Officials dispute statements in 'R'ville' newsletter

Enterprise file photo

Marie Dermody, one of three editors of a new community newsletter in Rensselaerville, awaits results on a long-past Election Night. Dermody, a former town supervisor, defended the e-mail newsletter at the April town board meeting when town officials said it had inaccurate information.

RENSSELAERVILLE — In its second issue, in April, a community newsletter co-edited by the town’s former supervisor, Marie Dermody, prodded elected officials who responded during the town board meeting by describing it as inaccurate.

Dermody says the disputed information is true and she does not plan on addressing the criticism in the next issue.

“I think the people who have put together this newsletter should be cautious about turning this into a political thing,” Jack Long, who serves on the water and sewer committee, said during public discussion at the April 10 meeting. Dermody, a Democrat who resigned in 2012 amid partisan divide, doubts she will run for public office again.

The current board has two Conservatives, one Republican, one Independence Party member, and a Democratic councilman who ran on all four lines.

The three women who edited the now-defunct town’s newsletter previously — Dermody, Georgette Koenig, and Nancy Class — edit the R’ville Community Newsletter.

“Our premise is to tell the truth and let people decide what they want about it,” Dermody told The Enterprise.

Dermody said 122 people currently subscribe by e-mail to the two-month-old publication and supposed many more read it. About 1,800 people live in Rensselaerville. Dermody said she called the two other women who previously edited the town newsletter when she “realized we weren’t going anywhere at the town level.”

The town board formed a newsletter committee to look into filling the void left by a printed and mailed town newsletter cut from the budget for 2013. During its April meeting, the board voted not to take any action on recommendations from the committee, in order to further investigate its options.

The committee’s two recommendations were that the community newsletter publish minutes and calendar items from the town or that the town produce its own newsletter. 

Councilwoman Marion Cooke said the town should have control over the newsletter, to make sure it’s accurate. She said she couldn’t endorse the option of working with Dermody’s newsletter because it recently had inaccurate information.

“Every attempt is made to be truthful in that newsletter, and if we ever have anything that’s not truthful we expect that people are going to bring it to our attention and rescind it in the next one and make a public apology for our mistake,” Dermody said during the meeting.

The April newsletter tells readers of Councilman Robert Bolte’s sale of a paper shredder to the town for $250 and suggests a better deal could have been found elsewhere.

“Did you know…that $250 in taxpayer money was paid to a Town Councilman for the purchase of a used paper shredder for Town Hall despite the fact that new, professional micro-cut paper shredders with extended warranties are available in the retail marketplace for the same money, if not less?” the newsletter says. “And there is no evidence that any research was done with regard to the make, model, age, or current value of the unit purchased.”

Bolte said during the meeting that a commercial shredder ordered by the town previously had arrived broken and that he researched the value of the one he sold the town. He referred to the town board’s previous purchases, of trucks and highway department machinery, for low prices.

“Instead of nailing somebody,” Bolte said during the meeting, “people ought to do a little more research on it and be a little more honest about it.”

Bolte wasn’t named in the blurb. A similar note appears a second time, referring to the highway superintendent — again without naming the incumbent, Randall Bates — and his full-time salary for part-time hours.

Bates began his report to the town board on April 10 by responding to the newsletter blurb, which referred to him as the highest paid elected official. His budgeted salary is $42,300. He said his deputy, who isn’t elected or salaried, earned more than he did last year due to overtime and explained the long hours checking roads — seven days a week in the winter totaling more than 40 hours — as part of his job.

 “In no way is it a part-time position,” said Bates.

“The board is not faulting you and I have not had any complaints from taxpayers, other than what appears in the newsletter,” Supervisor Valerie Lounsbury told Bates.

Most of the newsletter’s space in April was taken by highlights of meeting minutes; community event listings; letters to the editor; free advertisements; and articles on a local festival, the historical society, and the library’s events for National Poetry Month.

Dermody has attended town meetings regularly since the beginning of the year, often commenting and asking questions. She said she began attending meetings when she learned that the town board wanted to exclude paid advertisements, letters, and political content in any potential newsletter.

“If they give the townspeople what they want, we will stop printing,” Dermody told The Enterprise of a regular newsletter that doesn’t have such restrictions.

At the town board meeting in March, Dermody spoke about her repeated attempts to obtain copies of meeting minutes, weeks after they were legally required to be available. She said she was sympathetic to the learning demands on the new town clerk, Victoria Kraker, who took office in January. Kraker apologized to Dermody during the meeting for not keeping track of her Freedom Of Information Law request.

“I’m hoping now that we’re all caught up with each other, that no other taxpayer has to go through this rigamarole to get public documents that are readily available” Dermody said during the March meeting, thanking Kraker for her politeness.

“I just think it’s ironic that a former town supervisor who had annual reports that were years late in violation of state law that got the town in a fine situation is complaining about public minutes that are months late,” Rich Amedure, chairman of the planning board, said after Dermody.

The town’s financial reports up to 2011, found to be late in a 2013 audit report from the state comptroller’s office, were updated after its findings. But, as of March 31 this year, the town’s financial reports for 2012 and 2013 had not been updated with the state, said Brian Butry, a spokesman for the comptroller’s office.

Other business

In other business during the April 10 meeting, the town board:

— Heard from resident Ernest Kuehl that the Middleburgh library is holding its budget vote on April 22. Voters will cast their ballots at the library between noon and 8 p.m. on the annual budget and three trustee seats;

— Denied, 5 to 0, a request to use the senior bus on a trip to the Bronx Zoo on April 23, citing potential liability and the town’s policy of specific uses for the bus;

— Read a thank you letter from the Westerlo Volunteer Fire Department for its use of the senior bus;

— Accepted, 5 to 0, bids from Royal Flush Portables in Clarksville for portable toilets in the town’s parks;

— Authorized, 5 to 0, the trip of Lounsbury and Sara Hunt, her clerk, to an annual town finance school held by the Association of Towns on May 8 and 9, for $200 registration each;

— Postponed, 5 to 0, the advertising of clerk positions in order to update the job descriptions;

—  Approved, 5 to 0, the rental of a sweeper for the highway department for $1,650;

— Heard from Operator Doug Story that the water treatment system for the hamlet of Rensselaerville filtered about 512,000 gallons for the month of March, and about 79,000 gallons of sewage was pumped. Story said it was unusual to have to clean the system’s filter twice in one month, but said it was probably due to the volume of water.

Councilman Bolte said the water district should be prepared for state roadwork this summer. He said the Department of Transportation told officials that any necessary adaptations of the water system to the new road would be the responsibility of the district;

— Scheduled, 5 to 0, that the board would have special meetings on April 29 and May 14 at 7 p.m., to review zoning regulations, and on May 22 at 7 p.m., to discuss the procedures of the board of ethics;

— Authorized, 5 to 0, upgrading two new computers and the wiping and reloading of two others, for $3,013;

— Read a letter from Brain Wood, emergency medical services coordinator for the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, regarding a meeting on May 27 to discuss EMS coverage among volunteer agencies;

— Voted, 5 to 0, to enter executive session to discuss potential litigation; and

— Voted, 5 to 0, to accept bids for highway materials.

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