New town lawyer is eager to prove himself

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

New face at the dais: James Melita, Guilderland’s town attorney, started his tenure Tuesday night. He says he’s eager to prove he was the right choice to follow longtime town attorney Richard Sherwood, who was elected judge.

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Accepting recognition: Guilderland Police Chief Carol Lawlor, left, prepares to accept a plaque from Bill Schaff of the Patriot Guard Riders at the start of Tuesday night’s town board meeting. When the riders roll through Guilderland on their motorcycles, often escorting a veteran to the airport for a Freedom Flight to Washington, D.C. or accompanying a hearse to a funeral, Schaff said the professional and courteous response of the Guilderlandd Police was “very heartwarming.”

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Listening to their leader: Members of the Patriot Guard riders, over two dozen strong, filled the first two rows of seats at the Guilderland town board’s meeting hall Tuesday night, showing their respect for the work done by Guilderland Police. They listened as Bill Schaff spoke and presented a plaque to the police chief, Carol Lawlor. Then they rose from their seats and shook hands with or embraced Lawlor and a long line of uniformed officers headed by Captain Curtis Cox who stood, in uniform, at the front of the hall.

GUILDERLAND — On either side of the familiar town board members seated at the dais for Tuesday’s reorganizational meeting — the incumbent supervisor and councilmembers were re-elected in November — were two new faces.

The new clerk, Jean Cataldo, a Democrat like the five board members, had been the receiver of taxes.

The town’s new attorney, James Melita, is enrolled as a Conservative. “It’s aligned with my political beliefs,” he said of the party.

“I thought it would be a drawback,” Melita said of his applying for the job, but, he went on, referring to the town’s supervisor, Kenneth Runion, “Mr. Runion said he’d be pleased to have some diversity.”

Long-term town attorney, Richard Sherwood, was elected judge.

Melita had been recommended for the post by councilman Paul Pastore, said Runion, who interviewed several attorneys and found Melita, 33, to be “highly motivated.”

His youth was not a deterrent. Runion pointed out that, three decades ago, when he first worked for Guilderland, as town attorney in 1983, he was 30 years old.

“He was very interested in it,” said Runion. “That’s a big part of the job. There’s a variety of work involved,” he said, naming prosecution in town court, work on bonding, research for board resolutions, and work on employment issues.

“You need a willingness to look at all of it,” said Runion. “Older attorneys are often set in private practice with a specialty.”

Melita will be paid $30,000 for the year.

Melita, who grew up in Gloversville, graduated from Plattsburgh State with a major in political science and a minor in economics. He then graduated from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan, where he met his wife, Norina Melita, who is also an attorney.

“She’s originally from Romania,” said Melita. “We stayed at my parents’ house for six months; Johnstown is just not for her. Then we rented an apartment in Guilderland and she loved it here.”

The couple bought a house in Westmere a year ago. “It was built in 1970 and hadn’t been touched since,” said Melita. While working, remotely, for Rosicki, Rosicki & Associates of Fishkill, and establishing his own practice, Melita also worked on renovating the house. “We stripped the walls, everything,” he said. “I’d work till midnight every night and weekends.”

With the renovation complete, he wanted to get more involved in the town.

Melita had worked for three years as a volunteer in the Rensselaer County’s Public Defenders Office and loved it. “I enjoy the interaction with the people,” he said, stressing how eager he is to be part of the night court in Guilderland.

He said that, while his own practice deals with criminal, traffic, and family law matters in the Capital Region, he would not take cases that would go to Guilderland Town Court. “I definitely wouldn’t,” he said. “That would be a conflict of interest.”

Asked about goals for his new town job, Melita said, “I just want to carry my own weight and go above and beyond and prove I was the right choice.”

New appointees

Another new appointment is Sindi Saita to the zoning board of appeals. She was appointed unanimously for two years to fill out the term left vacant with the death of James Sumner.

The town reduced the number of zoning board members two years ago from seven to five in order to save money, said Runion; members are paid about $4,800 annually.

Saita is enrolled as a Republican, she said; the other four members are Democrats, Runion said.

“We went through several applications,” said Runion of selecting Saita. “She was recommended by a couple of the board members. She is a member of the business community and owns a business on Western Avenue where a lot of the activity is.”

Saita owns Apropos Prom and Bridal and has been in the retail business for over 25 years. She is a Community Caregivers’ volunteer and a member of the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce.

She began her business in Amsterdam, selling sportswear. “That was before the malls were so prominent; I had to find a niche,” she said, and turned to formalwear.

She has lived in Guilderland since 1997 and moved her shop here, to Route 20, two years ago. “I wish I had done it 25 years ago,” Saita said this week. “The community is wonderful...All of my neighbors welcomed me; it made me feel so good.”

Since she moved her shop to Guilderland, the bridal portion of her business has increased more quickly than she anticipated.

“The sun sparkles on our building; it hits the dressed and they shine,” she said.  “Every woman loves to plan a wedding. It’s innate since the day they hear Cinderella.”

Saita praised the way Guilderland’s town government is run — “everything is done so well” — and said she as “no particular goals” in serving on the zoning board.

“I will be interested to see all different aspects,” she said.

As far as competing businesses moving to town, Saita said, “I think it is so much better to have competition in one area. Customers want to park their cars and do it all.”

She concluded, “Everyone should work together and not against each other.”

Two other new appointees are ethics board members F. Lee Jones and Lowell Knapp, with terms that run for three years. Jones had formerly served on the zoning board and is a Republican, Runion pointed out, and Knapp produces the Our Towne publication and is not enrolled in a party, Runion said.

More appointments

The board designated First National Bank of Scotia, First Niagara, Citizens Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, Pioneer Commercial Bank, NBT Bank, and M&T Bank as official depositories and named The Altamont Enterprise official newspaper.

The town board also made these appointments Tuesday night, unanimously and without discussion:

— Stephen Feeney as chair of the planning board and a member until Dec. 31, 2020;

— Bruce Sherwin as a planning board member until Dec. 31, 2016, to fill the term of Paul Caputo (see related story);

— Peter Barber as chair of the zoning board of appeals and a member until Dec. 31, 2018;

— William Meehan as an alternate member of the zoning board;

— John Wemple as chair and a member of the environmental conservation advisory council, along with these members — Stuart Reese, Stephen Wacksman, Gordon McClelland, Jacob Crawford, Kevin Connolly, and Sean Maguire;

— William Young as chair and a member of the industrial development agency, along with these members — James Shahda, Michael Bopp, Christopher Bombardier, and Anthony Carrow;

— Hodgson, Russ LLP, Joseph Scott of counsel, attorney to the industrial development agency;

— Rosemary Centi to the board of assessment review;

— Don Doynow, medical director of the paramedics;

— Alice Begley, town historian;

— Jean Cataldo, registrar of vital statistics;

— Karen VanWagenen, deputy registrar of vital statistics;

— Janet Thayer, deputy town attorney, zoning board, and planning board; and

— Abel Palma and Bruce O’Connor as court attendants.

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