Westerlo ex-assessor hired by Rensselaerville

RENSSELAERVILLE — Peter Hotaling, who told The Enterprise this week that he’s inquired with the Albany County Department of Civil Service about the legality of the town of Westerlo not reappointing him despite Civil Service protection, was appointed as Rensselaerville’s first sole assessor at its Nov. 14 town board meeting. 

Controversy erupted last September when the town of Westerlo, where Hotaling had served as assessor for 19 years, voted to advertise the position, which some saw as an effective termination of employment for a man who relied on the position’s health benefits while he combatted severe illness. 

“I was disappointed I didn’t get reappointed,” Hotaling told The Enterprise this week, before adding that he was “humbled” by the support he received from the Hilltown community. 

In an editorial on Oct. 10, The Enterprise quoted the county Civil Service spokesman saying that the action was illegal because Hotaling, who had served more than five consecutive years in a non-competitive position, was protected by Civil Service Law and could not be removed except for reasons of incompetence or misconduct to be presented in an official hearing.

On Oct. 16, Hotaling sought an opinion from the county Civil Service department, which has not yet gotten back to him.

David Walker, the Deputy Personnel Officer for the Albany County Department of Civil Service, told The Enterprise in an emailed statement that the timeline for inquiries can vary from a few days to a few weeks.

“Currently, the Law Department is reviewing an issue related to the Town of Westerlo,” Walker wrote. “This is a more complicated issue because the inquiry involves different areas of the law, one being Civil Service Law and the other Real Property Tax Law.”

Mary Rozak, spokeswoman for County Executive Daniel McCoy, told The Enterprise that the law department was reviewing section 310.2 of New York State’s Real Property Tax Law, which deals with assessors’ terms of office.

The law reads: “The term of office of assessor shall be  six years except as otherwise provided in subdivision seven of this section. The terms for appointive assessors  shall commence on the first day of October, nineteen hundred seventy-one and each sixth year thereafter. Where a town has exercised the option to elect one assessor, as provided by section three hundred twenty-nine of this article, the term for  such elected assessor shall be as of the first day of January, nineteen hundred ninety-four and each sixth year thereafter.”

In the neighboring town of Knox, two workers were fired on Jan. 1, 2019. According to Joseph Adriance, one of the workers, they requested an opinion from the county and state Civil Service departments on Jan. 14, and received a response on March 15 declaring that Knox had acted illegally. 

“I’m just curious,” Hotaling said of the opinion. He said he’s noncommittal about filing an Article 78 — a legal instrument for citizens who want to challenge a government decision — should the department officially conclude that Westerlo’s decision was illegal.

“I mean, if it was illegal I should still be there, but — ” Hotaling said, trailing off.

Westerlo’s acting supervisor, William Bichteman, has defended the move by arguing that extending an invitation for other candidates to apply for a position is not the same as firing, and that Hotaling was welcome to apply for the position, which he did. 

When Bichteman broached the matter with the town board, he thought Westerlo should not be paying health insurance for the assessor, as it had for Hotaling for 19 years, and he was also critical of Hotaling not holding regular office hours. 

The Westerlo Town Board voted unanimously on Nov. 19 to appoint Justin Maxwell as the town’s assessor. The new job description lists specific office hours and does not include health insurance.



In Rensselaerville, the motion to appoint Hotaling carried, 3 to 1, with board members Margaret Sedlmeir voting “nay” and Brian Wood, who said he wasn’t present for candidate interviews, abstaining. 

Sedlmeir declined to comment about her vote. 

Supervisor John Dolce said during the meeting that there were two other applicants for the position: one didn’t read the application correctly and applied without the correct certification, and the other was a relatively inexperienced candidate who already had appointments in three other towns.

“The last applicant was Peter Hotaling, who has all the certifications,” Dolce said at the meeting.

“That was the best thing to happen to me in a year-and-a-half,” Hotaling told The Enterprise about Dolce calling to offer him the position. 

The town of Rensselaerville voted last July to do away with three elected assessors and instead appoint a sole assessor. The current assessors — Donna Kropp, Jeff Pine, and Kathy Wank — will finish their terms on Jan. 1, when Hotaling starts. Hotaling’s appointment will last until Sept. 30, 2025.

