Sherwin to finish Caputo's term

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Bruce Sherwin signed on as a planning board member Tuesday night after the Guilderland Town Board voted unanimously to have him fill the three years left in Paul Caputo’s term. “We accept his resignation with regret,” said Supervisor Kenneth Runion from the dais.

GUILDERLAND — A planning-board post that became a political hot seat in last November’s town elections was quietly filled Tuesday night with a new appointee.

By unanimous vote at its re-organizational meeting, the town board appointed Bruce Sherwin to fill out the three years left in Paul Caputo’s seven-year term.

“It was absolutely, 100 percent my decision,” Caputo told The Enterprise on Monday of his resignation. He announced his resignation at the December planning board meeting.

“The time was right,” he said when asked why he resigned. “I’m a firm believer in new blood.” He also said he was busy with his work as president and chief executive officer of his computer consulting firm.

He did not rule out future public service in Guilderland.

Caputo had served on the planning board since 2001 and, before that, in 1997 and 1998, he had served on the town board.

At the start of his town-board tenure, he was a Democrat; at the end, he was a member of the Independence Party. For the last decade, he has been the chairman of the Albany County Independence Party.

Before the September primaries, Republicans accused Caputo of being part of a “pay to play” scheme, alleging that he received $30,000 as a member of the planning board in exchange for endorsing candidates — the town board members who appointed him — on the Independence Party line.

Like other planning board members, Caputo has been paid an annual salary of roughly $4,000 for the last 12 years, bringing the total to about $48,000.

No evidence was ever presented that the endorsements were tied to his planning board salary.

“I was on the planning board many, many years,” said Caputo. “We endorse many people,” he said, naming Republicans that the Independence Party has endorsed during his tenure as chairman.

“This is one of the nastiest campaigns, filled with half-truths,” he said this week. Caputo said the “pay to play” accusation was “a complete falsehood, nothing more than people trying to get elected by any means possible.”

He went on, “We are the party of reform, taking the nonsense out of politics.”

Caputo described the Independence Party committee process used to interview and select candidates for endorsement and, by way of example, said one of the GOP candidates, during the interview, said he hadn’t read the town’s master plan. “How could we endorse?” asked Caputo, stating the Democratic incumbents, whom the party did endorse, were familiar with the document and knowledgeable on other issues as well.

The Democratic incumbents were re-elected.

“When the campaign was going on, it was very stressful,” Caputo said of the accusations. “My kids’ friends came with this little flier.”

His children — twin 17-year-old daughters, and a 7-year-old — never doubted him, though, Caputo said. “They know their father well. They’ve helped me with campaigns and been at fund-raisers.  They know a group of eight or nine people make those decisions. I can vote for one candidate and my committee for another...The Independence Party is not a dictatorship.”

Caputo said he let Guilderland’s supervisor, Kenneth Runion, know about his resignation “a couple of weeks before the December planning board meeting…I made my decision, so he’d have plenty of time.”

Although Caputo said he had “not in any way” recommended Sherwin, another Independence Party member, for the planning board post, he believes Sherwin will “do a fantastic job.”

Runion chooses Sherwin

Sherwin, 60, who is a partner in a publishing business, has a history with the town. He was elected to the town board as a Democrat but, after serving one four-year term, he was not backed by the Democratic committee for re-election in 2005.

“He’s not a loyal party person,” David Bosworth, chairman of Guilderland’s Democratic Party, said at the time.

Bosworth said this week that Sherwin’s joining the Independence Party bore out that initial assessment on his loyalty to the Democrats. “I think that judgment was accurate,” he said.

During his term on the town board, Sherwin had voted alone on some key issues, focusing on a flawed town board process. One was approving the rezoning of agricultural land so Jeff Thomas could build a senior housing project in the midst of a moratorium for rural western Guilderland.

Sherwin, not intimidated by a hall full of Thomas supporters, said at the time, explaining his lone “no” vote, “If I had to choose between the project and the planning process, I was on the side of the process.”

Bosworth also said this week that “at least three” Democrats had applied for the planning board post and that the decision to appoint Sherwin had been made by Runion.

“The supervisor fought a hard election. He’s looking out for the best interests of the town board. He’s considering retirement,” said Bosworth, concluding, “It’s not a time for settling scores…I was surprised…I wish everybody well…I don’t want any sour grapes or negativity.”

