with the county’s department of public works, a concept the board rejected.

Crosier ran on the Republican ticket; the board members are Democrats. Crosier, who is enrolled as a Democrat, is now launching a run for the county legislature against Democratic incumbent Alexander "Sandy" Gordon, forcing a primary.

"I’m just not ready to accept the myth that the county was going to give us a free ride that would have magically solved all our problems," said Councilman Joseph Golden. "I think we’re just going to have to buy the truck."

Crosier said, "How are you going to pay for it""

"We can’t figure out how to buy a truck now"" Hamilton asked.

"I don’t know. You guys figure it out," he said. "I gave you guys enough ideas. Now, it’s up to you," he said.

Councilman Wayne Emory was emphatic. "No one’s asking anyone to figure anything out. We’re having a discussion here, and you’re willing or not willing to participate just because of a difference of opinion"The man needs a vehicle," he said.

"Well, then, tell us how you’d do it," Crosier responded.

This year, the tax levy increased approximately 20 percent.

Crosier said he didn’t vote for the budget, and said, "You designed it."

Hamilton said the other board members didn’t design it, but "cut back on your general fund against your wishes."

"We’ve been making hard choices," said Golden. "You don’t agree with them. That’s fine. I have a great deal of respect for your ability to fund and budget," he said to Crosier.

Golden, the liaison to the town’s highway department, said the board "set out on a path."

"Whatever the magical merger was, we’re not doing it, so we have to conduct business in order to solve this particular problem, which is how we buy the truck. It makes me sad to have to spend that money to buy a truck, and, if we have to raise taxes, and that’s the outcome of it, and these people"come out with pitchforks and torches, then so be it," Golden said. "Our job is not to deal with hypotheticals — could have been, would have been."


During discussion of a draft of the town minutes from last month’s board meeting, officials recommended purchasing a tape recorder with a microphone.

Last month, the board discussed sharing services with the county. Crosier recommended sending a proposal to consolidate the town’s highway department along with a proposal for shared services to Albany County. Hamilton and Emory said they didn’t want to send a proposal not supported by the board.

Last week, at the meeting’s onset, Hamilton questioned minutes from last month’s meeting, typed by long-time town Clerk Patricia Favreau, a Democrat.

"[The minutes make] it look like we are recommending they submit it, and I strongly said I do not recommend they submit it," Hamilton said.

"Minutes written like this are a paraphrasing of the discussion. It is the opinion of the person that writes it. When you pick and choose sentences out of context, you have to be very careful how it’s worded," he said.

Crosier said he doesn’t think "anybody picked sentences out of context," and said minutes are "a snapshot."

"I’ll just rewrite it and submit it to them," Favreau said.

Golden and Hamilton said they’d suggested a new tape recorder with a microphone.

"Get it, and we’ll be happier," Golden said.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Appointed Councilman Hamilton to the Albany County Shared Municipal Highway Services Board. Sponsored by County Legislator Gordon, who represents three of the four Hilltowns, the county unanimously passed a resolution to create the board last month.

Each of the 19 municipalities in Albany County will appoint one member to the 21-member board to discuss sharing services and explore possible cost-savings measures between departments. The county legislature will appoint two members;

— Voted with four members’ approval to award the sole bidder for a new furnace for Town Hall to Donato Plumbing in Altamont. Donato Plumbing will install a furnace for $3,265, with the installation to be completed by July 30. Hamilton abstained from voting;

— Voted unanimously to temporarily close roads on the morning of July 21 for the 5-kilometer Fox Creek Road Race and Fun Walk;

— Heard from Gordon that the county’s right-to-farm law passed unanimously in the county legislature. The law defines a farmer as having a gross income of $2,000, lower than the requirement of $10,000 at the state level. The law also has a provision for "dispute remediation," he said. One of the law’s benefits is that it strengthens farmers, Gordon said. "Hopefully, this will be something that helps to preserve agriculture in the area.";

— Heard from Kevin Kemmet, Berne’s solid-waste coordinator, that the town is already sharing highway services with towns. Kemmet, who, along with the town’s highway workers, is opposed to merging the town’s highway department with the county’s department of public works, said Berne shares services with the towns of Knox, Westerlo, Wright, Rensselaerville, Coeymans, and New Scotland, and has been sharing services for years.

