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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, September 6, 2007

Bryan charged for taking over $300,000

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Residents of this small, rural town packed Town Hall last night, cramming in doorways and looking through windows, to hear from investigators about a former supervisor stealing from four town institutions.

David R. Bryan, who held leadership roles in the Trinity Church, the library, and two historical societies, stole from all four, according to the Albany County Sheriff’s Department and the Albany County District Attorney’s Office.

His take totals $303,000, and there could be more, said Chief Deputy Craig Apple with the sheriff’s department.

"That’s not an estimate," said Apple. "That’s a fact." Apple could not break down the dollar amounts for each group.

Bryan was indicted yesterday.

Last night, Chief Investigator Chris D’Allesandro with the district attorney’s office and Apple and Investigator Ron Bates with the sheriff’s department updated residents about Bryan’s fate but gave few details about an investigation that is still ongoing.

"He has been indicted," said Apple. "We made a great step forward today," he said.

Residents applauded Bates after Apple identified him as the investigator who "was being very diligent in his job" and discovered a suspicious check.

After the discovery of embezzlement, the amount of money missing "mushroomed and mushroomed," Apple said. "We don’t know if it’s done yet."

Apple said he understands the public’s frustration, that it is "sitting back and not getting any answers," but that it cannot affect investigators’ decision-making.

"At some point, there will be either a plea or a conviction," Apple said. "White collar crimes are very hard," he said, adding that it’s taken "hours and hours" of work by dozens of people and "sifting through documents." He called the investigation "very tedious."

Had investigators stopped in April, when the amount stood at between $50,000 and $70,000, "there would have been grumbling that there was more to it," he said.

"I’m not here to promise you any degree of restitution," said D’Allesandro.

"Maybe there’s a chance for restitution. I don’t know," said Apple.

"We have taken steps to legally prevent the defendant from liquidating any of his assets," said D’Allesandro.

Bryan was charged with three Class C felonies and a Class D felony, said D’Allesandro. A Class C felony is any amount over $50,000; a Class D felony is an amount exceeding $3,000.

The sheriff’s department did not investigate the Abrookin Vo-Tech school in Albany, where Bryan was a house principal. Nor has the sheriff’s department investigated town records dating from 1987 to 1993 when Bryan was supervisor.

Bryan’s sister

Bryan’s sister, Sandra Baitsholts, who owns the Shell Inn on Route 85, spoke out about her brother and to investigators who put a stop to the sale of her business yesterday.

"I do not feel Shell Inn owes anybody in town anything," said Baitsholts.

"We did put a stop to the sale today," said D’Allesandro, adding that a discussion with Baitsholts’s attorney will take place Thursday at 11 a.m.

Baitsholts said Bryan stole $150,000 from her during the first five years her small business was operating, and she spent 11 years paying it back — everything he stole from her, bounced checks, and back taxes. Her brother, she said, hasn’t been involved in the business in the last 11 years and had signed a contract to that effect.

Baitsholts had warned others about her brother’s activity, she said, and "campaigned vigorously" against him when he ran for town supervisor.

"Nobody wanted to listen to me," she said. "So I guess you can see why I’m not too sympathetic in this ordeal except for the fact that you have destroyed my life now.

"If you guys don’t put him in jail, I’m going to want to know the reason why," she said.

"I know his finances. You’re not going to get nothing from him."

Baitsholts uses a wheelchair. She pointed out that she was the only one in the audience using one.

"I’m the only one in this place in a wheelchair. That’s what Shell Inn and David Bryan did to me," she said.

And now"

"We’ll never fully recover from these actions," said one resident.

Another asked if there is a role the community can play.

Residents may send letters of support or victim impact statements to the D.A.’s office, which will be part of the case file, said D’Allesandro.

The next step is the arraignment.

In the case of a plea bargain, which is usually for a reduced charge, the district attorney, David Soares, will seek full restitution, said D’Allesandro. Should Bryan plead guilty to the top charge — a Class C felony — the district attorney is taken out of the equation and the decision is left to a judge. If he plead guilty to the Class C felony, Bryan would only be pleading for one of the three counts, which is punishable by five to 15 years in jail.

Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg recommended the town’s website be used to update residents on the investigation. Apple said the sheriff’s department will also send releases to the media.

