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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, May 17, 2007

Francis cries for help;
Four dozen cops answer

By Saranac Hale Spencer

KNOX — A call from a modest, cream colored house at 107 Lewis Road drew four dozen police officers on Saturday morning.

Jonathan P. Francis, the lone occupant of the house, called a suicide hotline around 11 a.m. and threatened to kill himself and anyone who arrived with lights on top of his car, meaning police, said Albany County Sheriff James Campbell.

"I can’t justify his actions," said Francis’s father, Jay T. Francis, longtime pastor of the Rock Road Chapel in Knox. "Yet I can say that Saturday doesn’t define who he is."

The standoff, where police with shotguns barricaded Lewis Road for several hours, ended without gunfire after a negotiator talked Francis out of the house.

Francis, 38, a lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for town judge in 2003 and has since been arrested several times, had been drinking and taking drugs on Friday night, Campbell said.

Last month, on April 5, Francis’s license to practice law was suspended indefinitely for failure to complete a drug-treatment program and comply with a subpoena regarding "several complaints of professional misconduct," according to an Appellate Court decision.

Francis was first subpoenaed on Oct. 6, 2006, the decision says. The contents of the subpoena, however, are confidential, said Michael Philip, the court’s deputy chief attorney.

Francis entered a treatment program in February or March, but he didn’t finish, said his lawyer, James E. Long. On May 1, he was arrested on a felony charge for harassing his wife, which violated an order of protection she had against him. He served about 10 days in jail for the assault, Campbell said.

A year earlier, on Jan. 6, 2006, he was arrested on charges of assaulting his wife, after he allegedly choked her, threatened her with a kitchen knife, and broke a telephone to prevent her from calling the police, according to a sheriff’s report.

The couple had been living together, with their three young boys, before this weekend, Long said. Their relationship had been on-and-off, he said. "I’m sure she’d say that they were separated and he’d say they weren’t." His wife could not be reached for comment.

Although Long wasn’t sure what triggered Francis to call the hotline on Saturday, he said, "As I understood it, he came home and found boxes, which indicated that she had moved out and that precipitated his depression."

As State Troopers, officers from the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, the Guilderland Police Department, the Altamont Police Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation blocked off Lewis Road, hauling shotguns from the trunks of their cars, Francis called his lawyer, Long said.

"He just left a message that it was an emergency, to call back. I called back and could not get through to him," he said. Long hasn’t spoken with Francis since he was confined to the Capital District Psychiatric Center, he said.

"He does need help, there’s no question about that," said Francis’s father, who didn’t know where his son was as of Monday night. He hopes his son will decide to get help, he said, a choice that Long said Francis has already made. When asked what Francis’s next move will be, Long said, "To get healthy."

When police made contact with Francis around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon he requested to speak with James T. Campbell Jr., an investigator with the sheriff’s department, and the sheriff’s son, who had dealt with Francis before.

"J.T. was able to get him to come out with his hands above his head," said Sheriff Campbell, who added that there were negotiators at the scene.

As it turned out, Francis had only two BB guns in the house, Campbell said. He was taken to the psychiatric center and there were no charges.

He’s disappointed with his son’s behavior, said Pastor Francis, but he’d like to reach out to him. He was a good kid, he said, and people can redeem themselves. "Forgiveness can be instant," he said. "It takes a while to build up trust."

Centi re-opens Township

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — The Township Tavern, a long-time fixture in Knox, will soon be re-opening under a new owner.

Paul Centi, with 34 years of experience in the restaurant business, plans to open the bar and restaurant at the end of this month or the beginning of June.

Located at 1412 Township Road, the site was formerly Lucky’s Tavern and the Hilltop Café. The building has been vacant since last fall.

The Township Tavern will be a sit-down and take-out restaurant and will also feature a full bar, said Centi.

"I’m going to be family-friendly," Centi said, adding that he will offer a full kids’ menu. He will offer "standard family fare," he said. "Menus are one of the last things you can do."

Centi, 49, was most recently an executive chef at the Ginger Man on Western Avenue in Albany. Before that, he owned the Rosewood Café on New Karner Road for five years. "I just wanted to work for myself again," he said.

