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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, January 1, 2009
2008 in review: Guilderland
By Saranac Hale Spencer
GUILDERLAND Partisan politics shaped much of the discourse on the town board in 2008 since two Republicans took their seats on the formerly all-Democratic town board in January.
The pair ousted their Democratic opponents in the 2007 election after running on a platform of open government and, during their first year on the board, voted with the Democratic majority most of the time. On the weightier motions, votes often split along party lines, most notably for the appointment of the police chief.
In June, about a year after long-time chief James Murley retired amid controversy, Carol Lawlor, who had been the acting chief since Murley’s departure, was named chief of Guilderland’s police department. In October, District Attorney David Soares offered Murley a deal that would charge him with offering a false instrument for filing and defrauding the government.
Lawlor was appointed on a party-line vote, with both Republicans, councilmen Warren Redlich and Mark Grimm, favoring an assistant chief of police from Troy.
Both Republicans had called for an open process in the search for a chief, and they began criticizing the town in January when a notice for a Civil Service exam was posted. That posting prompted the first threat of a lawsuit in the six-month span from the time the Republicans were sworn in to office and Lawlor was appointed.
In a letter to Michael Cummings, the director of Albany County’s Civil Service Department, Redlich asked that the posting for the March 8 exam be removed since it had not been approved by the town board, which is charged with choosing the police chief.
“In all honesty, this may be something to be resolved in the courts,” said Redlich, a lawyer, alluding to an Article 78 lawsuit, typically brought by citizens frustrated with government. “We know how to do it and we will,” he said of his law firm.
The following month, Lawlor and then-Lieutenant Curtis Cox, who was also in the running for the chief’s position, sought out the former Albany County District Attorney, Paul Clyne, because, Lawlor said at the time, they wanted “a fair playing field.”
In a letter, dated Feb. 11, that Clyne sent to the town, he cites a quote from a Times Union blog entry posted by Redlich in which he refers to the two officers as “political flunkies.” The Feb. 7 post also says that one police-chief candidate had eight lawn signs on his small parcel supporting the Democrats in the fall elections. And it references an officer’s appearance at the Democrat’s election-night event: “The appearance of court officials and police administration at a partisan event does not bode well for Guilderland,” wrote Redlich.
Neither threat produced legal action and both Lawlor and Cox took the March 8 Civil Service exam. Cox was among the eight candidates given a first-round interview, but did not make it into the group of three for second-round interviews he was later promoted to the rank of captain.
Although the property-assessment process in Guilderland has been a point of contention over the last year, the board voted unanimously to appoint a new assessor in September.
“My old boss said, ‘When you start to take criticism personally, it’s time,’” long-time assessor Carol Wysomski said in March of a contributing factor to her decision to retire.
“I’ve been here 37 years this is the first time they’re using assessments as a game plan,” she said of last fall’s campaign.
The centerpiece of Redlich’s campaign had been what he called an unfair property assessment process in Guilderland, a charge denied by the three Democrats on the board. During the campaign, he alleged that his opponent, Michael Ricard, had a “sweetheart” assessment on his $196,300 home and he has since argued that commercially-zoned property is not fairly assessed.
“The assessment dispute was never partisan,” Redlich said this year. “I want an assessor who is independent of the politics.”
Every four or five years, since 1980, the assessor’s office has conducted a revaluation of property in Guilderland, Wysomski said. Since she became assessor in 1992, she’s done the residential assessments herself and the town has hired a firm to handle the commercial revaluation. For the last revaluation, in 2005, Hafner Valuation Group assessed 486 commercial parcels at a cost of $68,341 to the town, Supervisor Kenneth Runion said.
Wysomski uses a New York State Real Property Services program for conducting her revaluations, a program that 90 percent of municipalities use and that costs about $9,000 a year, she said. The value assigned to a property comes from a comparison to five recently-sold properties that are similar, she said, like the system used by appraisers. Guilderland has roughly 1,000 sales a year, which provides a solid base to draw from for comparison.
Wysomski’s replacement, John Macejka Jr., had been Rotterdam’s assessor and had overseen the first revaluation in that town. The project was undertaken by GAR Associates and managed by Macejka, he said. When Guilderland first began conducting regular revaluations in the 1980s, it also hired a firm for the first round, Wysomski said, and since then has handled the work mostly in house.
“Things seem to be stabilized,” Runion said in September, referring to the equalization rate and real-estate values over the last year. So, he said, the next revaluation will probably be in 2012, since it’s a two-year process.
As far as whether the town would opt to hire a firm or have Macejka handle the revaluation in-house, Runion said that would be discussed at a later date. Since Guilderland has more staff than Rotterdam in the assessor’s office and it has updated data, Macejka feels confident that he could handle the assessments.
Glass Works Village
Despite the threat of a lack of support at the last minute for the Glass Works development, the proposal ended up getting the zoning change it needed to proceed in the expected 4-to-1 vote, with only Redlich voting against it.
“It will create some identity for the Guilderland hamlet,” Runion said of the plan when it was first proposed in 2006.
About a week before the board was set to vote on the change in zoning, which would dictate whether the project could be built, Runion said that he was leaning against voting for it.
“He’s been leading them on for several years,” said Grimm, who had been a vocal proponent of the project. “If he’s voting no, then that’s going to kill the project.”
Runion was concerned about a lack of dedicated senior housing, the effects on traffic of the nearby public library’s planned expansion, and the possible stress on the school district a concern that residents had raised.
When the board voted on Tuesday, the plan included a commitment of 30 percent of its housing to seniors. “We have an aging population,” Runion said before voting in favor.
The vote rezoned 57 acres on Route 20 near the library for a mixeduse development, which will allow up to 310 living units and 195,000 square feet of commercial space to be clustered on land that would now allow for a few score single-family homes spread over suburban-sized lots. Glass Works Village claims New Urbanist principles, which encourage walkable communities where businesses are mixed with residences, often mimicking village-style plans.