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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 10, 2008

New GOPs take their seats, make themselves heard

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Tension was palpable at the year’s first town board meeting, with every split vote falling along party lines, except for one.

Two Republican councilmen — Mark Grimm and Warren Redlich — had ousted incumbent Democrats in the fall elections on what had been a single-party board. They took their seats at opposite ends of the dais, with Supervisor Kenneth Runion in the center and the two remaining Democratic board members flanking him.

About a third of the way through an agenda of appointments to various boards, Grimm made a motion to separate the appointment of Donald Csaposs from the rest of the Economic Advisory Council. Csaposs, a Democrat, chairs the council and works full-time for the town as its economic developer. He was heavily involved in the last election, frequently writing letters to the Altamont Enterprise editor and coming under attack in letters from the Republicans.

Following a moment of heavy silence, Supervisor Runion cast his deciding vote with the Republican minority to grant Grimm his motion.

Grimm and Redlich had been sworn in just before the Jan. 3 meeting. The pair ousted long-time Councilman Michael Ricard and the town’s Democratic party chair, Councilman David Bosworth.

Runion received a smattering of applause from the roughly 100-person audience when he crossed party lines to entertain Grimm’s proposal.

"He has engaged in a campaign of name-calling that is unbecoming of a chairperson," Redlich said of Csaposs, before casting his vote against him.

Redlich added that the next board member to vote, Patricia Slavick, should recuse herself since she had mounted an unsuccessful race for county comptroller with Csaposs as her campaign manager. She was handily defeated by incumbent Mike Conners in the Democratic primary. After checking with the town’s attorney, Richard Sherwood, Slavick voted in favor of Csaposs’s re-appointment.

Councilman Paul Pastore, also a Democrat, followed suit and voted to re-appoint Csaposs.

"Mr. Csaposs is the poster child of the political culture that needs to change," began Grimm, who ran on a platform of bringing change to Town Hall. He voted against the re-appointment of Csaposs.

Finally, prefacing his vote with a comment on Csaposs’s constitutional right to the freedom of speech, which ignited debate amongst the audience, Runion voted for Csaposs’s re-appointment as the chair of the EAC.

"I’ve been abused by tougher than them," Csaposs said this week of Grimm’s and Redlich’s comments. He has 30 years of experience in the financial sector and he’s been the chair of the EAC for eight years, he said of his qualifications.

Back in 2000, Csaposs said, then-Councilman Ed Downey, a Republican, voted against his appointment to the post because of letters to the Enterprise editor that Csaposs has written criticizing Republican candidates in the 1999 election. Drawing a parallel to Thursday’s vote, Csaposs said, "I’ve been down that road before."

He’ll still be able to work with the Republicans, Csaposs said. "There is a certain amount of deference I owe them by virtue that they were elected fair and square," he said.

When asked if he thought relations between the two parties on the board would thaw, he pointed out that most of the more than 30 agenda items at Thursday’s meeting were passed unanimously. But, he anticipates that "most votes with a political flavor to them will be split 3 to 2."

None of names submitted by the Republicans for town offices made the list of nominations.

"My question, Mr. Supervisor, is why are none of our nominees on the agenda"" Grimm asked near the start of the meeting.

"Because I am the one who makes the recommendations for appointments," Runion answered. Runion, a one-time Republican, ran unopposed this fall for a fifth term as Guilderland’s Democratic supervisor.

"Four years like last Thursday is a long time," Csaposs concluded of the party politics on the board.


The town board accepted or made these appointments unanimously:

— Richard Sherwood as town attorney;

— Stephen Feeney as chairman of the planning board;

— Linda Clark as an assistant town attorney and counsel to the planning board;

— Robert Feller as assistant town attorney and counsel to the zoning board of appeals;

— John G. Wemple Jr. as chairman of the environmental conservation advisory council;

— Herb Hennings, Stuart Reese, Thomas Kriger, Stephen Albert, and Gordon McClelland as members of the environmental conservation advisory council;

— Charles Cahill as alternate member of the zoning board of appeals and liason to emergency services;

— Dr. Don Doynow as medical director, EMS;