"Why aren’t we applying for grants""The money has got to be out there, and we’re already doing it. We’re already doing shared services," Kemmet said;

— Heard from Linda Carman, who lives on a state highway. Carman asked about shared services and said that, during the most recent snowstorm, a Berne plow truck went by her house three times.

"Could they plow"" she asked the board, "Because the county didn’t show up for hours." Carman asked if the town’s plowing a state highway would be a shared service. Councilman Hamilton and Supervisor Crosier said that it was possible. "If we work out an agreement," Hamilton concluded.

Montesan’s house saved by fire-fighting friends

By Tyler Schuling and Melissa Hale-Spencer

BERNE — George Montesano has spent much of his lifetime helping others as a volunteer firefighter. Friday was payback day.

He was working a job in Florida when his home in East Berne caught fire.

"Then the cavalry arrived," he writes in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, describing the local firefighters who, remarkably, saved his home.

The fire at the Beaver Dam Road home started at about 12:30 p.m., said David Clark, chief of the Berne Volunteer Fire Company.

The cause of the fire is unknown, Clark said yesterday, adding that the Albany County Sheriff’s Department is investigating.

Montesano was out of town with his son, Clark said. Someone at the house called right away after detecting the fire, and damage to the house was contained to the attic, he said.

The first firefighters responding to the scene were Lee Wright, Don Filkins, and Eric Gardner, Clark said.

No one at the scene was injured, said Joe Welsh, vice president of Helderberg Ambulance.

Hilltown firefighters responding to the scene were members of the Berne and East Berne volunteer fire companies, the Knox Volunteer Fire Company, the New Salem Volunteer Fire Department, and Onesquethaw Volunteer Fire Company. The Westerlo and Gallupville volunteer fire departments were on standby, said Clark.

"Everyone did a wonderful job in responding and containing the fire to the attic," Clark said.

Montesano agreed. "I have to put a new roof on and some Sheetrock," he said from Florida on Monday. "We have typical insurance. We’ll be OK"I built the house and I’ll build it again.

"My wife got all the pets out and her grandmother’s china," he added.

The support from the community, though, is what has impressed him most. "The outpouring," he said. "It’s just unbelievable."

Hard Knox proposes huge subdivision

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — As a developer considers a large subdivision in the town, area residents and officials speculate about its effects.

Developer Robert Chase of Hard Knox Land Development L.L.C., who attended the planning board’s meeting in March to discuss a potential subdivision and was on the board’s agenda last week, did not attend.

Chase has discussed subdividing two large parcels south of the Knox hamlet along Knox-Cave, MacMillan, and Zimmer roads. According to Knox assessor Russell Pokorny, Hard Knox Land Development owns two separate parcels — one 173.2-acre parcel and one 103.9-acre parcel.

"The facts are: They’ve been here once"Anything you hear, take with a very large grain of salt," said Planning Board Chairman Robert Price.

The first phase may be about 30 conventional lots of five acres each, long-time planning board member Daniel Driscoll told The Enterprise.

"For the second phase — the land just south of the hamlet in Knox — we are encouraging [Chase] to consider a conservation subdivision — smaller lots and mixed use, to fit in better with the hamlet," Driscoll told The Enterprise.

The planning board had been approached about a subdivision at the same location before, said Price.

Residents at last week’s meeting speculated about the impact of a large subdivision on their water system; one resident said she doesn’t want to look out her window and see other houses.

Knox Supervisor Michael Hammond and Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier, at their towns’ meetings last week, referred to the project.

