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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 27, 2007

2007 in review: Guilderland
New blood ousts old Dem guard, chief resigns... New Urbanism comes to Guilderland

By Saranac Hale Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Ten years ago marked an unprecedented shift in town politics and this year saw an unexpected swing back.

Since it was founded over 200 years ago, Guilderland had been solidly Whig and then Republican. But, in 1995, the suburban town elected its first Democratic supervisor and, recently, it’s had an all-Democratic Town Board.

This November, though, Republican challengers Mark Grimm and Warren Redlich ousted incumbent board members Michael Ricard and David Bosworth, both Democrats. Ricard was the board’s longest serving member and Bosworth chairs the town’s Democratic Committee, and co-chairs the county’s.

Enrolled Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in Guilderland, being roughly a third of the town’s registered voters.

Grimm, who runs his own media business in town, said his run for town board was meant to bring back a functioning two-party system in Guilderland.

Redlich, a lawyer, stepped up to run after another Republican in the languishing town party dropped out; he called for reform in town assessments, claiming that Ricard had a "sweetheart" assessment on his $196,300 home.

Ricard sued to keep Redlich off the ballet, claiming that he had violated New York State’s infamously complex Election Law when he was substituted improperly for the party’s nomination.

The Republican pair ran together on a platform of open government.

"The town government is very secretive. They billed themselves as an open government 10 years ago, but today you have to battle with them for basic freedoms of information," Grimm said when he announced his run for the board in June.

The state’s Freedom of Information Law provides for the public’s right to government records and is used by the media and individuals alike to access information.

"The problem with the FOIL law is there is no penalty. They should be punished for withholding information," Grimm said. "I happen to believe the people should take the info and make a decision for themselves...If you watch a town board meeting, everything’s 5-0, 5-0, 5-0, because it’s decided in advance."

Grimm questioned how people can make an informed decision or judgement if they do not have the necessary information.

The town of Guilderland recently saw widespread media and public criticisms for withholding information following allegations of misconduct against its former police chief, James Murley. Supervisor Kenneth Runion, a lawyer, countered that he was properly following the state’s Public Officers Law.

The allegations led to Murley’s retiring from his post at the end of May.

In this fall’s election other incumbents ran unopposed — long-time highway superintendent, Todd Gifford, a Republican; and Clerk Rosemary Centi and Judge John Bailey, both Democrats.

Police chief resigns

The Guilderland police chief’s 35-year career ended this spring after he reached an agreement with the town.

In March, James Murley, then 61, was charged with sexual harassment, misconduct with a vendor, violation of the town’s ethics law, and not keeping accurate attendance and leave records. When the charges were first brought, Murley’s lawyer, William J. Cade, said that they were unfounded and vowed to fight the proceedings. He said then that Murley had no plans to retire.

After about four months on leave, Cade and the lawyer representing the town, Brian O’Donnell, worked out an agreement that kept the retirement benefits from Murley’s $97,000-a-year post intact, as well as his accrued vacation time. Agreeing to take retirement let Murley forgo a town hearing on the charges.

"There will be no formal hearing," Supervisor Runion said after the board agreed to the terms. "Everyone on the board has agreed that this is the best solution."

"The worse that could happen to him was termination under the proceeding," said Runion of the possible outcome of a hearing. "Retirement is the same thing...It’s basically as if you went through the hearing."

Deputy Chief Carol Lawlor has been serving as acting chief of police; the new town board will be responsible for appointing a permanent chief of police.

"Jim cared deeply about his staff and the department was like a family to him, the office staff and the officers," said Murley’s wife, Debra. "He still feels that way and that is why this is so hard for him...not even being allowed to go on the town property he protected for over 30 years."

Murley was one of the town’s first officers when its police force was put together three-and-a-half decades ago.

Westervelt seeks appeal

Two-and-a-half years into a 25-year-to-life sentence, Erick Westervelt is pinning his hopes on an appeal.

In October, his appeal was heard by an Appellate Division panel of judges, the middle level in the state’s three-tiered court system.

Westervelt was convicted of second-degree murder in 2005 and is serving his time at Dannemora, a maximum security prison in Clinton County.

Westervelt, who grew up in Guilderland and was living with his family on Salvia Lane, attending the University at Albany at the time of the murder, maintains his innocence.

He says he was illegally arrested and then forced into a false confession by the Bethlehem Police Department.

The Albany County District Attorney’s Office along with police claimed that jealousy drove Westervelt to murder Timothy Gray while Gray was living with Westervelt’s ex-girlfriend, Jessica Domery, in Delmar. The hatchet murder occurred five weeks before the highly publicized ax murder of Peter Porco; his son, Christopher Porco, was convicted of killing him and of bludgeoning his wife, Joan Porco, in their Delmar home.