Centi also likes the building in the Knox hamlet of Township because of its history; the building in the Knox hamlet is about 180 years old. Once the Township Hotel, the way station served as a halfway point between Schoharie and Albany, he said.

The tavern, for many years, had been owned by Harry and Delia "Barney" Palombo and was most recently owned by Owen and Mickey Rivenburg.

As well as serving as a restaurant and bar, Centi said the Township Tavern will also host banquets — wedding receptions, anniversaries, birthdays, and retirement parties.

The community has been enthusiastic and friendly, said Centi. Neighbors have been stopping by, he said, and someone has already asked him about holding a reception.

To get the tavern up and going, some of Centi’s family will help out at first; he plans to hire between seven and 10 employees.

At first, Centi plans to open from 3 p.m. to midnight. Once his restaurant is more established, it will be open from noon to midnight, he said. Centi said he will not have a pool table in the bar nor will he book bands at his establishment. He might put in a jukebox, he said.

Centi will be spending much of his time in the kitchen, he said, and will be serving specials — seafood on Friday nights as well as pasta dishes.

Unpaid bill leaves workers without health care

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Medical coverage will be reinstated for town workers today, Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg told The Enterprise yesterday.

Workers had been without medical services since May 1 due to an unpaid insurance bill.

At a special town board meeting Tuesday, some town workers said they had received bills they shouldn’t have to pay and were being refused medical services.

Four of the town’s nine highway workers have about $35 deducted weekly from their checks to pay a portion of their health insurance, said Mike Jardine, the town’s union shop steward and a highway employee.

Five highway workers do not pay because of a prior contract, he said. For three weeks, money has been taken out of four of the highway workers’ checks, but they haven’t been receiving services, he said.

The town uses Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield as its insurance carrier. Twenty-one town workers — current and retired — are covered by the insurance plan as are the spouses of town employees who are married, Kathy Hallenbeck, the town clerk, told The Enterprise.

"I heard about it 10 days ago, all of a sudden," Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg told The Enterprise yesterday. "It’s the dumbest thing I’ve been in the middle of in a long, long time," he said. "Clearly, we don’t have a problem with money," he said, adding that the town has $1.9 million in bank accounts. "I said, ‘That’s not possible that we haven’t paid,’" he said. The last bill was paid May 1, said Nickelsberg. "I haven’t received any past-due letters," said Nickelsberg Tuesday. "Other than the two or three specific instances (this month), there was no way in the world that I had an inkling there was a problem," he said.

"If I don’t know what’s wrong, how can I fix it"" he asked The Enterprise yesterday. In the interim, if anyone has a bill from his doctor or a prescription bill, Nickelsberg said, "We’ll cut them a check"We’ll pay for it while we’re waiting for the insurance to come back on."

"The bookkeeper pays the bills," he said, "but, ultimately, the responsibility is mine."

All nine highway workers are members of Local 106 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. Local 106 President Mike Dodig filed a grievance with the town, said Jardine Tuesday.

Highway workers first discovered they were not receiving insurance coverage when Julie Sikule, a former town assessor, made a visit to the doctor’s office on May 8 and was told she was no longer covered by the town’s insurance provider, said Jardine.

Councilman Gary Chase, son of the highway superintendent, a Democrat who has often been at odds with the Republican supervisor, said he "would like to see in writing" a full report from Nickelsberg detailing why the bills to the insurance company had not been paid.

Tuesday, the town board voted unanimously for Nickelsberg to compile a report. The board also voted to reimburse employees who had paid out-of-pocket for insurance and prescriptions, and also voted to pay all insurance bills two weeks before they are due.

Asked if the workers will be compensated, Nickelsberg replied, "Yes. Whatever is a net loss, they will be compensated"..We can compute that. That’s mathematical."

"The issue’s happened once before. I thought we took care of it," Councilman Chase told The Enterprise. About six months ago, employees had been receiving bills they shouldn’t have had to pay for, he said. He called employees not receiving health benefits "a pretty dramatic issue."

"He is ultimately responsible for that," Chase said of Nickelsberg paying bills. By paying them two weeks before they are due, "we’ll be ahead of the game," he said.

"I was just taken aback," said Chase. Nickelsberg, he said, is "our chief fiscal officer. He should have been on top of it."

