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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, April 03, 2008

Board to hold hearing on ousting Laub

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — On Tuesday, Leonard Laub, the chairman of the town’s planning board, sent a letter to the town’s supervisor asking that the town board not schedule a public hearing to remove him from office. 

After holding an executive session on Tuesday night, the town board, with four members attending, voted unanimously to hold a hearing, a requirement of the state’s Town Law before removing a planning board member from office.  The hearing is scheduled for April 15 at 7:30 p.m.

“I volunteered,” Laub told The Enterprise yesterday.  “And I’m having to battle the town board to save the town its money.”

Laub, who was appointed by the town board last year when it created the town’s planning board, has not filled out a Civil Service application. 

When interviewed, Laub said, he said he didn’t want to be compensated and he didn’t want to be an employee of the town.

Recently, he said, he consulted the state’s Office of the State Comptroller and the Department of State.  Both, he said, told him “No, you’re not required to do anything more than take the oath of office.”

Laub said he gave the information to the town board on Feb. 6.

The town’s attorney, Aline Galgay, said Tuesday, “It’s always been there.  It’s been a process that’s been done for years and years and years.  No one ever said, ‘No, I’m not going to do it.’”

Resident Gaye McCafferty asked, “If a person is not receiving salary and they’re appointed, then why do they have to fill out an application?”  She said she was appointed to a board “a long time ago” and did not have to fill one out. 

“What’s the process behind it or the rationale?” she asked. 

Officials have said the requirement has long been the town’s policy.

Councilman Ed Rash said, “over the years” the requirement has been in place for bookkeeping and tax purposes. 

Gertrude Smith, the town’s longtime clerk, said she’s made every appointed person fill out an application.

Galgay said Bob Fischer, the town’s audit consultant, had recommended the board make the application a requirement of all town employees.  After the board had asked Galgay for her advice, she said her answer to the board was, “You have to formalize the requirement in order to then be able to deal with it, and that’s how this all came about.”

Upon making the application a requirement of all town employees, 12 had not filled one out.  Since, all completed the form except Laub.

“I think the application does a number of things for a town,” said Councilman R. Gregory Zeh Jr. 

He said an application validates who the person is and tells him that the person lives in Westerlo.  Zeh said he didn’t think anyone would give the keys to their home to someone without knowing who the person is. 

“This is our town hall.  It belongs to the residents of the town.  It’s our responsibility to make sure we know who the person is and that they’re able to be employed,” said Zeh. 

“He knows my address.  He’s been to my house.  My address is in the phone book,” Laub said.

Laub called the town board’s decision to hold a public hearing “a radical escalation step.”

Laub on role

Galgay said a town employee can choose to not be compensated, but that he must notify the town in writing before Jan. 1.  If an employee gives notice after Jan. 1, he will still receive his salary until New Year’s Day of the next year. 

Laub said there’s no legal need to fill out an application, and that he doesn’t want to be a Civil Service employee, a member of the state’s retirement system, or have income taxes taken out of his stipend and give what’s left over to the town.  He would instead like the money for his position to “be used by the town in the most suitable purpose.”

Last year, the town board created a new planning board and appointed Laub as the chairman.  The board had been dissolved in the early 1990s by the town board after developers complained that the application process had become arduous and lengthy.

On Jan. 1, at its re-organizational meeting, the town board voted unanimously to pay members of the planning board and zoning board of appeals $2,500 each and those who chair the boards $4,500.

“I didn’t realize that the chairperson for the boards made more,” Laub said.  “I don’t need it,” he said, adding that he would like the money instead to go towards engineering, consulting, and legal fees for a revised “zoning package.”

He accepted the position, he said, not for money and not for political reasons, but to do what the town board wanted him to do — “to protect the town” and “keep it as it is in a world that is changing rapidly.”  Laub cited the expansion of a two-lane road to a four-lane road in Slingerlands, a hamlet near Albany on a highway that leads to Westerlo. 

He asked of the residents in that more heavily-populated area, “How long is it going to take for them to realize they’re only a 20-minute commute from Westerlo?”

Laub said he attended town-board meetings after he moved to Westerlo and heard the town board talking about creating a comprehensive plan “month after month and year after year.” 

When he was interviewed, he said, he told the town board that creating a plan was his main motive.

Current work

Laub and the planning board are currently working on a comprehensive land-use plan for the town, to be used as a template for drafting new zoning laws. 