Terence Kindlon represented both Porco and Westervelt; Porco is serving his term in Dannemora, too.

It took a jury nearly two days to convict Westervelt, who had confessed to the crime to Bethlehem Police. He later recanted his statements and said he was forced into a false confession.

Kindlon, of the law firm Kindlon & Shanks, represented Westervelt at the appeal hearing while Westervelt’s parents and aunts sat quietly in the gallery and listened.

"In the written brief, there was extensive legal argument that the police coerced him...and detained him from lawyers," Kindlon said this fall. "A whole hour was missing from the police interrogation."

The Appellate Division could uphold Westervelt’s conviction; find the sentence excessive; find something wrong in how the case was handled; reverse the decision and hold a re-trial; or dismiss the conviction altogether, Kindlon said.

Westervelt’s father told The Enterprise this month that he is hopeful, since the court is taking a long while to decide on the appeal, that it is taking it seriously.

Glass Works plans $100 million village

Plans for the largest development in Guilderland since Crossgates Mall were presented to the town board early this year as developers of the $100 million Glass Works community forged ahead.

Planned for a 57-acre parcel on Route 20 near the library, Glass Works will be a village-style development, in which planners hope to encourage mixed residential and commercial buildings. The development is named for an industry that once prospered here: glass making.

Glass Works will consist of 228 condominiums, 72 townhouses, and 27 residential cottages, the proposal says. The development will also contain 180,000 square feet of commercial space for retail stores, offices, and restaurants, and an additional 10,000 square feet for day-care facilities.

As for the public elementary school across Route 20 from the proposed site, Daniel O’Brien, president of Platform Realty Group, said Glass Works will contain large numbers of condominiums and not draw as many school-aged children as other developments.

"We don’t envision a host of people crossing Route 20," he said. Plans call for a crosswalk to be installed at the Winding Brook Drive intersection, as well as turning Winding Brook into a boulevard with a round-about.

However, according to the project’s draft environmental impact statement, an estimated 135.8 school-aged children will live at the Glass Works Village. The plan estimates that 15 percent will attend private schools, leaving 116 children for the Guilderland public school system to educate.

The impact statement also says 22 acres of the development will remain "usable open space" and 12 acres will be landscaped areas, leaving 24 acres for development.

— This year in review is based largely on reporting by Jarrett Carroll.

2007 in review: Altamont
Village proposes, listens, adapts plan for future

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Since the village adopted a comprehensive plan last January, it has spent the year following the plan’s recommendations.

Created by a committee headed by architect and village trustee, Dean Whalen, the comprehensive plan addresses issues all over the village, from suggested green initiatives to the practical recommended overhaul of the decades-old zoning regulations.

"It has a lot of broad-stroke references and reminders," Whalen said of the plan after its first public hearing, adding, "and dreams."

Out of the plan came a committee to rework the village’s zoning regulations, a process that is just now coming to a close. Also headed by Whalen, the zoning committee presented its plan to the village this fall; the draft was met with heavy criticism from the public.

A section that would have created a historic district, with regulations imposed on building upkeep that many residents saw as too restrictive, was removed from the proposed zoning changes following a special meeting of the village board after the public hearing.

Over the course of three months, the board heard residents debate the merits of a controversial "M," or multi-family, designation given to some parcels in the village and on its outskirts. Following its December meeting, the board said that it was committed to taking away the option for development of multi-family homes, like apartments or condominiums, on a sizable piece of land on the Bozenkill, and allowing for that sort of development on the smaller pieces within the village proper. Another public hearing on the zoning regulations is scheduled for January.

Fairgrounds re-zoned

As suggested in the comprehensive plan, the recently proposed zoning law would rezone the fairgrounds for development.

Nobody has plans to build on the fairgrounds, which are home to the century-old agrarian celebration hosted annually, village and fair officials said in January. But it’s the village’s responsibility to plan for the "what ifs," said Whalen.

"What if the fair fails"" asked Whalen. "Then we end up with a bunch of McMansions."

Should the fairgrounds be developed, it will likely be a New Urbanist neighborhood. Following the suggestion for rezoning the grounds, the comprehensive plan lists specifications for the development, most of which echo the New Urbanist platform.

The recommendation itself reads: "Consider the zoning district designation for the Fairgrounds from "F" (Fairgrounds) to a mapped Planned Unit Development District (PUD) where the minimum parcel size must be 25 or more acres; include in Zoning Code a full set of procedures to administer development within this district and clearly establish standards and objectives for development in this area."

Then the list includes connected roads, buildings that are "village-like in character, scale, and density," walkable, mixed commercial and residential development, parks and green spaces, re-use of existing buildings, and it also specifies that there should be proof of adequate water and sewer capacity for the development.

