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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, July 26, 2007

Purchase of truck questioned

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — A town highway worker is questioning the purchase of a truck he says is too small and also alleging the town supervisor slandered him in an illegal secret meeting.

"Since day one, I have done nothing but praise these guys," Supervisor Kevin Crosier responded. "Why would I want to besmirch someone’s name""

On the fourth Wednesday of May, officials met and discussed insurance; they had originally scheduled the meeting for May 30, but met on the 23rd instead. Berne officials frequently meet a second time each month for what they call a "working" meeting after holding their regular meeting.

All town board members attended the May 23 session.

"Virtually nobody [from the public] showed up," Councilman James Hamilton said this week.

After the meeting, Kevin Kemmet, Berne’s solid-waste coordinator and a town highway worker, criticized town practices and questioned whether slanderous comments were made during the meeting regarding his conduct.

Crosier denied saying anything derogatory about Kemmet and said he has repeatedly praised highway workers in public and in the town’s newsletter since he took office in 2002.

"I think they do a great job. I’ve consistently said that since day one," he said.

Kemmet, who did not attend the meeting, questions whether the May meeting was legal. No minutes have been compiled, and a tape-recording he purchased from Town Hall is missing portions of the meeting.

Kemmet has been outspoken about the town’s new highway truck and a proposed merger between the town’s highway department and the county’s department of public works. He and other Berne highway workers have also been critical of Crosier and the highway superintendent, Ray Storm, who backed a plan to merge the two departments.

Crosier has continued to encourage consolidation though the concept was rejected by the town board, the highway workers, and many residents.

Storm could not be reached for comment this week.

Berne’s new truck, purchased earlier this year, is used to transfer garbage, recyclables, and paper from the town’s transfer station to Rotterdam and the Rapp Road landfill in Guilderland. Kemmet, the sole driver of the truck, also transports garbage for the nearby town of Westerlo with Berne’s new truck as a shared service, he said.

The new truck is adequate for Berne’s smallest bin, Kemmet said, but Berne and Westerlo have large garbage and recycling bins, which are difficult to unload from the truck. Berne has one small bin, which works well with the new truck, Kemmet said. However, because the bin is smaller, it is filled with garbage quickly, often before the transfer station closes, he said.

The larger bins stick out of the rear of the truck, and he doesn’t know whether he is street-legal, Kemmet said.

Any truck over 40 feet long that travels on a state road is required to have a permit issued by the state, according to Carol Brain, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Transportation. If only traveling local roads, a permit is needed from a local agency, such as a county, she said. An object hanging over the rear of the vehicle must not exceed one-third the entire length of the vehicle, she said, and a flag is needed for anything extending three feet beyond a vehicle’s rear.

Berne saved $10,000 by buying a smaller truck, Kemmet said, but the department needs a truck with a longer wheel base to transport the larger bins. Kemmet claims officials bought the truck "without doing any homework."

Crosier said, when considering the purchase of the truck, board members did their "due diligence" and Storm helped develop the specifications for the truck.

"The town board did a good job, and I commend them for their hard work," Crosier said.

Kemmet said the only answer is to sell it and "get the right truck." He recommended selling the truck to the nearby town of Knox, the town from which the specifications for purchasing a new truck were derived, he said.

Chain of command

The day officials met, May 23, Kemmet drove the new truck to CEJJ, a company in Hudson.

Kemmet said a board member had told him Crosier made statements about him at the meeting, which could lead Kemmet to press charges. Hamilton and Councilman Joseph Golden did not recall Crosier saying anything derogatory about Kemmet. Portions of the discussion are missing from a taped recording and, as of Monday, no minutes had been compiled.

Kemmet said he was initially to take the truck to CEJJ on Thursday, May 24, but Storm had told him he could take the truck earlier.

"I know Mr. Crosier was not happy with what Mr. Kemmet had done," said Hamilton. "He made it clear he was not too happy with the way the events occurred."

Kemmet has been critical of Crosier’s and Storm’s relationship. Storm, Kemmet said, is married to Crosier’s sister, Karen, the head purchasing agent for Albany County.

"We are elected. How is that nepotism"" Crosier responded through The Enterprise. "We are elected by the public."

Neither the town’s long-time clerk, Patricia Favreau, nor the deputy clerk, Anita Clayton, attended the meeting.

The Enterprise obtained a tape-recording of portions of the May 23 meeting, which contains no derogatory or inflammatory statements about Kemmet.

At the May meeting, no action was taken, said Favreau. During the meeting, the tape malfunctioned, she said. Favreau did not attend because she was out of town.

"No business occurred," she said. "It was merely a discussion."

Favreau said this week she was compiling minutes for the meeting, reflecting that no action had been made by the board.

Illegal meeting"

The town board meets the second Wednesday of each month and occasionally on the fourth Wednesday.

At the town’s annual re-organizational meeting, officials designate the second Thursday as one of the town board’s meeting times and meet on the date "as needed." The town’s website lists both days as town-board meeting dates.

When meeting on the fourth Wednesday, Favreau does not post legal notices in the town’s official newspaper, The Altamont Enterprise.

"They are required to do so," said Robert Freeman, the state’s director of the Committee on Open Government.

A town is required to publish legal notices in its official newspaper to inform the public and the news media, said Freeman. Designating a day of the month on an "as needed" basis, he said, is "not at all unusual."

Freeman described why not notifying the news media and the public poses problems with a town’s meetings.