Similarly, Sherwin said he didn’t want to “re-hash” old grievances.

“I was a little too independent and a little too outspoken for the powers at the time,” he said. “Some people felt I wasn’t a loyal enough Democrat. I didn’t always follow the party line.”

Sherwin said Runion had asked him in September if he’d be interested in serving again.

“He wanted me to do it and that meant a lot to me,” said Sherwin.

The timing worked for him personally, he said, as his daughters — Jane, 15, a sophomore at Guilderland High School, and Caroline, 12, a sixth-grader at Farnsworth Middle School — are now older, and his wife, Kathy, a long-time high-school teacher has finished additional schooling to become an administrator.

Sherwin said Runion “wanted to move on it in the fall but, once they started attacking Paul and him to some degree, their pride kicked in. They didn’t want an appearance of something being amiss. Ken felt for Paul and his family…You have to give them credit. They stuck to their guns…It took a lot of character for him to ride it out.”

Runion said on Monday that, while Caputo didn’t officially resign from the planning board until December, “He indicated to me back in September that he was thinking of resigning in December…I may have asked Bruce then. They were accusing Mr. Caputo of some false things. They were putting his face on fliers.”

Runion also said, “It hurts your family and friendships when someone accuses you.”

He went on, “He was having trouble fitting planning board meetings into his schedule” because of his traveling for his growing business. “He talked to me as early as January 2013 about retiring…Then the Republicans came out with the nasty allegations…”

Asked how Sherwin was selected for the post, Runion said, “Bruce Sherwin was my decision. He’s a former town board member with a lot of experience on the comprehensive plan.”

Guilderland adopted its comprehensive land-use plan in 2001, when Sherwin was a member of the town board.

Runion went on, “I was looking for someone who was qualified. I was looking for someone who would engage in some debate, who could sit back and get familiarity with the town as a whole.

“Mr. Sherwin fit all those requirements. Other people were suggested. I felt Mr. Sherwin was the best.”

Sherwin’s role

Asked if political balance was important on a planning board, Runion responded, “I’ve put Republicans on boards, Conservatives, Independence Party members. That wasn’t the overriding consideration.”

The planning board currently has one Conservative, Terry Coburn; one Independence Party member, Sherwin; and five Democrats: Stephen Feeney, Michael Cleary, James Cohen, Herb Hennings, and Thomas Robert.

“Decisions on the zoning board and planning board shouldn’t be political,” Runion said. “It should be what’s best for the town — quality of life, the tax base.”

“On the planning board, politics really stop at the door,” Caputo said. “When I was first on the planning board, a majority were Republicans. They were all great people….In 12 years on the planning board, I can’t recall a single politically based decision.”

“Steve Feeney knows way more than I’ll probably ever know about the planning process,” Sherwin said of the planning board’s longtime chairman.

He said his immediate role would be to “learn as much as I can, ask a lot of questions, and get up to speed.”

Sherwin went on, “I don’t have all the answers. On the town board, it was helpful for me to listen to people.” By asking questions, sometimes as the devil’s advocate, he said, “You sometimes get answers you didn’t think of.”

Sherwin said he’d like to do that on the planning board, too, “not only for myself, but for the public.”

Sherwin also plans to go out to see projects and to talk to the principals involved.

Both Sherwin and Runion anticipate more development since the economy has picked up.

“We didn’t have many applications for the last two or three years,” said Runion. “In the last six months, there’s been increased activity...I’m hearing there may be interest in the old Polito’s site,” he said, referring to land at the intersection of routes 20 and 146.

Runion said he’d also heard another developer may be interested in the Glassworks site.

Sherwin was enthused about the original Glassworks proposal, which was to develop a large parcel off of Route 20 near the library, with a mixture of residences and businesses in a walkable New Urbanist community. The project was put on hold with the recession.

Sherwin was on the town board when the project was first proposed.

“We could debate about specifics,” he said, “but they were going to do a mixed-use parcel I thought was great, and what a great location…a big property in the middle of the town of Guilderland.”

Sherwin concluded, “I’m just excited about the opportunity. If you want to make a difference, you have to be part of the process. It’s nice to be part of the process again.”

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