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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, February 21, 2008

Packard quits
Ousted workers gripe

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — As the town board continues to discuss laws on spending and nepotism, uncertainty surrounds appointments made on New Year’s Day.

Sarah Packard, who was appointed as a clerk to the supervisor, said last week she will be "unable to continue" as clerk to the supervisor "due to the added responsibility of college."

Packard, who is not enrolled in a political party, was appointed by all members of the politically-divided board.

In another New Year’s Day appointment, the Democrats appointed Chris Heath and Steve Pfleging as "foremen to town building maintenance." It appeared Heath and Pfleging had replaced Randy Bates, Bob Bolte, and K.B. Cooke, who were hired earlier by the town as part-time workers.

But Bolte, a licensed electrician, told The Enterprise this week that he and the two other men "were hired, not appointed," and have not been "dismissed."

"We now have five town employees," Bolte said. Bolte questioned Heath and Pfleging’s qualifications and their appointment. (See letter to the editor.)

In his letter, Bolte criticizes the work on Town Hall by Heath and Pfleging, stating the windows are at the wrong height, siding was thrown away instead of being re-used, and that they returned siding without town permission before the job was done.

Pfleging responded through The Enterprise yesterday, saying that he and Heath built a wall near the ramp used by people with handicaps. The wall at the front entrance of Town Hall is to block the wind and stop ice from forming, he said. Pfleging lowered the windows, he said, so that those in wheelchairs are able to look out of them as they use the ramp.

On the work on the back entrance of the Town Hall building, Pfleging said, he and Heath bent metal and made a frame to make it look more uniform.

He had ordered siding, he said, but cancelled the order.

After first talking with G. Jon Chase, the town’s highway superintendent, he returned two boxes of vinyl shakes to G & H, the company from which they were ordered.

Those who had worked on town projects before he and Heath were appointed, had ordered too much, Pfleging said; two-and-a-half boxes were left over. He knew he would not get fully reimbursed for the shakes but thought returning them was better than not putting the taxpayers’ money to work.

He kept half a box, Pfleging said, to be used to replace shakes that are damaged by lawnmowers and weed-eaters. He and Heath threw away siding that was too short to use, he said.

Pfleging, who did not attend the town meeting when their work was discussed, said he has pictures of his work as well as work done by the previous group that had been hired by the town.

State and county requirements

According to David Walker, the deputy personnel officer with the Albany County Department of Civil Service, there are three forms municipalities fill out when making personnel changes — one is for creating new positions, another is used when replacing a worker in the same position, and a third is an application for a change in title.

When a municipality hires or fires a worker, it must submit a Report of Personnel Change to the department of Civil Service, Walker said.

When a town fires employees, Walker said, "I’d want to look at the people they’re firing."

If a town employee is fired and is in a competitive job, as defined by the Civil Service, they have a right to a hearing, he said. If they are of the labor class — having no qualifications and are unskilled — they have no Section 75 rights, he said.

Bolte, a Conservative, said Pfleging does not live in Rensselaerville.

Laws would affect public officers differently than municipal workers, who, as a general rule, would not face any residency requirements, said Eamon Moynihan, spokesman for the state’s Department of State.

Packard leaves

Packard attends the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, and is majoring in business administration.

She said last week, "When I took this position, I was hopeful and excited that it would be both a learning experience and community-oriented experience. Unfortunately, the personal agendas and vendettas that are involved in the decision-making on the town government are shameful and disgraceful." (See letter to the editor.)

When she was hired, Packard was taught by Andrea Cornwell. The Democrats replaced Cornwell with Brian Fitzgerald on New Year’s Day.

"When the board let (Cornwell) go, it left me in a position to try and figure things out as I go along, on top of trying to get things re-organized when they were left in a pile or thrown in a box under the desk," Packard said.

Packard said she will stay on to help a new person but will not take responsibility for fines and penalties because tax forms had not been completed or were "done wrong."

Packard referred to Brian Fitzgerald, who was appointed by the Democratic majority on Jan. 1.

"The accountant that you hired has failed to answer any calls or to provide any help or guidance. Several appointments were made and he never showed up," Packard said.

Fitzgerald said yesterday he did not accept the position and that he cannot work with the town’s supervisor, Jost Nickelsberg.

Before the beginning of the year, Fitzgerald said, he had been approached by Councilman Gary Chase, who told him Brenda Wood, whom Fitzgerald had worked with in the past, would be appointed as the town’s comptroller.

Wood, a Democrat, had been the clerk to the supervisor before Nickelsberg took office.

In January, the town board repealed motions that had been made by the Democrats on New Year’s Day; the board repealed the motions that created a town comptroller position and the appointment of Wood to the post.