— Alice Begley as town historian;

— Jean Cataldo as registrar of vital statistics and Cindy Wadach as deputy registrar;

— Rosemary Centi as passport agent;

— Rosemary Centi as marriage officer;

— Authorized Supervisor Runion to make provisional appointments;

— First National Bank of Scotia, First Niagara Bank, Citizens Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, Pioneer Commercial Bank, NBT Bank, and M&T Bank as official depositories of the town of Guilderland;

— Authorized supervisor and comptroller to invest certificates of deposit in any of the designated official depositories with a third party holding the securities;

— Authorized supervisor and comptroller to sign checks on behalf of the town;

— Boswell Engineering, Delaware Engineering, Clough Harbour Engineers, Barton and Loguidace, and Spectra Engineering as town designated engineers;

— Changed the mileage rate to reflect the federal IRS approved rate per mile, which is 50.5 cents, for reimbursement to town employees who use personal cars for town business;

— Authorized the highway superintendent and superintendent of water and wastewater management to spend up to $2,000 per year for the purchase of tools without prior approval from the town board;

— Designated respective fire chiefs as fire wardens;

— Appointed a fire investigation team;

— Runion as affirmative action officer;

— Runion as emergency response officer; and

The Altamont Enterprise as the official newspaper.

The town board accepted or made these appointments in split votes:

— Michael Cleary as a member of the planning board, 3 –2;

— Thomas Remmert as a member of the zoning board of appeals, 3-2;

— Peter Barber as chairman of the zoning board of appeals, 3-2;

— Donald Csaposs as chairman of the economic advisory council, 3-2;

— John Decatur, Peter Sparano, Garry Robinson, Katherine Burbank, and James Lozano as members of the economic advisory council, 3-2; and

— William Young as chairman of the Guilderland Industrial Development Agency and James Shahda, Michael Bopp, Christopher Bombardier, and Anthony Carrow as members of the agency and the firm of Hodgson Russ, Joseph Scott of counsel, as attorney to the IDA, 4-1.

Westervelt’s appeal denied

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Last Thursday, Erick Westervelt didn’t call home.

Ever since the 26-year-old Guilderland native began his 25-year-to-life sentence for the murder of Timothy Gray, he has called his family on Thursday night.

For the last couple of months, his mother, Wendy Westervelt, has been checking the Appellate Division’s website, updated every Thursday, for news of his appeal. Last week, the appeal was denied.

Westervelt called on Friday, after his initial disappointment had sunk in.

"I felt like somebody hit me in the stomach," his father, John Westervelt, said of reading the court’s decision, which affirmed the conviction.

"It was a shock," Mrs. Westervelt said of her reaction. She concluded, though, "We’ve had bigger shocks before."

One October day in 2004, for example, her son, then a senior at the University at Albany, didn’t return home from school. Bethlehem Police met him at his car after he finished a statistics exam and took him to the police station for four hours of questioning. The following day, Oct. 8, Westervelt began a polygraph test, which he did not finish before signing a statement admitting that, three days before, he had bludgeoned Timothy Gray at the Delmar home that he shared with his girlfriend, Jessica Domery.

"They basically were baiting me... They told me he was hitting her and I was pissed," Westervelt would say later. He had dated Domery through the first half of the year, while she and Gray were on a hiatus from their five-year relationship. Police pointed to his anger over losing her as motive for beating Gray. Westervelt was unaware that Gray was in the hospital on life support at the time that he signed the statement, he said.

"Basically, it was, if I wanted to go home, just say I started a fight with this guy and that was that... It would be over," Westervelt said. Then, on Oct. 10, five days after he was beaten, Gray died and Westervelt’s initial charges of attempted murder and assault were upgraded to second-degree murder, a charge that a jury found him guilty of in June of the following year.

Court decision

Westervelt was convicted in New York’s Supreme Court, the lowest of the state’s three-tiered court system. From there, anyone has the right to appeal to the middle-level court, where a panel of judges reviews the earlier proceedings. On Jan. 3, Westervelt’s appeal was denied.

