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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 17, 2009

Westerlo Dems back Rash, Zeh,  while GOP chooses challengers Smith and Bylsma

By Zach Simeone

WESTERLO — Now that the town’s major parties have caucused, the slates for this fall’s elections are taking shape, with two town board seats and two town justice positions open.

On the Democratic ticket are three incumbents and one newcomer: R. Gregory Zeh and Edward Rash look to hold their positions on town board, while Andrew Brick will attempt to remain town judge, a post he was appointed to in February. The Democrats also nominated Heidi Stroh for the second open town judge position. Stroh could not be reached for comment this week.

Outside his work on the town board, Zeh is a member of the Westerlo Volunteer Fire Company, and is a former chief. He also works as vice president of information systems for Golub, the company that owns the Price Chopper stores. He grew up in Westerlo and attended Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University at Albany. His work on the town board began in 2004.

Rash began his first four-year term on the board in 2002, winning an election after being appointed to the board to fill a vacancy. Rash works as director of advertising and public relations at Hannay Reels.

Although Rash and Zeh have both been instrumental in the recent push for updated zoning, they came at it in different ways.

Rash has called current zoning “a little too lax and a little too easy.” Rash’s 2006 proposal, which he said he had worked on for over 10 months, learning from zoning in nearby towns, called for changes in minimum lot size, from three to five acres for a single-family home, and from five to seven acres for a two-family home. Rash also proposed then that subdivision not exceed 10 units.

Zeh said at that time that, while he agreed it was important to preserve Westerlo’s rural heritage, he didn’t support Rash’s stopgap approach. Zeh advocated the town create a comprehensive land-use plan, involving citizens in public hearings. He said later that, in addition to lot size, a master plan could address “spotty commercial locations throughout the town.”

Rash said that his proposal was not in lieu of a comprehensive plan, but would protect Westerlo while the plan was being developed.

Brick, briefly the town’s planning board chairman, was leading the charge towards Westerlo’s first comprehensive land-use plan before leaving the planning board to fill in as judge after Joseph Dean left his post earlier this year. The planning board is still working on the plan.

Kenneth Mackey, a longtime resident, fire fighter, and rescue squad member, was nominated by the Republicans last week to make his third run for town judge this fall. The town considered appointing Mackey in February to fill in as the current town judge, but chose Brick, a seasoned attorney, instead.

“I’ve always been intrigued by the past town justices and just thought that, if I could ever do something for the town, that would be a job I’d want to do,” Mackey said earlier this year, though he has no legal experience as of yet. “If I don’t get the position this year, I’ll go for it again next year. That’s how dedicated I am to getting this job.” [For more on Brick and Mackey’s campaigns for the town judge position last winter, go to www.altamontenterprise.com and look under archives for Jan. 29, 2009].

Mackey and Laura Palmer will oppose Brick and Stroh for seats on the judge’s bench. Palmer could not be reached for comment.

Also at the Republican caucus last week, John “Rick” Bylsma Jr. and Anderson Smith were nominated to run for town board; neither one of them has run for a political position before.

“These people were all called to service after seeing the way our town government has not stepped up to the plate to handle situations that are happening in our town,” said Bonnie Kohl-Laub, chairperson of the town’s Republican Committee. “We have been accused of wanting to change Westerlo, when, in reality, we want to protect this way of life, and that is why these folks have stepped forward, each in their own ways, and for their own reasons,” Kohl-Laub said.

Anderson Smith

Smith, 69, grew up in Slingerlands, graduating from Bethlehem High School in 1958. He is not enrolled in a political party. Smith told The Enterprise this week that his desire to get involved in town politics was spurred by the proposal of a motocross track down the road from his home on Route 85, where he has lived since 1981.

“That was more of an irritation than anything — an itch that got me going,” Smith said this week. “It became obvious to me that the town board, and probably town government, lacks transparency. I observed at the town board meeting that everyone was dancing around the issue of responsibility of doing something.”

Town board members had expressed their difficulty with making any judgment on the matter since a formal application has not yet been made to the town for the proposed motocross project, though the property owners had been ordered to cease and desist by both the town and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, as they were in violation of the DEC’s stormwater regulations.

“In effect, it appeared to me as passing it along to some other agency, and I didn’t feel that was right,” Smith said, adding, “I think that accessibility is an issue, responsiveness is certainly an issue, and proactivity is certainly an issue.”

Smith, now retired, is looking to “help Westerlo thrive” by supporting community activities, and pushing for completion of the town’s first comprehensive land-use plan.

“I’d also like to see us getting high-speed Internet access, and possibly renegotiating the situation with Mid-Hudson Cable TV to provide better service to the town.”

John “Rick” Bylsma Jr.

Bylsma, 62, has lived in Westerlo since 1950.

“I never thought I’d be in politics,” Bylsma told The Enterprise. “I’ve run businesses all my life.”

He owns a number of construction companies, he said, including Bylsma Inc., JRB Mechanical, and Rozell Inc.

“Talking with people and attending board meetings, I’ve heard many concerns about what the town could be, and I miss a lot of things about what it used to be,” Bylsma said. “Government in the town as I envision it should be more transparent. What I mean is, I think all departments should meet, discuss, and work a little more together as far as what’s going on, and I think they should be more open to listening to the town speak. I’ve been at meetings and spoken up about things I believe in, and I hear things that blow me away, and I think it’s just not right,” he went on, adding, “I don’t want to get into a lot of detail.”

Bylsma said that he would like to see more senior housing, and more activities for the town’s youth.

“I like the Hiawatha Grange,” he said. “I bring my parents there for lunch, but I would like to see more of that in the town.”

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