"There is more and more pressure to divide up here," Hammond said. "We see this come in waves, and it seems like we have a period of time that nothing has happened, and then, all of a sudden, a surge comes again," he said. "These are highly desirable places to build very expensive homes."

Price said at the planning board’s meeting that the town is growing, and pointed to the Capital District Regional Planning Commission’s most recent figures. According to the commission, ten new single-family houses were constructed in 2006 in Knox, valued at $2.3 million — a 43-percent growth from the previous year.

Personal Windmill

James Devine, who lives at Helderberg Estates and is planning for a personal windmill, recently conducted a balloon test to determine a tower’s visual impact to neighboring properties.

Before approval, applicants place a large balloon at the site, then travel to different locations and take photographs to document and determine its visual impact. The windmill, if approved, will be 36 feet at its base, and 36 feet tall with white turbine blades.

Wind power has been an ongoing discussion in the town.

Last fall, a temporary meteorological tower was erected off Middle Road to take wind measurements for 18 months for the Helderberg Wind Project. Price has been impressed with measurements taken from the tower since it was completed in October.

Pokorny and his wife, Amy, who live on Beebe Road in Knox, raised a 100-foot tall personal windmill on their property last year. It is hidden behind forestry, and can only be seen briefly from the Berne-Altamont Road. Pokorny told The Enterprise the windmill and solar-powered panels power a well pump, a refrigerator, an auxiliary water heater, and provide electricity for their house.

After installing the windmill, the Pokornys switched from regular watt light bulbs to light-emitting diode lights and lower energy light bulbs that draw less current, Pokorny said. The Pokornys are off the electric grid, but can connect by flipping a switch if they run low on energy, which, Pokorny said, might happen in winter. They pay $22 each month to the electric company whether they connect to the electric grid or not, Pokorny said.

Albany County Legislator Alexander "Sandy" Gordon, who also lives on Beebe Road, has encouraged green energy sources in the Hilltowns and last fall discussed the possibility of the town owning an industrial windmill.

Last week, Driscoll was concerned about Devine’s personal windmill being visible from trails within Thacher State Park, resulting in Devine not being able to answer all questions on the environmental assessment application. Driscoll was also concerned about possible litigation.

"I’m just trying to make sure we’re not subject to an Article 78," Driscoll said. An Article 78 petition allows residents to challenge their governments in court.

"My feeling is this isn’t going to be a big impact," said Price.

Driscoll said he didn’t object to the windmill and asked Devine to include a "verbal description" in his application since photographs had not been taken from some of the park’s trails. Driscoll said he would walk them.

None of Devine’s neighbors attended the meeting.

A public hearing on the windmill proposal will be held at the planning board’s meeting next month.

Cell tower considered

The planning board also reviewed a site plan for a cellular tower with Enterprise Consulting Solutions, based out of Slingerlands.

Board members and the consulting company discussed locating the tower on a 5-acre parcel owned by the town off Street Road near the Winn Preserve, one of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy’s land preserves in Knox. Half of the parcel is residential zoning, and the other half is in a land conservation district.

Cell-phone reception in Knox and the other three Hilltowns is sparse, often non-existent.

The town would lease land to the cell tower company, and Enterprise Consulting Solutions would then lease space on the tower to cellular providers, such as Nextel and Sprint.

Last year, the town passed a moratorium on wind turbines and cell towers, and recently completed an ordinance regulating the placement of cell towers.

Price, who worked with Driscoll to create the ordinance, said he is most concerned about the health, welfare, and safety of town residents. The Federal Aviation Administration requires a flashing red light during the night and a strobe light during the day on all towers over 200 feet, Price said. Last week, the board discussed a 185-foot tall tower.

The town had earlier considered Knox’s highest point as a potential site for the tower, but, because reception would not reach into the town’s valleys, the plan was abandoned.