Terence Kindlon, his lawyer, argued that during the trial, Westervelt’s "written statement should have been suppressed as involuntary and the fruit of an unlawful arrest, his apology letter should not have been admitted into evidence since part of it was written after his right to counsel had attached, and the prosecutor made comments in summation that deprived him of a fair trial," according to the appeal decision issued on Jan. 3.

Although Westervelt maintains that his confession was coerced, on the first complaint, the court answered, "The police conduct was not ‘such as to overbear defendant’s will.’"

The letter of apology, which Westervelt had begun writing to Domery, at the suggestion of police, before his arraignment and finished after his arraignment, provided an incriminating statement, according to the decision. Since state law asserts that a person’s right to counsel begins when formal judicial proceedings do, and police may not then question the person without his lawyer, "It was error to admit the letter into evidence," the decision says. "However, on this record, we conclude that such error was harmless."

Christopher Horn, who handled the appeal for the Albany County District Attorney’s office, didn’t agree with the court’s decision wholly. He said, "They were too broad." Only a very small part of the letter was written after the arraignment, Horn said, so declaring that the whole of the letter shouldn’t have been admitted isn’t fitting.

"It’s obviously a harmless error," Horn concluded. "If you have three confessions, what’s one more""

On the final argument, regarding the prosecutor’s summation, the decision notes that the court immediately instructed the jury to disregard the offending comment.

"In any event," the appellate judges wrote, "were we to consider such comments, we would not find that they were so ‘pervasive or flagrant’ as to necessitate reversal and a new trial."

Westervelt had a lot riding on the appeal, and now he will likely try to bring his case before the state’s highest court, which is selective in the cases it hears, choosing those that will set legal precedence.

Kindlon & Shanks, an Albany law firm which has been representing Westervelt from the beginning, will likely handle that appeal, John Westervelt said. Terence Kindlon did not return calls for comment.

"We’re sort of between a rock and a hard place with money," he said. The family has spent about $50,000 so far on legal expenses, his wife said, and their younger son is starting to look at colleges.

Disappointed about the recent decision, John Westervelt said, "I thought this group of judges was supposed to dissect the case."

Only about five or 10 percent of cases are reversed by the Appellate Division, Horn guessed. The mid-level court has fact-weighing and fact-finding powers, he said, as opposed to the highest court, the Court of Appeals, which deals with law. The Appellate Division can re-evaluate the evidence used in a lower court. In this case, "In weighing the evidence, the proof of this guy’s guilt was overwhelming," Horn said. Rather than examining the evidence in a case, the Court of Appeals deals with the way a lower court has interpreted the law. Horn doesn’t expect that the Court of Appeals will hear Westervelt’s case.

"We’re very naïve on a lot of this stuff with the law," said Mrs. Westervelt.

Her son, who once aspired to be a police officer — he took the exams for both the Albany and state forces before his arrest — is disenchanted with the American system of justice.

"He just doesn’t trust the judicial system," said John Westervelt, concluding, "It won’t end until he walks out of there a free man."

Students for Improving Health Care donate $1,500 to Dr. Paeglow’s clinic

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — When Devang Bhoiwala talks about health care in this country, a sense of urgency bursts through his formal diction.

The Guilderland High School senior says there is much to know about — from the companies regulating the industry to the numbers of uninsured.

"I thought it would be pertinent for students to know," said Bhoiwala. "Without that information, you’re left in the open space like the rest of the population. We wanted to fill that gap."

So, three years ago, Bhoiwala founded a club called Students for Improving Health Care. Its members, which he says now number 40 or 50, have volunteered in local clinics and shelters and have attended advocacy seminars.

"We are trying to teach and educate students," said Bhoiwala.

He came up with the idea, he said, "Because I had this yearning to understand the system." He estimates he has spent a thousand hours on the club.

"I’m aspiring to become a physician," said Bhoiwala. His father, who was born in India, is a doctor, and his sister is a third-year medical student at Albany Medical Center.

At 17, Bhoiwala is bridging another gap — between the affluent suburb where he lives and goes to school and the inner city of Albany, where many poor people go without good health care.