Six of the 11 parcels of land that make up the Altamont fairgrounds are within the village, a total of 43.2 acres currently assessed at $1.7 million, according to the town of Guilderland’s assessor’s office. Carol Wysomski, the town’s assessor, said that the value of land changes according to its use. Commercial land fetches the highest prices, she said; land on Route 20 near the town hall is selling for about $100,000 per acre for commercial use.

Of rezoning the fairgrounds, Wysomski said, "The use would change, therefore the assessment changes."

Elections not contested

Voters elected two trustees and a judge in Altamont’s uncontested village elections this spring. There were a handful of write-in votes for Harvey Vlahos, who decided not to seek re-election to the village board.

Incumbent William Aylward, a retired social studies teacher, and newcomer Chris Marshall, a retired state worker, ran together for the village board on the Concerned Citizens ticket orchestrated by Mayor James Gaughan.

"It will differ in that I think we will have a more homogeneous approach," Aylward said in the spring of how the new board would be likely to behave. Vlahos was often the only dissenter on the board while he was serving.

Marshall echoed that answer when she said, "I personally think that we will work very cooperatively."

Those predictions came true.

Rebecca Hout, a lawyer, who has been a village judge for 13 years, was re-elected to the post.

No hearing for Dorsey

Marc Dorsey, a former Altamont police officer who was removed from the force in 2003, will not get a hearing after all.

A decision last May from the Appellate Division, the middle level of New York’s three-tiered court system, reversed a lower-court judgement that had granted Dorsey a hearing after he made claims for back pay; reinstatement to his job; and a hearing, pursuant to section 75 of the state’s Civil Service Law.

Dorsey was suspended from the Altamont department in December of 2003, following stalking charges filed against him in Albany. The charges were dropped in June of 2004, but he was never reinstated.

Dorsey sued the village in November of 2005. The following April, Supreme Court Judge Joseph Teresi granted that he was entitled to a hearing.

Dorsey could have filed a notice of permission to appeal to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, but the case would have had to address a unique or novel issue of law to be heard, said Dionne Wheatley, who handled the case for the village. "It’s my belief that it would probably be dismissed," she said last spring.

Water flows

After years of ups and downs, the water-strapped village got its new wells connected to the municipal system this year.

In March of 2004, the village agreed to a purchase option with the Michael and Nancy Trumpler for about five acres of their land on Brandle Road where engineers had discovered water months before. A year later, in April of 2005, the Trumplers filed papers in Albany County Supreme Court, seeking to get out of their contract with the village. The Trumplers meant for the water to serve the residents of the village, they said, and they objected to Altamont’s plans to give water to developer Jeff Thomas, who had plans to build a 72-unit senior housing complex just outside the village.

Although the Trumplers hadn’t sued for any money, the village filed a counterclaim against them for tens of thousands of dollars. In June of 2005, Thomas sued the Trumplers for $17 million, claiming interference.

Altamont later settled with the Trumplers and new water has been flowing through village pipes. There were some problems with water discoloration when the new well came on line, but those have now largely been solved.

This summer, Thomas broke ground on Brandle Meadows, the senior housing complex that is set to use the municipal system.

Westmere students honor their beloved librarian with word and art

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The wall outside the library at Westmere Elementary School is plastered with memories and love — heartfelt words and poignant art created by students to honor Micki Nevett.

A vibrant 53-year-old, Nevett died last Monday afternoon.

She was at school on Monday morning, said Westmere Principal Deborah Drumm, and told a couple of people she wasn’t feeling well. On her way to a librarians’ meeting that afternoon, she stopped by her doctor’s office, Drumm said, where she died of a heart attack.

Stunned and saddened teachers told their classes about her death last Tuesday and that day, said Drumm, a few handmade bookmarks honoring Nevett appeared on the shelf outside the library.

"Then more things started to appear," said Drumm. "It’s incredible."

Nevett, who had a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in library science from the University at Albany, had been the school’s librarian for 15 years.

"The reading workshop is the heart of our school," said Drumm. "Micki Nevett was involved with every single child and every teacher...When you look at that wall, you get a sense of her power, of who this person was...

"One of her author friends described her as a sparkler. She was the heartbeat of our whole reading program...The kids were so connected to her. She knew what they liked to read. She’d find a book she knew one of them would like and she’d set it aside with a Post-it Note on it."

Drumm called Nevett’s passing "a huge loss for Westmere." The principal said, "Every day, teachers come to me in tears." Grief has affected the students, too. The district’s crisis team and grief counselors have been on hand, but the wall of tribute outside the library — which was not planned — has had a healing effect all its own.

The aura of a shrine

The wall is covered with drawings of all shapes and sizes and the shelf beneath is filled with cards and letters, bookmarks and library passes, featuring pictures of Nevett. Some of the messages are individual and spontaneous; others are grouped in carefully bound and illustrated class books. The display has the aura of a shrine.