Enterprise Consulting Solutions representatives said the tower would be a monopole, much "like a baseball bat," with a large base and thinner top. They have had "preliminary interest from carriers," but would not specify who those carriers are.

Driscoll, who helped found the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy in 1992 and has remained involved, was concerned about the impact to Truax Road, a small road south of the property, which leads into the Winn Preserve. Driscoll was also concerned about the tower being located in a land conservation district.

According to the town’s zoning ordinance, the purpose of a land conservation district is to "prevent potential contamination of the groundwater supply," and to preserve and protect areas because of their "topography, fauna and flora, drainage and /or other natural conditions, such as scenic beauty, geological formations, and natural waterways."

Hikers and horseback riders use the road, and "a lot of people would see it," Driscoll said. He said the site is not a good location for a cell tower.

"We would have a positive declaration," he said. A positive declaration in the state environmental quality review process means a more rigorous review is needed.

Price said he doesn’t know of any other property owned by the town "that would be suitable."

Driscoll said, if another property owned by the town could not be found, a cell tower could be placed in an agricultural district. Driscoll said it would be "very desirable," and farmers would benefit because it would provide them with another source of income.

"I understand your concerns, and I understand the board’s concerns"but, at the same time, it does provide a public service," said Bill Biscone. of Enterprise Consulting Solutions.

Price said the town hasn’t yet considered revenue. "We’re just beginning this process," he said. "We’re going to be meeting a lot."

Love of sewing led Olsen to quilt

By Saranac Hale-Spencer

EAST BERNE — Carolyn Olsen learned to quilt about 12 years ago and hasn’t stopped. One of her latest creations is entered in the Vermont Quilt Festival show and contest, to be held in Essex Junction on June 29 through July 1.

This year’s entry is a quilt that she made for her 4-year-old grandson, Andreas, said Olsen. The main fabric has trucks and tractors, framed by solid colors. "It’s real, real bright," she said.

She’s won a second place prize in the Vermont show before, she said, as well as taking home prizes from other national contests.

"I’ve always loved to sew and I’ve always loved fabrics," she said of what drew her to quilting. Lately she’s developed from traditional quilting into art quilting, she said. Art quilts are "highly individual," Olsen said.

A researcher for the state health department, Olsen retired from her job a couple of years after she learned to quilt because she needed more time for the craft, she said. Olsen is part of Q.U.I.L.T. Inc. [Quilters United in Learning Together], a local quilting guild.

Olsen will be one of nearly 200 entrants in the contest, which is to be judges by three national quilting authorities.

Super’s wife not allowed
New trio hired to fill out FEMA forms

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

RENSSELAERVILLE — The public has picked up a debate that began on New Year’s Day in 2006, the day Republican Jost Nicklesberg took office as supervisor.

The two Democrats on the town board differed sharply then with the three Republicans making appointments. The Republican majority eliminated the job of clerk to the highway superintendent on that day. The supervisor said then, as he did last Thursday night, that he opposes nepotism.

The post had been filled by Joyce Chase, the wife of the Democratic highway superintendent and the mother of the Democratic councilman.

At last Thursday’s town board meeting, Nickelsberg announced, in the wake of April’s nor’easter, that forms for the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be handled by Daphne Pearson, with help from Randy Bates and K.B. Cooke.

Joyce Chase had, in the past, worked as the FEMA clerk for the town.

In a May 7 letter from William F. Ryan Jr., the attorney for the town, Ryan reports that Highway Superintendent G. Jon Chase told him that, "if he is not allowed to use his wife to assist him with the completion of these forms he will not finish them."

"He’s the highest-paid employee in town," Nickelsberg told The Enterprise this week, "and he said he won’t do his job if we don’t put in his wife."

Nickelsberg went on, "He has followed through with the threat. We’ve had to make repeated requests for paperwork, which we finally got. He won’t walk the roads and tell us what the damage was. He hasn’t come to FEMA meetings. It’s been difficult."