Students for Improving Health Care has raised funds for local clinics. Last year, its members raised $1,200 for Whitney M. Young, Jr. Health Services, which runs clinics in Albany and Troy. Its mission is to provide affordable, accessible high-quality medical care to those who need it.

This year, $1,500 was donated to Dr. Robert Paeglow for the clinic he runs in Albany’s West Arbor Hill.

Bhoiwala called Paeglow’s work "astonishing."

"He has a clinic where he doesn’t get paid... He’ll provide more than health care," said Bhoiwala, indicating Paeglow has helped patients with electrical and food bills. "He goes on missions to Africa. He’s a caring person, completely altruistic. My sister and I joke that he’s like Santa Claus — so nice and cozy and giving."

Paeglow’s children are Guilderland High School graduates, Bhoiwala said, and his son works at the Arbor Hill clinic.

Bhoiwala hopes that by publicizing the donation, it will "bring out awareness in Guilderland of his clinic and people will help out in the future."

Two-thirds of the donated funds this year were raised through musical concerts at the high school, sponsored by Tri-M, an honor society for music students, and by the National Honor Society chapter at Guilderland.

"Over the summer, I thought, if I really want the best help, I should collaborate with other groups," said Bhoiwala. Each concert raised $500.

Kathleen Ehlinger, a music teacher at the high school who serves as an advisor for Tri-M, said, "We want to give concerts and do good things."

Additional funds came from the student government and neighborhood fund-raisers, said Bhoiwala. He said of the recipients, "People are very happy. They like to see students give back to the community."

Bhoiwala has made plans so his club will continue after he graduates; he hopes to be admitted to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

"We have a board of officers," he said. "I made it a group that can work together, making decisions. I thought if I broke the responsibilities up, it would be easier for them, so one person isn’t completely stressed out."

The next fund-raiser is already underway — for the Whitney Young clinic — and will continue through April.

Bhoiwala promised, "There’s more to come in the future."

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — As Tech Valley High recruits applicants for its second-ever class, a first-year student told the school board here about her "wonderful experience."

Logan Mercedes O’Neil, half-way through her freshman year, gave a poised and practiced speech to the board members Tuesday night, urging them to continue their support.

A joint venture of two area BOCES, the school opened this fall on a business campus — Rensselaer Technology Park in Troy — drawing from school districts in seven counties.

Some Guilderland School Board members had balked last year at the $18,000 fee for a student to attend, about 60 percent of which is reimbursed the next year. But the majority of school-board members prevailed, saying the fee was similar to those for other programs with the Board Of Cooperative Educational Services and, as the first such program in New York, Tech Valley High would serve as a model for other schools.

The school board will decide whether to continue its support for next year.

O’Neil enthusiastically told the board about the Tech Valley’s focus on project-based learning and integrated classes. Environmental analysis, for example, combines math and science, she said, naming a half-dozen problems Tech Valley students had worked to solve in "EA." This included projects on the Hudson River, topsoil, wages, toxicity, and meteorology.

Global Analysis and Media Explorations combines social studies and English. The students, for example, have explored the topic of post-modern river cities, and are developing plans on how to create a sustainable change for Troy.

O’Neil went over the "21st Century Learning Skills" on which Tech Valley students are graded — collaboration, critical thinking, communication, technological literacy, social studies, information literacy, innovation, citizenship, self direction, and English.

She said students get "constant updates of what you need to work on."

There is a computer for every student and they use web portals to send e-mails to each other and their teachers, to post homework assignments, to post and discuss group work, and to get grades.

O’Neil has spoken both at her school and to outside groups about it.

"I like how we get to interact with the business community because it is exposing me to real jobs," she told the school board.

School board members asked about the half-hour of "sustained silent reading" that ends each day. O’Neil said it can be used for class assignments or books the students choose to read. "I’ve been reading more books this year," she said.

Asked if there were music and art classes, O’Neil said not this first year. She, herself, has taken piano lessons since first grade and also plays the violin and dances.

O’Neil told The Enterprise in August, before she started at Tech Valley High, "It will help me find out what I do and don’t like." She also said of being in the first class of a new school, "It’s more of a privilege than a pressure."