"Nobody knows when they’re going to be held," Freeman said.

Minutes must include a record or summary of all motions, proposals, and resolutions voted on, Freeman said.

"They can include more, but they don’t have to," he said. A town clerk’s absence does not preclude a board from conducting a meeting, he said.

Freeman said it is "appropriate" for a board to notify the public when canceling meetings, using the same methods it uses when notifying the public of a meeting.

"We’re talking about common courtesy, not law," he said.

Pierce named zoning board chairman

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Alden Pierce, the town’s deputy supervisor, was recently appointed the chairman of the zoning board of appeals.

Pierce is enrolled as a Republican.

"I think it’s important for citizens in a small community to make some contribution to local government in some way," Pierce said.

Spending a career working for several corporations in environmental management, Pierce now works for a small company that develops and deploys environmental management software.

He has worked for Getty, Martin Marietta, and W.R. Grace and Company.

Pierce lived in Rensselaerville in the early 1970s. His job, he said, took him all over the country — to Los Angeles, Denver, and New York City.

He came back to Rensselaerville seven or eight years ago. He was living in Florida, and bought a summer home in Rensselaerville. He has since sold his Florida home and has lived in the Hilltown permanently since 2002.

Pierce said he is involved in things in his backyard, with habitat improvement and civic activities.

"We like the area very much and we like the people here," he said.

At the town’s June meeting, some residents objected to Pierce’s appointment over current, experienced zoning-board members.

"It’s not a time to put a rank amateur, a political hack as chairman of the ZBA," said Assessor Jeff Pine, a Democrat and the husband of Councilwoman Sherri Pine.

He said Pierce was appointed because of his relationship with Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg. Others said the post should have been advertised and the appointment openly discussed.

Nickelsberg responded at the June meeting by saying Dr. Pierce had an I.Q. of 145, and he has over 40 years worth of business experience. Nickelsberg was shouted down with cries of, "He’s a hack!"

This week, Pierce laughed at the criticism.

"I can’t imagine what the criticisms are," Pierce said, adding that he suspects that those who have been critical don’t know him.

Nickelsberg has lauded Pierce as "a town-first guy," saying he has no real-estate interests, is a bright and exceptional man, and will do an extraordinary job.

The town is currently finishing its work on a comprehensive land-use plan. The plan — its process, cost to taxpayers, and implementation — has been scrutinized by many town residents.

"It isn’t finalized yet," Pierce said. "There are always different views," he said, adding that people don’t always agree and the issues are areas of "debate and dissent."

On New Year’s Day, 2006, when Nickelsberg took office, the town board voted unanimously to appoint Pierce as the town’s deputy supervisor.

Acting as both deputy supervisor and chair of the zoning board of appeals is not a conflict of interest since Pierce cannot vote on the town board, said William Ryan, the town’s attorney, at this month’s town board meeting.

Nickelsberg was criticized last year when, backed by the Republican majority, he appointed a new member to the planning board in place of David "Earl" Potter. Some residents claimed the appointment resulted in unequal representation on the board.

At this month’s town board meeting, Nickelsberg announced James Bashwinger is resigning from the zoning board and opened the vacant seat to all interested citizens.

The announcement sat well with Marie Dermody, who has often been critical of Nickelsberg. She wrote in a letter to the Enterprise editor, "As far as I’m concerned, this is how such issues should be routinely handled, and I hope it’s a process that the supervisor intends to continue."

Packham wants to grow with students and staff at Helderberg Christian

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — The Helderberg Christian School’s new administrator is excited about her new role within the school and the upcoming school year.

Jacqueline Packham was hired to teach at Helderberg Christian in 2004, and has over 25 years of education experience. She was recently hired as the administrator for the private non-denominational Christian school. Packham previously taught all subjects to fifth- and sixth-graders.

"I’m looking forward to this coming school year and growing with the students and staff," Packham said. Helderberg Christian currently anticipates 42 students will attend this fall, she said. The school is housed in the old Westerlo public school, which it leases from the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school district.

Packham replaces the school’s founder, Diane Hannay, who resigned after 10 years to move to Oregon with her family.

"She was much loved. Everyone is sorry to see her go," Packham said, adding that the staff and students are going to miss her very much.

"The mission of Helderberg Christian School is to provide a program of academic excellence integrated with a view of the world from a Christian perspective," its mission statement says. "The school shall serve as an extension of the Christian home, established to train each student in the knowledge of God and the Christian way of life based upon the Bible."

Packham said she continues to see the Lord working at the school. Her vision for the future of the school is to help its students become responsible and upstanding citizens, and to help its students grow — both academically and spiritually.

Packham has had kids over to her Greenville home, she said, the girls sleeping over and watching a movie and having dinner. She plans to have a picnic with the sixth-graders.

Packham’s gift is in administration, she said, and she plans on being available to staff members and students and having an open relationship with parents.

"I’m a very hands-on administrator," she said.

The biggest difference between her teaching position at Helderberg and being the school’s administrator is that she will now be very involved in the school’s budget, she said.

Packham has worked at Greenville schools and was formerly the administrator of Greenville’s Hosanna Christian Academy. While at Hosanna, a few students were "below average" and she tutored them during and after school, she said.

The Helderberg Christian School is made up of seven teachers and one administrator. Mariann DeDeo was hired to replace Packham. Seven members make up the school’s board of directors. Before moving to its current location, the private school was in the Westerlo Baptist Church.

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