G. Jon Chase was not at last Thursday’s meeting and did not return a call for comment.

Joyce Chase was employed as a FEMA clerk for the town from 2001 to 2003 to apply for grants after Tropical Storm Floyd; she was paid $3,260 with funds from the $331,179 FEMA grant specifically for that service.

Mrs. Chase told The Enterprise at the time that she spent "loads more hours than she ever charged the town for," because her husband "can’t do it all."

She also spent her own time and money training to do the work the position would require, she said, taking classes in Excel and Microsoft Word in order to better manage the project. And she spent time visiting the sites; there were about 28 projects, she said.

Pearson, who will be doing over 80 percent of the current work, will be paid $15 an hour while Bates and Cooke will be paid less, Nickelsberg said.

"We will be reimbursed by the state and federal government," he said.

Nickelsberg cited their many years of experience and called them "an excellent team," stating the town is "broadening its base."

Nickelsberg also said, "We, as you know, do not hire spouses in the interest of the laws of nepotism in the state."

He added, "It’s very important for this town to have sound business practices."

The town does not have a policy on nepotism, according to Clerk Kathleen Hallenbeck.

Asked about state law on nepotism as applied to town government, Eamon Moynihan, a spokesman for New York’s Department of State, told The Enterprise this week, "Probably the right way for the town to go about it is to have the town attorney write to the New York Attorney General’s Office and ask for a written opinion."

He went on, "The issues in play would be who determines salary," which probably wouldn’t be an issue in the Rensselaerville case because the town board, not the highway superintendent, sets salary.

"And there would be questions about supervision," said Moynihan, "which could be a signifcant concern."

Lee Park, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office found just one relevant opinion on nepotism, handed down in 1993, to the town of Ticonderoga, based on General Municipal Law.

The informal opinion notes that "local governments are required to enact codes of ethics establishing standards of conduct of public officials."

It goes on, "We conclude that absent a prohibition in the local code of ethics a person may be appointed to the planning board of a town even though his father currently serves as a member of the zoning board of appeals."

Responding to the attorney general’s decision through The Enterprise, Nickelsberg said, "This whole administration operates on what’s best for the town"That is our prime and only motivation in everything we do. It can’t be an issue of putting someone in because they’re a friend"We try very hard to stay away from family appointments and get someone superbly qualified. In this case, we did."

The decision to hire Pearson, Bates, and Cooke was reached at a special meeting on June 6 by a party-line vote. Nickelsberg and his fellow Republicans, Myra Dorman and J. Robert Lansing, voted for the appointments. Democrat Gary J. Chase, the highway superintendent’s son, was not at the meeting. Democrat Sherri Pine abstained; she said she wanted to talk with the highway superintendent before voting.

Public pique

During the public-comment session towards the end of last Thursday’s town-board meeting, there were several heated exchanges over the new appointments and over the concept of nepotism.

"How’s the public supposed to know what’s going on"" asked Jeff Pine, a town assessor and the councilwoman’s husband. He expressed his frustration about special meetings, like the one in which Pearson, Bates, and Cooke were hired for FEMA applications.

"Let’s think about transparency and what’s best for the town," said Jeff Pine, asserting appointments should be discussed and made at regular monthly town-board meetings.

"Where was the notification to the public, seeking members"" asked Marie Dermody, saying the selection process for the new hires should have been open. She said the posts could have been advertised in the town’s newsletter.

A member of the town’s board of assessment review, she has taken issue with the supervisor before for eliminating the board members’ pay.

Dermody had begun her comments by chastising council members for party-line voting. Researching 280 votes, Dermody reported that Councilman Gary Chase agreed with Nickelsberg 83 percent of the time, Pine, 86 percent, and, she said, Lansing and Dorman voted with Nickelsberg 100 percent of the time.

"So much for independent thinking," she said.

"Our job is to find the best possible people," said Nickelsberg, "and we succeeded with that."

"I’m taking issue with policy and procedure," said Dermody.