Town officials discuss giving up year’s salary

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Following accusations that a former supervisor embezzled thousands of dollars from three institutions in the town, Republican trustees are contemplating giving up their salaries for the rest of the year.

David R. Bryan, a former Rensselaerville supervisor, and a Democrat, is charged by the Albany County Sheriff’s Department with stealing from the Rensselaerville Trinity Church, the historical society, and the library. Bryan had held leadership positions in all three institutions. Police now say he has stolen approximately $180,000.

Investigators recently found a $36,000 check Bryan had written from the church to himself, Chief Deputy Craig Apple of the Albany County Sheriff’s Department told The Enterprise yesterday. The sheriff’s department has no intention to go as far back as town records during Bryan’s terms in office as supervisor, he said. He was supervisor from 1987 to 1994. The department will only investigate if instructed by the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, Apple said. State Police are investigating possible theft from the Abrookin Vo-Tech school in Albany, said Apple. Bryan was the house principal at the school.

"Where did the money go"" a Rensselaerville resident asked at last week’s town board meeting.

"Good question," replied Republican Councilwoman Myra Dorman. Dorman is now president of the Rensselaerville Library; Bryan, who had served as the library’s president, attempted suicide after being charged in April, she said.

Apple said he doesn’t consider it a suicide attempt. "It was a relatively traumatic day for him," he said, adding that Bryan was taken to Albany Medical Center Hospital.

The library, except for a small amount budgeted by the town, is funded by private donations. Throughout last Thursday’s town board meeting, residents speculated about Bryan’s assets and motivation. Dorman implored residents to make donations to the small library. "Have some kindness in your heart," she said.

All records have been confiscated by police, she said. The library, located on Main Street in the Rensselaerville hamlet, is the oldest private library in New York, Dorman said. The library was originally organized in 1798 and the present library was founded in 1896.

All records have been confiscated by police, and the library is "in limbo now," Dorman said.

In response to the embezzlement, Dorman, Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg, and Robert Lansing — all Republicans — have discussed eliminating their salaries for the remainder of the year, Nickelsberg told The Enterprise. Last week, the board tabled the issue, with Nickelsberg saying the investigation is leading to allegations of more funds being stolen.

Nickelsberg told The Enterprise he doesn’t know whether the remainder of their salaries would be donated to the library, the historical society, or the church. Nickelsberg said he will earn about $6,000 for the remainder of the year, and Lansing and Dorman will make $2,000. "The number keeps growing," he said of missing funds. "We figured we would wait."

Bryan, Dorman said, "took every bloody cent we had." Bryan, as the library’s president, had been authorized to hire an accountant to administer the privately-funded library’s records, but Bryan hired him to only do payroll, Dorman said.

Hall of famers

The Rensselaerville Volunteer Hall of Fame has its first members.

Barry Cooke and planning board Chairman Allyn Wright, both who have served with the fire department and emergency medical services, were given thunderous applause last week when receiving the honors. Both began volunteering with the fire department as teenagers. Wright has been the planning board chairman for 21 years. Cooke also volunteers at his church, said Nickelsberg.

"We are very much indebted to you, and we respect you, and we thank you very, very much," said Supervisor Nickelsberg.

Nickelsberg, before presenting Cooke and Wright with awards, cited the town’s May newsletter, which includes an excerpt from George Washington’s Newburgh Address that says: "Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country."

Nickelsberg said of including the excerpt in the May newsletter, compiled by clerk Nancy Class, "We did it because it was a way of honoring all of our veterans, and other people serving the country, and also to highlight service generally. You can serve your country, I think, in a bunch of different ways: in war, as a policeman, in your town, serving your neighbors."

"Folks like Barry and Allyn have carried the country on their backs"," he said.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Heard from Nickelsberg that Senator Neil Breslin has secured $5,000 for a recently-ordered bus to transport children and seniors. The 14-passenger bus is being funded by private donations. To date, $13,478 has been raised for the bus, said resident Robert Bolte. who frequently volunteers for town projects; Bolte contacted Breslin’s office.

Since introducing the idea for the bus, Councilman Chase has been concerned about licensing drivers and insurance coverage. To be a certified driver, he said, you have to have a special license to strap a person with a handicap into their seat.