"She’s not in so I’m not in," Fitzgerald said of Wood.

Dems set new rules for R’ville

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — In a vote split down party lines, the town board adopted new rules last week for its meetings.

"While the town board welcomes public interest and participation in town meetings, a balance must be struck so that meetings do not become disruptive and the town board has the opportunity to conduct town business in an orderly, civil manner," the resolution says.

Meetings in the past two years had become so contentious that a State Trooper was called in at the end of 2006 at the behest of the supervisor.

The new rules come on the heels of a January meeting in which the town board and residents discussed, among many contentious topics, nepotism.

"A bunch of things wrong with this," said Supervisor Jost Nickelsberg. He and Republican Councilman J. Robert Lansing voted against the rules. The three Democrats — Gary Chase, Sherri Pine, and Marie Dermody — voted in favor of them.

The new meeting rules require audience members to speak only to the board "as a body" and "without engaging the public in debate." Each speaker will have three minutes to speak and may not yield any of his or her time to another speaker. Cursing is not allowed.

Outside the public-comment period, audience members may speak "upon the consent of a majority of the board."

Dermody, who won a seat on the town board last fall, timed speakers last year at a town board meeting.

Nickelsberg disagreed with the regulations because he thought that, under the new guidelines, an audience member with information that could be beneficial to the board’s business would not be able to speak. Dermody said residents may address the board if approved by a majority of the town board. The supervisor and newly-elected councilwoman have been at odds since Nickelsberg eliminated the stipend for the town’s board of assessment review, on which Dermody served. She spoke frequently about the cut at town board meetings last year.

The state’s Open Meetings Law requires meetings of elected municipal boards to be open to the public; the public must be allowed to observe the meetings, but the law does not require boards to allow public comment — such comment periods are at the discretion of the board.

Audience members have long been allowed to comment at Rensselaerville’s town board meetings. The amount of time allowed for each speaker — two minutes, three minutes, and five minutes — has changed many times throughout the last two years.

The new rules of order define a quorum — three members of the town board — and stipulate who shall serve as the presiding officer at the board’s meetings in the absence of the supervisor. Before its meeting on the second Thursday of each month, the town board will discuss the meeting agenda at a work meeting the Tuesday before.

Anyone who wants to be on the agenda must contact the town clerk that day by 1 p.m. and state "the specific reason for their request." At its regular meetings, town board members may request an item be added to the agenda, which must be approved by a majority of the board.

Other business

In other business, the town board:

— Further discussed a law on nepotism. The board has considered a law on nepotism and conflicts of interest since last year, when the Republicans held a majority on the town board. The bill, drafted last year by the town’s former attorney, was tabled.

Since, resident Erika Wernhammer and Dermody have gathered information from surrounding communities for a Rensselaerville law.

Last week, the town board directed its lawyer, Joseph Catalano, to obtain an opinion from either the Attorney General’s Office or State Comptroller’s Office about the town board creating the post of clerk to the highway superintendent, the appointment of Joyce Chase to the position, and setting her salary. Joyce Chase is the mother of Democratic Councilman Gary Chase and the wife of the highway superintendent.

Nickelsberg said the Attorney General’s Office should be the office to handle the opinion.

— Discussed e-mail accounts for town council members;

— Appointed Rebecca Platel as the town’s planning and zoning board secretary;

— Heard from Superintendent of Highways G. Jon Chase that the town could save $8,000 to $10,000 if it buys $70,000 of stone before April 1.

Last month, Nickelsberg said, it was $10,000 to $12,000.

"I cut back," Chase replied.

Nickelsberg asked when the town would use the stone.

Chase said, July, and August, at the latest.

— Voted to draft a procurement policy that follows state guidelines.

The town currently has a more restrictive procurement policy than the state’s in place, whereby officials must seek three bids for purchases of over $200 and the purchase must be approved by the supervisor. The policy was adopted by the town board last year, when Republicans held a majority on the board. Democrats Chase and Pine had voted against the policy.

A new law is subject to a public hearing.

Dermody said she had collected policies used by surrounding towns, and seven of the 11 she had obtained follow state guidelines.

"Give me a reason why we should emulate anyone in this state," said Nickelsberg.

Dermody said Nickelsberg, in past meetings, was "very quick" to compare Rensselaerville to the nearby town of Berne;

— Discussed the town’s waste-oil furnace. Last month, Mark Overbaugh, the town’s building inspector, said the town needs to repair its chimney before using the furnace.

G. Jon Chase said last week that the chimney was kinked and that a new one needs to be installed.

Stephen Wood and Bob Bolte, Conservatives who are frequent critics of the highway department, have said barrels of waste-oil are sitting behind the town building.

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