"We needed to do it immediately," said Nickelsberg. "We had the FEMA people knocking at our door...We had 60 days from the time we had our initial meeting in Cohoes...probably 20 days ago to have all the site inspections, all the meetings...to get reimbursed."

When Dermody asked if the town had a written policy banning the hiring of a spouse, Nickelsberg said he didn’t know.

An argument then erupted between Nickelsberg and Councilman Chase as Chase said he hadn’t known of it and Nickelsberg countered, "You came to my house two days after being sworn in" with concerns about his mother who had done secretarial work for his father, the highway superintendent.

At the New Year’s Day meeting in 2006 where his mother’s job had been cut, Councilman Chase called the cut "a political stab in the back."

His grandfather had been highway superintendent for 30 years before his father was elected to the post, Councilman Chase said, and his grandmother had worked as his grandfather’s clerk.

"That job used to pay about $20,000," he said. "They took that job away from my dad and said he could do it on his own."

Then, since his mother helped his father with paperwork, Chase said, "A couple of years ago, they set it up so she got $10 an hour, up to $3,000. There’s a ton of paperwork you have to file for funding for roads. She was putting in millions of hours and getting paid $3,000...It’s not a conflict."

Nickelsberg said at the time of his reasons for cutting the post, "The number-one reason is cost savings. The other is a potential conflict of interest."

He went on, "There are certain rules in the state about family members being part of the government. We want to present as few conflicts as possible...

"She’s a wonderful person," he said of Mrs. Chase, "but I ran on the position there would be no conflicts or perceptions of conflicts of interest."

"You’re blowing all smoke and mirrors," Councilman Chase said to the supervisor last Thursday night, "with all kinds of BS answers for the public."

"You are possibly in danger of discrimination," Dermody told Nickelsberg. "If you’re going to enforce a verbal policy, make it legitimate," she said, stating it should be codified into town law.

"You write and speak very well," said Dorman, urging Dermody to draft a policy on nepotism for the town, an idea she rejected.

"Nepotism is not against the law," said Bonny Gifford, Gary Chase’s sister. "Every organization can adopt a policy and you can have exceptions to the rule."

Ginther crosses all barriers to bring respite to those who seek themselves

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Nestled along Pond Hill Road in Rensselaerville, a large, lush acreage is serving as a temporary home to those wishing to make a break from the busyness of life.

Rachel Ginther, who owns, operates, and lives at The Garden at Thunder Hill, a not-for-profit retreat center, said it is her job to get others to find their abilities and know themselves better.

While on retreat, individuals and groups choose from a host of activities — hiking, reading, swimming, canoeing, fishing, sleeping, and meditating. They have access to an eight-acre lake, and nearly 120 acres of land.

Ginther said Thunder Hill is a place for people to decompress and "let go of all that stuff that’s not who they really are," and to "find that peaceful place within so they have a place to come back to."

Ginther moved to Rensselaerville nearly 10 years ago from Pennsylvania, and into the Pond Hill Road property in 2002. That year marked one of the most treacherous winters in recent memory. She called her first year on Pond Hill Road "challenging." Because she didn’t have a plow, she couldn’t remove the large mounds of snow from her driveway. She didn’t have phone service for two months after moving in.

Ginther said her life is all about trust.

"I came up here with literally nothing. No furniture. I found a property — a place to rent in Medusa — and I didn’t even know how I was going to pay the rent," she said. "I think when you trust it allows you to be open to more things than you would if you had an exact idea of what you were doing," said Ginther.

"If you said, ‘I know exactly what I’m doing. I know exactly where I’m going,’ you kind of limit your options," she said. When you trust, it opens things up in ways you’d never expect, she said.

Finding "true essence"

An aromatherapist and herbalist, Ginther started out as a massage therapist and has done over 10,000 private sessions, she said. She has also studied reiki, a traditional Japanese method of healing through touch, she said. She has also made nearly 400 different flower essences, which "release mental and emotional patterns that we carry," and work on an energy level, much like homeopathy. The essences are made by floating flowers on water in sunlight and then adding atomidine, a preservative.