"I think we’re doing real good for the short time we’ve had this," said Bolte. On May 19, at noon, during Greenville Day, a bicycle ride sponsored by the Rotary will be held to raise money for the new bus;

— Heard from Marie Dermody that the line for the Board of Assessment Review should be reinstated in the budget. Prior to this year, the grievance board, with three members and a secretary, was budgeted $1,600. Last week, in a 3-2 vote split down party lines, the town board did not reinstate the budget line. Nickelsberg said earlier that planning board and zoning board of appeals members work more hours than the board of assessment review and do not receive a salary.

Democrats Sherri Pine and Gary Chase voted against the 2007 budget last fall. One of their complaints with the budget was cutting the funding from the board of assessment review.

"You may have won the battle, but you certainly haven’t won the war," Dermody said last week. Dermody, a Democrat, told The Enterprise after the meeting that she will be running for town board. "The balance of power has to change," she said. Nickelsberg "is too dictatorial," she said, and added, "Government can’t run like that."

"I’m trying very hard to run this like a business," Nickelsberg told The Enterprise this week.

Lightning strikes down historic barn in Knox

By Tyler Schuling

KNOX — History went up in smoke Thursday when a landmark barn on the Berne-Altamont Road burned in a lightning storm.

Hilltown fire departments responded to the call and fought the flames in the afternoon, then returned to the scene later after the fire had rekindled. Only remnants of the barn remained.

"That was a beautiful barn," said John Kolanchick, who owned the barn and neighboring house for nearly 40 years. Kolanchick now lives in a house nearby. "If I was living there, I would have lost a heck of a lot of stuff," he said. "It was dry, and boy, she went up like a candle."

"It went up fast," agreed Bill Vinson, chief of the Knox Volunteer Fire Department.

Firefighters battled the blaze from 3 to 6 p.m. after Kolanchick sounded the alarm. When they arrived at 3 p.m., all that remained were the beams, said Vinson. Before leaving the scene around 6 p.m., firefighters covered the remnants of the barn with foam. There wasn’t a puff of smoke showing, Vinson said. But they had to return because the fire had rekindled. Rain, Vinson said, had washed the foam away.

The Knox firefighters arrived back at the firehouse and were cleaning their hoses and equipment, but were called to the barn about 8 p.m. They were at the scene for about one-and-a-half hours "hitting the hot spots" and were back in service around 10 p.m., Vinson said.

Though the barn and the house are approximately 150 feet apart, the intense heat of the fire melted the vinyl siding of the house, said Vinson. Firefighters inspected the interior of the house, and determined the damage was entirely exterior, he said.

It would be difficult to say whether a tall pine tree next to the barn or the barn itself was first struck by lightning, said Vinson. The cause of the fire, he said, was either the debris from the tree that had been struck or the lightning traveling through roots underneath the barn, Vinson said.

The Berne Volunteer Fire Company, also at the scene, "provided mutual aid," with manpower and a tanker, said its president, Alan Zuk.

According to Kolanchick and Richard W. Griessel, whose family lived on the property from 1929 to 1960, the barn was approximately 100 years old.

The barn, house, and property is owned by Shon and Leslie McLain of Saratoga Springs (Saratoga County), who could not be reached for comment.


Griessel traced the history of the property and the barn. His father, Albert F. Griessel, bought the house, a vacationing spot, from Charles and Minnie Weaver in 1929.

While the Weavers owned the home, it was known as the Point View House. At the beginning of the 20th Century, tourists came by train from Albany to the Altamont station. After arriving, they were transported to the house by Mr. Weaver. He picked up guests with a horse-drawn buggy in the summers and with a bobsled in the winters. "No one called it a bed and breakfast. They called it a guest house," Greissel said.

After buying the property from the Weavers, Greissel’s father renamed the property Point View Farm. He said he remembered his father painting over the "House."

He also recalled the troubles motorists had climbing the steep hill to Knox.

"You can’t believe the cars. They’d just barely make the Hill. Time and time again, we’d fill them," he said, explaining the radiators needed fluid.

Griessel recalled mowing the property. Every third time his family mowed the lawn, he took large rocks, which formed a border around the barn, and set them aside to mow under them. After mowing, he put them back in place.