The board met with the town’s farmers in February and has discussed meeting with residents from each of the town’s hamlets, with business owners, and with residents of Lake Onderdonk.  In February, Gary Kleppel, a professor at the University at Albany, came to Town Hall and spoke on transfer of development rights. 

Yesterday, Laub scheduled another meeting with the town’s farmers to be held on April 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall on regional planning and sustainable agriculture and invited Tom Gallagher, a regional agriculture specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County.

Laub said he could still do regional planning outside of his planning-board role.

“They can dissolve the planning board.  They can certainly dismiss me.  I don’t mind,” he said.  However, he said, while a public hearing is scheduled for April 15, he expects that, before the date, the issue will be resolved.   

A report to the board

For three months, Laub said, he’s been trying to get on the town board’s agenda to report on the planning board’s progress to no avail.  His report, he said, would take 15 minutes. 

“He was on it last night, but we just didn’t get to it,” Supervisor Richard Rapp said yesterday. 

If the town is interested in preserving its rural character, it needs to encourage large land-owners not sell off pieces of their land, Laub said. 

“You can’t stop building,” Rapp said.  He said it’s crazy to think you can stop it, but you can set guidelines.  Rapp said he’s not against development.  “I’m for it if it’s done in the right way,” he said. 

School taxes make up about two-thirds of the taxes paid by homeowners, and large tax bills will drive large landowners out of the town, Laub said.  There are two possibilities, he said, for reducing taxes for owners of large properties.  And, he said, the town board should “jawbone” with local schools and ban public and private sewer and water systems.

“You can’t reduce taxes unless you want less services,” said Rapp.  He said he thinks the tax system needs “a total overhaul.”  Older people, he said, shouldn’t have to pay taxes anymore and sales tax should increase.  “That way, everybody pays,” he said. 

The town board deals with issues of assessment, and, without the town board doing these things, Laub said, the planning board is “spinning its wheels.”

Each month, he said, he has met with Rapp either a day or a month before town board meetings.  Laub said the meetings have been “amicable.” 

Going out for a few of my favorite things
BKW climbs ev’ry mountain with The Sound of Music

 By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — This weekend, the Hilltowns will be alive with The Sound of Music.

With shows on Friday and Saturday night and a matinee on Sunday, this year’s Berne-Knox-Westerlo musical cast features about 55 students in sixth through 12th grade and 10 crew members. 

“They’ve been an outstanding group of kids to work with,” said Coriellen Travis, who will direct her sixth BKW production.  “I know how talented they are, and I’m excited for an audience to be able to see that.”

Brian Corey, BKW’s elementary principal and a former music teacher, will again conduct the orchestra.

Travis said she chose The Sound of Music because she had the right kids for the cast.

“I knew I wanted to be able to still use some of my talented middle-schoolers.  After doing The Wizard of Oz last year, I knew I had a lot of talent,” she said. 

The Sound of Music tells the story of Maria Augusta, a nun, and Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp, a man with seven children, falling in love against the backdrop of war-torn Austria.  It was Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s last collaboration.  Based on Maria Augusta von Trapp’s memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, the musical was made popular by a 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

The von Trapps’ children — The Trapp Family Singers — toured Europe and, later, the United States.  After Germany annexed Austria in 1938, the von Trapps fled from their home and later settled in the town of Stowe, Vt.

This year marks the second year in a row BKW has produced a show that is also a well-known motion picture. 

Travis said of meeting the expectations of those familiar with the film, “Last year, I found it very difficult with The Wizard of Oz because it’s on every year and people know the movie, people know the lines from the movie, and it’s a different kind of expectation when an audience comes.  And, after doing it last year, I became more comfortable with it. 

“This is a great musical for a high school to do,” said Travis, “but it is more difficult to do one that is a movie.”

Apart from audience expectations, the biggest challenge, she said, has been with the ballroom choreography in the first act because she wanted to keep it very close to the movie and to what people see on screen.

The von Trapps

This weekend, Justine Crevatas, 16, will play Maria. 

“I’ve been singing, like, my whole life at church and…my mom sings a lot at church, and she used to do a whole bunch of musicals in high school,” she said, “so I guess she got me started.” 

Her big brother, she said, has also been really involved in music and musicals. 

Crevatas, a junior, has been performing in musicals since sixth grade.  This past summer, she acted in The Great Gilly Hopkins at the New York State Theatre Institute in Troy.  She is also involved in Chamber Chorus and, since sixth grade, has played her flute and sung in All-County with a group of student-musicians in the surrounding area.

“I’m not going to lie,” said Greg Mulson, a senior who will play Georg von Trapp.  “I haven’t sung in school since probably somewhere between fourth- and sixth-grade chorus.” 