Residents wanted to know how much Bryan, if anything, stole from the town during his years as supervisor, what restitution will be made, and where Bryan is located currently.

"He’s home," said his sister.

"We had contact last night with the defendant," said Apple.

Apple and Bates addressed searching town records back to his terms in office.

"There’s been nothing brought to us to investigate," said Apple.

"Is the statute of limitations up"" a resident asked. Bates said the statute can be extended if an official is still in office, but it cannot be extended for Bryan because he is no longer in office.

A resident asked why he stole money. Apple shook his head. D’Allesandro said, "I’ve never met the man."

Primary season: Hilltowns

By Tyler Schuling

HILLTOWNS — In the Democrat-dominated Hilltowns, the central primary on Sept. 18 will be the challenge Berne Supervisor, Kevin Crosier, is mounting against incumbent Alexander "Sandy" Gordon to represent the 39th District in the Albany County Legislature.

But in the only Hilltown that has a politically split town board — Rensselaerville — the Conservative Party primary is being hotly contested.

Although only enrolled Conservatives will be able to vote in the primary, having the line may well attract Democrats, Republicans or the unenrolled on Election Day, Nov. 6.

Two candidates are listed on the Conservative Party’s primary ballot for town council — Myra Dorman and Allyn Wright, both Republicans running for the town board. Write-ins are offered for the two town council seats and the assessor seat because of opportunity-to-ballot petitions. Democrats Marie Dermody and incumbent Councilman Gary Chase are both hoping for enough write-ins to get the Conservative line.

Dorman, a Republican town councilwoman, is up for re-election. Wright is the chairman of the town’s planning board.

Town assessor Jeff Pine, a Democrat and husband of a town councilwoman, will seek re-election. Steven Wood, a Conservative, is contesting Pine for the seat. Wood ran unsuccessfully for highway superintendent in a close race in the last election.

Dermody and Chase are running for the two council seats. Dermody, a member of the board of assessment review, is making her first run for the town board. She has received the endorsements of the Working Families and Independence parties.

"Now that I’m retired, I have the time. I have the interest in making the town more responsive to people’s concerns, and I have the motivation to follow through on issues of concern with the general population," said Dermody, who has been outspoken this year at board meetings, criticizing GOP initiatives.

The Democratic Party’s chairman, Jack Kudlack, could not be reached for comment.

"It’s time to pay back a little bit, to give back," Dermody said. "I’ve lived in this town for just about 50 years, and I can’t keep letting the other guy do it."

Dermody said she feels that, once someone is elected, he or she should work collaboratively and cooperatively for the benefit of all. "We can’t keep bickering just because we’re of different parties. We have to do what’s best for the people of the town," she said.

Dermody said she would be "more than happy" to receive the endorsement of the Conservative Party.

With three Republicans and two Democrats on its town board, Rensselaerville is the only Hilltown with a Republican majority.

"We need to get the town back on track," said Chase. When Chase first ran for office, he was endorsed by the Conservatives, he said. Like Dermody, he is also endorsed by the Working Families and Independence parties.

Chase said he would like to try and save the town money and that the budget has gotten "out of sync." The town has some good people, he said, adding that he wants to keep it that way.

"We need to bring some unity back in the town. That’s what we need," said Chase.

"The town has made a lot of progress with Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg," said Pat Parker, the town’s Republican Party chair. Nickelsberg made his first run for public office two years ago, winning the supervisor’s post.

Parker said Wright, who is seeking his first term as a town councilman, is "well-thought of" and "well-liked."

"His running is long overdue," she said. Parker cited Wright’s many years of volunteering with the town. He has served on the planning board and also with the town’s fire department and emergency medical services. Earlier this year, Wright and Barry Cooke were the first to be inducted into the Rensselaerville Volunteer Hall of Fame.

Parker did not know if Wright would serve in any capacity on the planning board if he is elected.

"If you have kept track of my record, I’ve volunteered for over 50 years in this town," Wright said. "We’re trying to make a change here." Asked what he’d like to see change, he said, "A little more accountability for where the taxpayers’ money is going."

"Fiscally, I’m a conservative. Socially, I’m a moderate," said Wright. He said he believes in the Senior/Junior bus and that it falls under a quality-of-life issue for the town’s seniors. The recently-purchased bus, which has taken trips to New York City, the Rensselaerville Institute, and Washington Park in Albany, is being funded through private donations.