O’Neil left the school board members on Tuesday with packets about her experience at Tech Valley High; dominating the cover page, in large type, were the words "Thank you!"

Superintendent John McGuire shook hands with O’Neil and her parents after her presentation.

Other business

In other business, the board:

— Heard from McGuire that the State Education Department, in considering how education can best be configured in the 21st Century, had selected schools to tour for "information gathering." A group, which may include the education commissioner, is scheduled to tour Guilderland High School and Westmere Elementary School on Friday, he said;

— Accepted the option to extend its agreement with First Niagara Commercial Bank for two more years, through June 30, 2010. Board member Colleen O’Connell asked why the district wouldn’t send out another request for proposals, as it had three years ago.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders responded that the guaranteed interest rate was "higher than anyone else," and, he said, First Niagara provided "very good service" and there is "a lot of work involved in making the transfer" to another bank.

O’Connell pointed out that, without an RFP, other banks weren’t given a chance to meet or better the interest rate.

Ultimately, the board voted for the extension, 8 to 0, with President Richard Weisz abstaining because, he said, he is a shareholder;

— Accepted three state-required facility reports, each by unanimous vote.

The annual visual inspection showed "all of our buildings were at a satisfactory level," said Sanders.

The five-year capital facilities plan largely mirrored the analysis done by the district’s facilities committee, which developed the plan for school renovations, recently passed in a bond vote. Two items that have taken priority since then are replacing a water pipe, which has breaks in it, at Altamont Elementary School and repairing a boiler at the high school, said Sanders. Those repairs will be addressed as part of the upcoming annual budget process, he said.

After the board accepted the third document, the school facilities report card, Weisz asked, "Wouldn’t that be refreshing for students to vote whether or not to accept their report cards"";

— Adopted policies on cyberbullying and on meals and refreshments, as discussed earlier;

— Established a Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee that will listen, over a series of televised meetings, to administrators present the 2008-09 school budget. Volunteer members will ask questions and offer their views. The first meeting is Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the high school.

Referring to a controversy in the fall town elections, board member Peter Golden said, "It’s really an advisory committee...You’re not responsible to your neighbors for the budget going up or down...."

"It’s a chance to make a difference," said Weisz.

"You shouldn’t feel like you need a base of knowledge," said O’Connell, indicating members could mostly listen the first year.

"It’s a very good way to learn about the district," said board member Cathy Barber.

"This is wide open to the community," said Vice President John Dornbush. "This is not just for parents."

"You can help sensitize us," said Superintendent McGuire. "Our goal is to provide full, transparent information";

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress that the Guilderland Athletic Program was, for the fifth year in a row, named the overall winner for the Fall Suburban Council Sportsmanship Award. Shaker was second and Mohonasen third. The award is voted on by players, coaches, and parents from schools in the Suburban Council.

This fall, two Guilderland teams won first place — boys’ cross-country, coached by Bob Oates, and girls’ cross-country, coached by Dave Kosier.

Field hockey, coached by Kelly Vrooman, won second place; girls’ swimming, coached by Brenna Autrey, won third place; and boys’ soccer, coached by Mike Kinnally, won fourth place;

— Heard congratulations for staff that won Capital Region BOCES grants.

At Altamont Elementary, Michelle Rispole, language arts coordinator, and librarian Lisa Lehman will receive $706 for a primary book study, developing lessons for teachers.

At Westmere Elementary, the late Micki Nevett, the beloved librarian who died last month, and enrichment teacher Robert Whiteman received $953 to help fourth-grade students in their study of the Hudson River;

— Learned that eighth-grader Bram Peterson was the Farnsworth Middle School champion in the geography bee, held Dec. 22; sixth-grader Matt Gu came second.

Other finalists were sixth-grader Luxi Peng, seventh-grader Sai Naidu, and eighth-graders Dan Rogers, Ishan Mehra, Xingyu Wei, Greg Tabak, Mike Dvorscak, and Nigel Simmons;

— Learned that Brandy Marshall, Farnsworth language arts teacher, had two article published; and

— Met in executive session to discuss a personnel matter and to discuss negotiations with the Guilderland Teachers’ Association.

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