While working with a chiropractor, Ginther frequented a nearby New-Age metaphysical shop. "That’s what started me off, studying these different things"The flower essences just kind of came naturally to me," she said.

She had been working with 40 people in private sessions, but wanted to work with more people, and decided she was "ready for world service," she said. "I was ready to help more people." Ginther said she thought she would teach, but she ended up making flower essences.

While she suggests reading material to others, Ginther said, she stopped reading years ago because she wanted to make sure that what she is getting is from inside.

Her role is to help others "find their truth inside and be able to bring that out, to find their true essence."

The two-story retreat house, with wide hallways to display her products and multiple rooms, houses art from friends. A fireplace warms a large living room. She recently installed an infrared sauna, which, she said, is used for detoxing, in a room on the second floor.

A sweat lodge, which, Ginther said, is used to detox the mind, body, and spirit, is a short hike from the lodge. Some, she said, associate sweat lodges with Native American culture, but they are used in many cultures, such as Yoruban and Indonesian.

Logging trails cover the property. Ginther does all cooking and laundry, cleans visitors’ rooms, and does all mowing and snow-plowing. The president of the Hilltown Market and Natural Food Co-op in Rensselaerville, she makes all gluten-free and dairy-free foods.

She also conducts a business out of her home, Garden of One, and teaches classes, holds private sessions, and sells a line of food products and services. Last week, she held a raw-food dinner. Foods, after being cooked, she said, no longer have enzymes, and enzymes increase people’s energy and functionality. This weekend, she is conducting a workshop aimed to help people adopt tools to transform their relationship with food.

Crossing barriers

Ginther said societal and worldly expectations of success contribute to individuals’ not knowing themselves well, and each person has inherent gifts and talents.

"There’s, ‘You have to live up to this standard’ or, ‘In order to be successful, it has to look like this, this, and this.’ That doesn’t work for everybody. In fact, I think it works for very few people," Ginther said.

Ginther said she helps people understand that they are OK just as they are and she brings out their innate genius. "So many people think there’s something wrong with them, and they base their life on their limitations as opposed to their possibilities," she said. A person’s weakness, she said, may be "a gift in disguise."

"It’s not bad to not be like everybody else," she said.

Ginther said that, in all she does, she has rules she abides by. "Whatever I do has to cross all racial, cultural, and language barriers. It can’t leave anybody out, and it has to work whether people know what it is or not," she said.

Ginther said she loves the county’s rural area, and cited Buddhist retreat centers nearby. "It’s about getting back to the simplest form, which is nature"I think there’s something about this place," she said, adding that the area is "very conducive for people to make changes."

In the modern world, "There’s so much input. How can you think"" she said.

A peace labyrinth, next to the retreat house, Ginther said, is not "a maze" or "a trick." It represents "the soul’s path back to the absolute." Near it, a peace pole says, "May peace prevail on earth" in four languages — English, Japanese, Gaelic, and Mohawk — on each of its four sides.

Labyrinths are based on sacred geometry, she said, and allow people to connect with divine energy. They activate a person’s shocker system — an energy system connected to their glands, she said, and people react differently when walking along the path.

Walking a labyrinth may lead people to understand themselves better, get answers to questions, or have revelations, Ginther said. She has seen some people laugh while walking along its pathway and has seen others cry, she said.

Earlier this month, on a day with a slight breeze and clear skies, The Garden at Thunder Hill was active with wildlife. A hummingbird hovered above a flower box just outside Ginther’s kitchen window. Frogs jumped and a snake slithered along a trail leading to the sweat lodge. And tiny fish jumped out of the small pond.

Ginther, sitting on a rock, looking around at her surroundings, said, "Somebody told me about this place, and it was available, and it was perfect."

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