Kropp, Pine, and Wank all voiced support for the change. In a meeting last May, when the topic of switching from three elected assessors to one appointed assessor was introduced, Kropp said that many newly elected assessors required training, which is extensive.

“[It’s] not a job you can learn in six months or a year,” Kropp said at the time. “And there’s courses that you have to take to be certified; the state gives you up to three years of that four-year term to be certified.”  

Hotaling was elected as one of Rensselaerville’s assessors in 1997 and served until the 2013 election, when he did not seek re-election because, he said, he had moved out of Rensselaerville. By New York State law, elected officials cannot live outside the municipalities they serve, but appointed positions are not prohibited by location.

“It’ll be like going back home,” Hotaling said of his Rensselaerville appointment. 

Pine, who was first elected as a Rensselaerville assessor in 2003 and has known Hotaling for 40 years, had nothing but praise for his friend and co-worker.

“Rensselaerville made an excellent choice,” he told The Enterprise. “If there was a person I had to pick to take over for the town of Rensselaerville, Peter would have been my first choice.”


Other business

In other business, the Rensselaerville town board:

— Made budget modifications and transfers;

— Heard John Dolce’s monthly supervisor report, which highlighted efforts made by highway department workers who recently cleaned up the highway garage. Dolce said a new garage door was installed at the recycling center and that the town needed to put out a bid to get new lighting on the premises;

— Heard from town attorney Thomas Fallati who said he received the original deed for the public playground from the Albany County clerk;

— Heard from the highway superintendent, Randy Bates, who joked that the seasons turned from summer to winter in the span of two days and the highway department had been out for three snow-event nights at that point. He reported that a Consolidated Highway Improvement Program reimbursement request was filed with the state and approved, and that $261,079 is expected by Dec. 15;

— Heard from the code enforcement officer/building inspector, Tim Lippert, who announced he would be in Owego for recertification on Dec. 3 and 4;

— Heard from Kropp, who said the assessor team was working on “wrapping things up” for the end of the year;

— Heard from Bill Bensen of the water/sewer committee, who said the town’s hydrants had been tested and the results were “not encouraging.” He explained that about half have issues of various kinds and that three couldn’t be opened. The representative also said that the committee was interested in obtaining geopositioning technology that would allow it to identify pipes below the ground more easily;

— Heard from recycling coordinator Jon Witbeck who suggested that the transfer station be closed on Christmas and open on Dec. 26 instead, explaining that there will likely be significant waste after the holiday;

— Heard from Hans Soderquist, representing the Rensselaerville Library, who reported that the library’s director, Kimberly Graff Zimmer, accepted a job in Cobleskill and that the board of trustees has been interviewing candidates to fill her position; 

— Carried a motion to withdraw a law allowing the town to surpass the tax cap, since the $2.6 million budget is below that limit. The board adopted the budget by a vote of 4 to 1, with Marion Cooke voting against it;

— Carried a motion to sign the town up with Nexamp, a solar energy provider that distributes energy through Central Hudson Gas and Electric. Before the vote, resident Marie Dermody asked if Dolce, who owns Shepard Farms in Westerlo, a property that houses a solar farm used by Nexamp, would benefit financially from the motion. Dolce responded that he would not;

— Carried a motion to renew Medicare for 2020;

— Carried a motion to establish a contract with ABS Financial Services; and

— Carried a motion to purchase two 20-by-8-foot shipping containers for the highway garage, which will be used to organize tools and miscellaneous items.


Joined: 05/11/2019 - 09:16
Peter Hotaling

Great news for Pete, who's a good friend.

Happy to see Rensselaerville doing the right thing here.

More Hilltowns News

  • The former Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville has reorganized itself as Hilltown Commons, with new leadership that aims to ditch the “heady” and “highfalutin’” ideals of the globally-oriented not-for-profit, as the de facto executive Virginia Thomson put it, in favor of a grassroots approach to social betterment. 

  • Berne-Knox-Westerlo Superintendent Bonnie Kane is in her first month in that role, having previously served as the district’s high school principal for two years and as an English teacher before that. 

  • The results still need to be certified by the New York State Board of Elections later this month, but official county-level results show that Janet Tweed, a member of the Delhi Village Board, has eked out a roughly 80-vote win over retired teacher and activist Mary Finneran.

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.