"It’s good for our kids. It’s good for our seniors," he said.

Dorman, a town councilwoman, is a past town supervisor. She has served on the Cass Residential Citizen Advisory Committee. She is also the president of the town’s library, located in the hamlet. She is also a professor, she said. Dorman said she is running because she believes in helping out if she can.

"I love this town, and I want it to succeed," she said.

Dorman said she’d like to see the town’s taxes lowered more and would also like to see the people happy with the land-use program. Dorman said she wants "all of our residents to have the best life they can."

The town’s citizens have chosen their rural environment, and town officials are responsible for keeping it that way, she said.

Parker said the party hopes to "keep up the sound fiscal spending."

Though Republicans’ numbers aren’t as great as Democrats, she said, the party receives support from Democrats and independents. She said taxes are high, and added, "We’re on the road now to lower taxes."

Westerlo board mum on FSA closing

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — The town board did not agree to sign a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture written by the planning board’s chairman.

The Albany County Farm Service Agency in New Scotland is proposed to close, sending local farmers to the FSA’s Schenectady-Schoharie site in Cobleskill. A public hearing will be held today at the William Rice Extension Center in Voorheesville. (See related story.)

The chairman of the planning board, Leonard Laub, drafted a letter and presented it to the town board for signatures. Some planning board members said they did not know about the letter.

"We didn’t know anything about it until today," said planning board member Kristin Slaber.

"What harm is there going to be for everybody to go who can go as well as having the letter sent"" asked Jack Milner, a farmer and a planning board member.

"The question that I have is I don’t know what’s truly happening so I don’t know that I can sign a letter of support one way or the other if I don’t know what the [USDA] is trying to do," replied Councilman R. Gregory Zeh.

"Everybody in Albany County who has anything to do with that office — they’re going to have to go all the way to Cobleskill, which is a bunch of bull," Milner said. "They’re better off keeping the darn office open down there"," he said.

Alene Galgay, the town’s attorney, who regularly drafts and reviews letters for the town, was concerned about the planning board’s letter.

"From the town of Westerlo perspective, I have to worry about the town of Westerlo and what gets represented"For a letter to go out that hasn’t been reviewed or hasn’t been sent by the town board, to me, is a little bit problematic," said Galgay.

"What does the USDA have to do with the Westerlo planning board"" resident Edwin Stevens asked. "It’s not the town of Westerlo. It’s got nothing to do with the planning board. It’s got something to do with directing the towns"It’s not somebody looking for a variance or something," Stevens said.

Board members agreed to attend the Sept. 6 hearing. Zeh said the planning board should not send a letter "under the auspices of the town." Zeh said he would attend the meeting and bring information back to the town’s residents and then consider signing a letter. He said he will not sign a letter just because he receives an e-mail asking for his signature.

"I need to know what it’s about," he said.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Heard from Supervisor Richard Rapp about upcoming meetings in the county.

Rural Development, based out of Johnstown, will hold a meeting at Town Hall in Knox on Sept. 27, starting at 10 a.m., and the state’s Department of Transportation will hold a meeting at Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady on Oct. 3. Galgay said seminars in Schenectady could apply toward planning board members’ required four hours of continuing education credits.

— Discussed health insurance. "If we can reduce our health insurance, I’m all for it," said Rapp.

The county is recommending a consortium of all municipalities in the county, said Zeh, and must first apply for a grant to study the issue from the state’s Department of State. The county is applying for a grant with the state under the state’s Shared Municipal Services Incentive program, Kerri Battle, a spokeswoman for Albany County confirmed this week;

— Voted unanimously, with four board members attending, to charge the Hilltown Resource Center for water. The center is run by Catholic charities to help those in need in the Hilltowns. The town’s park, library, and the Percy House, all located on town property, will not be charged for water. The Hilltown Resource Center, which is not on town property, is "in the process of becoming town property," Rapp told The Enterprise. The land on which the center sits is going to be given to the town, he said.

