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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 19, 2011

Hilltowners stand behind Gordon, want to keep their legislative district intact

By Anne Hayden

ALBANY COUNTY — Hilltowners stormed the flatlands on Tuesday to tell the county re-districting committee not to split them up.

After hearing public comments, the committee decided not to vote on its proposal, and asked to continue the public hearing on Thursday, May 19.

The Albany County Legislature re-examines its members’ district lines once every 10 years, after the federal census numbers are released, and the committee’s current proposal would shift the lines so that Knox, Berne, and Rensselaerville, now in District 39, would be split into three different districts.

Knox resident Alexander “Sandy” Gordon has represented District 39 for the last 10 years. If the proposed changes were approved, he would lose most of Knox and some of Berne, but would keep all of Rensselaerville, and gain Westerlo, which is now in District 38.

“Separating Berne and Knox would have a serious impact on the identity of the Hilltowns,” said Gordon at Tuesday’s hearing.

Most of Knox and the northeast corner of Berne would become part of District 31, now represented by Altamont’s William Aylward.  Gordon made a suggestion to the re-districting committee to leave Districts 31, 38, and 39 intact.

According to Albany County Legislator Shawn Morse who chairs the re-districting committee, the maximum number of people allowed in one legislative district is 7,800, with a five-percent deviation.

Overall, the population in Albany County increased 3 percent in the last decade to 304,204. The county legislature has 39 representatives. Under the new plan, each legislator would represent roughly 7,500 people.

“You’re going to have to realize that, in some cases, the legislator has to pick up 1,000 or more people — if you have 39 districts and one district needs 1,000 or more people, how do you move that amount without moving people in another district?” Morse asked.

Gordon, however, said that, if Berne, Knox, and Rensselaerville were made into one district, that would meet the threshold number.

Morse said that the goal of the committee was to keep “communities of interest” intact. The committee tried not to separate entities like neighborhood associations, parks, farmlands, malls, and churches, he said.

Dawn Jordan of Berne told the committee that the Hilltowns are a community of interest.

“We are people who share interests, culture, and history. What affects one of us affects the others. We consider each other neighbors, even if we live miles apart,” said Jordan. She and her husband, Ronald Jordan, are members of Helderberg Community Watch.

“We need representation from legislators who actually live in the district,” said Jim Hamilton, a Berne Town Board member. Life in the Helderbergs is different than life in the “flatlands,” he said, and only someone who lives there can truly understand the area’s unique needs.

New lines

If the district changes were approved, Charles Houghtaling Jr. of Feura Bush, who represents District 38, would lose Westerlo to District 39, and he would gain more of New Scotland, including half of the village of Voorheesville. Aylward’s District 31 would gain Knox and the northeast corner of Berne, but lose portions of Guilderland to District 29.

The northeast quarter of the town of New Scotland, including the village of Voorheesville, is currently part of District 33, represented by Herbert Reilly Jr. of Voorheesville; the district also contains a small portion of the town of Bethlehem. Under the re-districting proposal, Reilly’s district would lose half of Voorheesville to Houghtaling’s, and Reilly’s district would expand further west into Bethlehem.

“The town of New Scotland is 100 square miles. The north is suburban, and the south is rural. The village of Voorheesville has about 4,800 people and New Scotland has about 10,000 total. If the plan goes through, no one from the southern part of New Scotland would ever get elected to the legislature again,” Reilly said at the public hearing.

“It’s impossible to keep some things 100-percent intact. It’s impossible not to have any changes that are going to affect some of the communities of interest,” Morse told The Enterprise this week. He explained that the county uses a computer program, which records data and then maps out the district lines.

“We have a $25,000 computer system that basically takes all of the information and does the work for you, and you try to put the human element in it,” said Morse. He said the committee held 10 public meetings over the past several months, and hardly anyone showed up.

“There was no real input, which leaves you trying to figure out all these things. You look at data, you look at organizations who print out their beliefs in how you should draw districts,” Morse said. 

“You know there are parameters, and God knows how they’re fed into the computer software and who is feeding them in,” Gordon told The Enterprise last week.

“To err is human, to really louse it up is computer,” said Reilly at the hearing. To split a village right in half, he said, would make no sense.

“Voorheesville was split in half, but some other places were split in fours. I lost 150 people who live right on my same street, and 17 members of my family can no longer vote for me because the census block changed — it is what it is,” said Morse.

The public hearing will be continued on May 19 at 7:15 p.m.

“I only wish this many people had come out to our meetings before,” concluded Morse on Tuesday.

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