"Your back was breaking when you were done," he said. "I have a lot of memories of that barn."

Kolanchick stored his boat, hay, and animals in the barn. A Scout leader, he also stored camping equipment in the barn. The property, he said, probably sold for about $1,400 in the 1800’s. It was once a sugar bush; the former owners grew potatoes and made maple syrup, he said.

Kolanchick and Griessel recalled the barn’s pulley system, used to hoist loose hay into the rafters. Large tongs, attached to a rope on a pulley, would grab the hay and then it was moved to the top of the barn, said Kolanchick.

"It was certainly in fine condition when my folks bought it in 1929," Griessel said of the historic barn. He recalled multiple times he’d painted it, and the difficulty of painting its eastern side, which towered higher than its other sides.

"I painted that barn more than I can remember," he said.

Hikers survive fall

By Tyler Schuling

NEW SCOTLAND — A hike in Thacher Park Friday went awry as two women slid down an embankment.

Helen Claus, a 23-year-old client at the Living Resource Center in Schenectady, and Beth Maney, a counselor there, fell while walking along the Indian Ladder Trail. They fell approximately 50 feet down an embankment, according to the Albany County Sheriff’s Department. Claus’s only injuries were neck and back pain; she had been wearing a leg brace from a pre-existing condition, according to the sheriff’s department.

The group from the center was hiking on a trail that goes down an embankment and does not have a railing, said Chief Deputy Craig Apple of the sheriff’s department. Members of a search and rescue team, formed 10 or 15 years ago, descended the steep embankment by repelling. Once rescuers found Claus, she was placed in a basket and rescuers atop the embankment hoisted her up, said Apple.

Responding to the scene around noon on Friday were members of the Albany County Search and Rescue team, the New Salem Volunteer Fire Department, the Onesquethaw Volunteer Fire Department, and Albany County Sheriff’s Paramedics.

Upon arriving at the scene, rescuers located the women within an hour. They were stabilized, hauled up the embankment, and taken by an Onesquethaw ambulance to Albany Medical Center Hospital.

Lounsbury, Fusco elected, budget passes in landslide

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — In a landslide vote, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school budget for next year passed late Tuesday in a district where budget defeats had been common.

The $19.3 million budget proposal for the 2007-08 school year received 66-percent of the vote, 575 to 293. The budget represents a 4.1-percent increase over this year’s spending plan.

In a four-way race for two school-board seats, Helen Lounsbury, a former BKW teacher and school board member, and PTA president Michelle Fusco were the two top vote-getters. They will assume their posts in July.

The unofficial results from Tuesday’s election showed Lounsbury received the most votes with 520. Fusco received 411. Robert Rue, making his second run, received 351 votes, and incumbent Edward Ackroyd received 285, respectively.

Superintendent Steven Schrade attributed the budget passing to a low increase and a "reasonable" tax-levy increase. Schrade said he also suspects the budget was supported by PTA members because the school board had added a foreign language program.

BKW Business Administrator David Weiser said he is "very pleased" the budget passed on the first vote. Last year, the budget passed the initial vote for the first time in three years. When hired in December, Weiser said that the school had good momentum, having had success with its budgets lately. Tuesday, he said the passing of the budget had continued that momentum.

"I’m a little disappointed"I think good people won," Rue said on Tuesday night.

Ackroyd ran for the school board unopposed in 2004 after Lynn Countryman stepped down.

"I’m pleased and honored to be chosen," Lounsbury said yesterday. It’s a great feeling to know the community trusts her and has elected her to a position on the board, she said. The community, she said, has entrusted her with "our most precious natural resource" — our children. "They validate you," Lounsbury said of the voters.

Lounsbury said she is looking forward to working with the other board members. "I’ve been there before," she said, adding that she knows she is just one person and the work of the school board is collaborative.

On Tuesday, 872 people voted, almost 200 fewer than last year.

"I can only speculate," said Schrade. "When voter turnout is lower, it usually means the community is more accepting of the budget," he said.

A bus proposition totaling $344,513 was also passed 590 to 274. To purchase two new Chevrolet Suburbans, two 65-passenger buses, and two 28-passenger buses, BKW will borrow $160,000 and spend $184,513 in the capital reserve fund.

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