The town’s first municipal water system was completed in 2005. The town park and library receiving free water "was part of what we represented to the public," said Galgay, who worked extensively on the project;

— Heard from Rapp that $10,000 was donated by Hannay Reels for new playground equipment at the town park; and

— Heard from a resident requesting that a "Slow Children" and speed sign be placed near her property. Rapp read a letter from resident Shirley Sherman, who lives on Hunt Road, which says Sherman has a son, grandson, and cats at the property, where vehicles drive "at a very high rate of speed." Rapp will send the request to the county, which will forward it to the DOT. The town board voted 3-to-1 for Rapp to forward the request; Zeh opposed.

Searching for a father he never knew, Thomas Bushnell digs deep,
Finding a family history of mediaeval battles and revolutionary inventions

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

BERNE — Thomas Bushnell began his search for family history so he could know his father.

"He died when I was 12. I was really shy and hardly ever spoke. He was always working — at his job or on his farm," recalled Bushnell who is 50 now.

A number of years ago, two of his brothers — Bushnell is one of 17 siblings — were clearing their homes, and each had "stuff from the farmhouse where our Dad grew up."

Bushnell recalled, "I said, ‘Don’t throw it out. I’ll take it.’ I sat up all night, getting to know my Dad."

Then, four years ago, on his father’s birthday, Oct. 2, Bushnell went through the papers again. "My Dad didn’t throw nothing out," he marveled. "He never talked about his childhood."

Bushnell pieced together his father’s life from saved photographs and news clips. Bushnell’s father was an only child. His father’s father, Elbridge, died at age 26 of measles. "He had just married the month before, in 1900," said Bushnell.

Elbridge Bushnell’s pregnant wife moved from Guilderland Center, where they were married, to the farm they had purchased in East Berne. Bushnell’s father worked the farm his whole life. The old farmstead had no electricity.

Bushnell’s father and his mother, Margaret Grace Picardi, lived a mile away in South Berne, where they raised their children. Margaret Bushnell still lives there today. In addition to working the farm, Bushnell’s father, beginning with World War II, also worked at the Army depot in Guilderland Center.

"You keep digging"

Bushnell’s search for family didn’t stop with his father.

"Certain things stay in your mind and you want to know the answers, so you keep digging," he said.

Bushnell has now filled six loose-leaf binders with family pictures and lore. There are letters as recent as a 1921 query from the East Berne farm as to who is going to the Altamont Fair. And there are solemn tintype portraits, dating back to the Civil War era.

"No one smiled when the camera was new," said Bushnell.

He’s discovered he had relatives who migrated west on the Oregon Trail, and that there’s a city in Florida named for a relative who helped with starting a railroad there.

"I didn’t think I’d find a lot of rich and famous people," he said. "I thought they’d be poor — farmers and maybe some outlaws."

Instead, he’s uncovered lineage that goes back to an English knight in mediaeval times.

"He was killed in the battle of Ivory in France. The king found him still holding his flag, straight up," even in death, said Bushnell. The king is said to have remarked on the dead knight’s loyalty.

The Bushnell coat of arms depicts a knight’s head over a shield, with this motto beneath: "Mes droits on la mort," meaning, "Right unto death."

Bushnell’s family tree includes a number of prominent Americans as well. His first ancestors to come to the New World were the sons of Francis Bushnell, who was born in England in 1580 and died in Guilford, Conn. in 1646.

"The first Bushnells came over in 1635 on the ship Saint John," related Bushnell. "Five sons came over together. Their father sent them to find land. They purchased land from the Indians." Meanwhile, back in England, Francis Bushnell’s wife, said Bushnell, "died in childbirth, so he came over with two daughters."

Some of the stories collected in Bushnell’s binders are sad. Under the heading "Fourth Generation" of Bushnells in America is the story of Lucy Bushnell’s mother: "She was Elizabeth Hanley from Liverpool, England. When 16 years of age she was brought from school and bidden to marry an old man whom her parents had elected for her husband. She ran away and persuaded a sea captain to take her to America.

"It was Capt. Williams of Essex, who on arriving, sold her at auction in Essex. She was bound out in order to pay the charges of her passage, and was bought by Mr. Joshua Bushnell, who after two years married her. When her first child was born, she wrote to her parents, who had supposed that she had been drowned, and a brother came across the sea to see her."

One of Bushnell’s relatives was a governor of Ohio. Asa Smith Bushnell, born in 1834, served as the 40th governor of Ohio, from 1896, succeeding President William McKinley, to 1900.