But, he said, he was in DramaFest for his drama class last year. 

“And I really love getting on stage,” said Mulson.  “I had a great time.  I love the energy.”

“He did a really good job last year,” said Crevatas.

“It was really intense, really awesome,” said Mulson.

And, he said, one of his best friends, Bobbi Patrick, played the part of the wizard in last year’s show. 

“So, I just wanted to have a good time this year.  Go out my senior year with a bang,” said Mulson, who has played Varsity soccer, basketball, and baseball and been involved with the student clubs Students Against Destructive Decisions and Students Serving Society.  He said Travis did a great job of working rehearsals around his basketball and baseball schedules.   

Neither Mulson nor Crevatas has seen a live performance of The Sound of Music.

“Only on YouTube,” said Mulson.  “I actually took a peak online at plays that other schools have had across the country.”

Crevatas said, “I know they’ve done The Sound of Music, I think, in two different high schools this year.  I kind of didn’t want to go and see it so I wouldn’t critique myself.  So I could do my best.” 

Mulson and Crevatas have been working on their parts since January.  Their favorite scene is Landler, a dance scene in the first act. 

“It was kind of awkward in that scene,” said Crevatas, “because we’re dancing and then, all of a sudden, it’s like, ‘Wo, we’re, like, really close to each other.’”

 Maria, dancing with a man who is engaged to another woman, is asking herself, “Aren’t you supposed to marry Elsa?”

“So it’s like, ‘What’s going on?’” Crevatas said.   

Maria then leaves to go to back to the abbey and, when she returns, he asks, “Why did you leave?”  They then have pretty much figured out that they’re in love, Crevatas said. 

The most difficult part of the musical, Mulson said, is remembering cues and incorporating songs with his character’s roller coaster of emotions.

“Changing of their characterization, kind of,” said Crevatas. 

Is it difficult to play love interests in front of other people?

“At times,” said Crevatas. 

“It definitely takes…some time to develop a level of actor chemistry, not just emotionally, but physically as well,” said Mulson.

Seven singing children

Captain von Trapp has seven children.  On Tuesday, they were dressed in matching blue costumes and excited for this weekend’s shows.  The actors — Lauren Wilson, Alon Willing, Keely Duffney, Maclin Norray, Alex Luciano, Rebekah Richardson, and Alena Chamberlain — are between the ages 12 to 16.

Their favorite number in the musical?

“So Long, Farewell.”

Alena Chamberlain, now a seventh-grader, acted in BKW’s production of Treasure Island when she was in fourth grade.

“I was a pirate, sang, and I had two lines,” she said. 

Chamberlain plans to continue acting.  “I enjoy it a lot,” she said. 

Lauren Wilson, a junior, was in Alice in Wonderland in sixth grade and, in seventh grade, played Annie in BKW’s production of Annie

“I love music,” said Wilson.  “It’s my passion.  And we’re all in chorus.”

Members of the group said they are like a team and a family, and that they don’t get mad at one another and have become friends.

“The ice breaker”

Sam Viscio, a senior, will play Max Detweiler.  Viscio is not in chorus or band and has never before acted or been in a drama class.  He said he definitely regrets not acting in the past. 

“In past years, I’ve always gone to plays,” said Viscio.  “I’ve never done a play before this…I’d just, at the end of the play, watch everybody cheer for them, and I just kind of wanted to be that guy.  It was my senior year, you know, so why not try it out, try out something new?” he asked.  “And I’m most certainly glad I did it…It’s really great to be a part of something like this.”

Viscio plays basketball and runs track.  This year, he also went out for the first time for soccer.  After graduation, he plans to attend a community college, studying liberal arts. 

He said of his character, “Max Detweiler is definitely the comedy part of play.  He’s kind of the ice-breaker…They call him Uncle Max.”

Viscio said he hadn’t seen the movie in five or six years.  To prepare for his part, he watched the movie and studied his character.  Travis, he said, helped him mold his character.  He said he couldn’t thank her enough. 

Singing, he said, is a challenge.  Staying in character, Viscio said, is also a challenge.

“A lot of people put a lot of hard work into it,” he said.  “It makes you appreciate it a lot more.  People who don’t do a play don’t realize how much time…and effort it is to make it.” 


Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s production The Sound of Music will be playing at the BKW middle-high school auditorium on Helderberg Trail in Berne on Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.  Tickets are $8 for adults, $7 for students and adults over 55, and $6 for children 12 and under.

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