Many of the messages refer to Nevett as the Queen of the Library and Drumm said her extravagant Halloween costumes added to that legend.

A number of the kids also write fondly of the pet nicknames Nevett had for them. "Jeremiah the Bullfrog" was one for a boy of that name and another boy wrote, "She always called me Lovebug since kindergarten."

"Westmere misses you so much," says one letter in careful printing. "You were always so kind and you helped kids pick out great books."

Not only did Nevett know her students’ favorite books; they knew hers. One poster, titled "Ms. Nevett’s favorite book" is an artfully crayoned rendition of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Another drawing depicts the round face of a brown-haired girl, dominated by a frown and huge tears. It says simply, "We are very sad."

A nearby poster is more cheerful. It is titled "Ms. Nevett the Great!" and shows, in bright colors, Nevett as a flying superhero, wearing a hot pink cape and wide grin. As she soars above the earth towards a bright sun, her chest emblazoned with a giant "N," she holds a book in each outstretched hand.

Many of the messages are written as sympathy cards to Nevett’s husband and daughter, "Dear Mr. Galletly and April," says one. "She had a good sense of humor. She seemed to almost never get mad or lose her patience. My whole class is very sad right now."

Another sympathy note, from a fourth-grader, to Nevett’s husband and daughter says, "I know you will miss Ms. Nevett. Everyone at Westmere will miss her, too. She always knew everything from picture books to fiction books, all the way to non-fiction.

"She would always call my friend, Mohana, and I ‘Super Readers.’ Ever since kindergarten, she has been my favorite person in the whole school. Even though she’s not here anymore, she still remains my favorite!

"When I was in kindergarten, she would tell everyone she was 100 years old. Now in fourth grade, she still tells us she’s 100. (We’ve never believed her.)"

One sympathy card features a knock-knock joke while, in another, a girl shares her experience with death in her own family.

"I have had a death in my family," she writes. "It was my Grandpa. I love him very much. He died of a heart attack, too. He smoked. He did lots of bad things. But I will never see him again. I know how it feels. I was on my couch and my Mom comes in with red eyes and said, ‘Grandpa died.’ I thought I was in a dream but, when I felt my tears, I knew it wasn’t a dream. I’m really, really sorry."

The bookmarks bear some of the most succinct and direct messages. "Mrs. Nevett," says one. "You are fun, caring, loving. You always pick the right book for me and everybody else. You know us by heart and you always will."

Another bookmark is titled "Rules of the Library" and says: "Don’t whine and don’t say can’t."

A third bookmark is addressed to the "Queen of the Library," and says, "Hi, it’s me, Jake P. Just writing to you so you will know how many of us at W.E.S. will miss you. Just remember this: Only the good die young. I’ll miss you."

Some teachers wrote on tag board what their students who were too young to write were feeling about Nevett. One such poster, titled "Our Memories of Mrs. Nevett," lists these sentiments among others:

— She gave us extra candy on Halloween;

— She told us that "can’t" was a swear word;

—She said she always wanted to be a singer when she was younger but she wasn’t too good;

— She knew our families; and

— She always used big words.

Ripple effect

"The library was her place. The kids just kind of gravitate here," said Drumm as she stood in front of the wall on Friday. "They take comfort in seeing this."

The staff does, too. Teachers would gather at the wall each day after school last week to see what the students had written. "We’d sit on the bench here and laugh and cry as we read these things," said Drumm.

Nevett’s family — including her mother, her husband, and her brother and sister and their spouses — came by to see the wall, said Drumm. "They spent a good deal of time looking at it," she said. "Her husband said it helped bring some closure."

News of the memorial wall has spread beyond Nevett’s school and family. Storyteller Marni Gillard wrote about the "wonderful" wall in a message e-mailed to members of a far-flung interfaith story circle.

"She had a spirit bigger than life, full of laughter and joy," said Gillard, who had worked with Nevett. "She led one of our interfaith storytelling gatherings on Jewish tales. I remember it fondly."

She concluded, "Stories matter, and the people who share them with children and adults live on through the tales."

A substitute librarian will be used for the rest of the year at Westmere, Drumm said, and the school will look for a replacement for next fall.

Students leaving the school late last Friday afternoon on their way home for winter break proudly pointed out to their parents the things they had made in honor of their librarian. Some of them stopped to reminisce as they looked at the wall.

Drumm said the display will remain up until after the students return from vacation. "They will have had time to think about it," she said of Nevett’s death, "and may look for it when they return."

Eventually, the tribute will be taken down and given to Nevett’s husband, David Galletly, she said.

Drumm shared one last tribute that is a favorite of hers, written by a fourth-grade boy.

"Mrs. Nevett loved her job and loved her students," it says. "In fact, it was like we were all books and she had already read us."

Drumm smiled as she looked down the length of the colorful wall. "It just gives you chills," she said.

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