He was a businessman who left his work during the Civil War to raise a company of volunteers, of which he became captain.

During his tenure as governor, laws were passed limiting child labor and improving working conditions for women.

"He was a man of soldierly and handsome bearing," says a contemporary account, "courteous in his manner, with sparkling eyes and quick movement."

Quixotic inventor

Another of Bushnell’s relatives built the first submarine — in 1775.

Drawings of the American Turtle, as its inventor, Captain David Bushnell, dubbed it, look rather like a large wooden egg with a propeller. A single man sat inside to operate the propeller and a screw, projecting from the top of the Turtle, which was meant to attach a clock-detonated explosive to the hull of an enemy ship.

"Today, you’d call it a torpedo," said Bushnell.

Two United States Navy ships were later named after David Bushnell — one in 1915 and the second in 1946.

David Bushnell was born in Saybrook, Conn. in about 1742. He graduated from Yale in 1775, and managed to explode gunpowder underwater.

He intended to use his American Turtle to break the British naval blockade at New York harbor during the Revolutionary War, according to an account from the U.S. Navy.

David Bushnell’s brother, Ezra, had practiced piloting the Turtle but, on the eve of the submarine’s first combat mission, he died.

Ezra Lee of Old Lyme, Conn., took his place and piloted the Turtle in New York harbor to the rudder of the English man-of-war, the Eagle. He hit metal rather than wood with the screw meant to attach the bomb to the Eagle’s hull.

As Lee propelled the Turtle away after a second try had failed, he was seen and chased. The bomb was released into the water.

An odd footnote in Bushnell’s binder is provided from a lecture by John H. Lienhard, one of a series "about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them."

Lienhard refers to David Bushnell’s saga as "a curious Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde story." He relates how "gentle Dr. Bush" died at the age of 82 in 1824 in Warrenton, Ga. A very private man, Dr. Bush had practiced medicine and taught both science and religion at the local Warrenton Academy.

His executors were surprised when they discovered wooden pieces of a submarine prototype and papers revealing Dr. Bush was really Captain David Bushnell, once a member of the Continental Army’s Corps of Engineers.

"Bushnell began as a bookish Connecticut farmer. When he was 29," related Lienhard, "his father died. So he sold the farm and went to Yale. For four years, he studied science, and he built his man-powered sub.

"He called his boat the Turtle because he’d made it from two hollowed-out wooden slabs. They looked like huge turtle shells...."

After Ezra Lee’s failed attempt at bombing the Eagle, Bushnell tried to smuggle the Turtle away from the British on a sloop, says Lienhard. An English frigate sank the sloop.

"Bushnell had used up his fortune by now," says Lienhard. "He finished the Revolution designing mines. Then he went to France to sell his submarine design. He also failed at that. By 1795, thoroughly disillusioned, Bushnell came back to America, to Georgia, as Dr. Bush. He gave the rest of his life over to teaching and healing."

"So once was I"

In middle age, Thomas Bushnell, too, has made a change. The Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School graduate who works as a janitor for the State Dormitory Authority is recently divorced. He has returned to his roots.

He is living on the land his father spent his lifetime farming. The old East Berne farmhouse burned down in the 1980s. Bushnell is living in a trailer with no electricity and without modern conveniences, like a refrigerator or a telephone.

But he’s not complaining. He loves it there. He appreciates the beauty, with a view stretching to the Catskill Mountains.

"When I die, I’m going to be cremated and have the ashes spread on the farm," he said.

He’ll also have a gravestone there. He’s well aware of the links that such a marker can provide, between the past and generations yet unborn.

Bushnell and his 16-year-old daughter, Allison, enjoy scouring local cemeteries to find the gravestones of their ancestors. They carefully clean the stones and photograph them.

"She’s interested in the past, like me," he said. "We find interesting things."

Bushnell points to a picture he recently took of Joshua Bushnell’s grave. He died on July 18, 1847 at the age of 77.

"They didn’t put the birth dates on the old stones, just the dates they died," he said.

The letters on Joshua Bushnell’s gravestone are hard to make out; they are so worn with time. But Bushnell has learned the inscription by heart.

He recites: "O, stop and see as you pass by: As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, soon you must be. So prepare for death and follow me."

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