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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, January 1, 2009

2008 in Westerlo: Milner elected, GOP is reborn, Dr. Myria Emeny opens micro practice

By Zach Simeone

WESTERLO — This rural Hilltown was smothered in political contention this year. The Republican Party was reborn, and a new doctor came to town.

The ousting of a planning board chairman eventually led to the resurrection of the town’s Republican Party, and the election of a Republican town board member, only the second in decades. In November, Clinton “Jack” Milner defeated his Conservative opponent Susan Walter in a landslide victory.

In the summer, Dr. Myria Emeny opened a micro practice in Westerlo.

Know your Emeny

On Tuesday, July 15, Dr. Myria Emeny opened her micro practice and saw her first patients at the medical building in the hamlet.

Emeny, who received her medical degree from Albany Medical College and completed her residency at St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady, had previously practiced at the Whitney Young Health Center in Albany.

In micro practices, doctors lower overhead costs by also performing the roles of secretary, cashier, nurse, groundskeeper, and janitor. Emeny first heard of micro practices, developed by Gordon Moore of Rochester, while in her residency.  Micro practices emphasize a healing relationship as opposed to an office visit, and doctors spend more time with patients.

St. Peter’s Hospital had run a charity clinic in Westerlo after Dr. Anna Perkins, a revered rural physician, died in 1993 and left her home and clinic to serve as a doctor’s office.  The hospital closed the clinic in February, leaving the rural Hilltown without a doctor.

The election

Milner garnered 798 votes, nearly doubling Walter’s 445, according to the unofficial results from Westerlo Town Hall, the week of the election. On Jan. 1, Milner, a local farmer, will become the town’s only Republican councilman, the first in three years, and one of two Republican board members in the past 70 years.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in Westerlo by nearly 3 to 1, and have had a tight hold on town government for decades.

After attempting to run as an independent and getting his petition turned down by the county board of elections, Milner was nominated by the town’s resurrected GOP in September.

“I think it’s going to be great, because this way we’ll have different points of view responding to what the public wants,” Milner said in November, looking forward to assuming his role as board member. “Going around campaigning, I’ve come across a lot of residents who feel like they’re stuck in a one-party deal.”

There are many disgruntled residents in the town, Milner said, and he thinks the town board hasn’t been looking out for the people of Westerlo. “I know I’m going to be one against four on the board, but if we want to accomplish things, I think we’ve got to work together,” he said.

This election was a rare one, as both candidates tried to run on opposite party lines. Milner, who had been a Democrat all his life, ran as a Republican. Walter, a Republican tried to secure a Democratic line, but did not file required paperwork on time. The Westerlo Republicans challenged her tardiness in court and won. Walter then ran on the Conservative line instead.

Though she gives up her seat in January, Walter said in November that she has business to finish before leaving the board.

“I’m on till the end of the year, and I’ve already started a couple of things that I want to finish before I’m done,” said Walter. In addition, she is going to keep an eye out for other openings in town positions, she said.

“I really have an interest in being part of the town and knowing what’s going on,” Walter said. “I’m just going to keep my ears open and see what comes along. But I’m happy for Jack, because I know he wanted it, and I hope he enjoys it as much as I did. I don’t regret running for election — I would do it all over again. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

A reason to run

Milner decided to run for town board after resigning from the planning board, which was working on Westerlo’s first comprehensive land-use plan. He resigned from the planning board in early May in protest of the town board’s firing of planning board chairman Leonard Laub for refusing to fill out a Civil Service application.

Laub didn’t want pay or benefits for his work on the planning board, asking that the $4,500 he would normally receive go towards engineering, consulting, and legal fees for zoning revisions instead. The state comptroller’s office told The Enterprise that Laub’s only requirement, should he wish to serve on the board without receiving his intended pay, was to take the oath of office, which he did.

Still, the all-Democratic town board voted unanimously to fire Laub in April.

It was an off-election year for Westerlo; only one seat on the town board was open in 2008. In 2005, the town board’s first Republican member in 70 years, Clifton Richardson, died in office. He was replaced with a Democrat. In November of 2007, there was no GOP chairperson in Westerlo and no Republican candidates ran for office. Six Democrats ran unopposed that year.

Kristin Slaver, who ran unopposed, was elected to the town board; she was the only one who ran that wasn’t an incumbent. The Hatch Act prevented her from serving on the board because of her job. Slaver was forced to step down. The town board then appointed Susan Walter in April, who will run against Milner in November to keep her seat.

His last chance

Before running as a Republican, Milner had attempted to run as an independent. The Republican caucus on Sept. 12 was his last chance to get a major-party nomination.

“Republicans and Democrats in Westerlo nominate people by caucus, and the caucus period is still alive,” said John Graziano in September. “It gives the Republicans an opportunity to nominate people, and all the Republicans out there want to nominate Milner, so I’ve heard.”

Graziano’s involvement in the election was two-fold. As chairman of Albany County’s Republican Committee, he oversees elections in towns throughout Albany County, and had endorsed Milner’s campaign. As the Republican commissioner of the Albany County Board of Elections, he took part in turning down Milner’s petition to run as an independent.

Milner said in September that he chose to run as an independent because, at the time, he thought it was his only option. “I didn’t think I could run as a Republican, and the Democrats already named their candidate. I was thinking about changing my politics from Democrat to Republican several years ago, but never got around to it,” he said.

“My wife and I put a petition together,” Milner said, “and we took it around and asked 150 people if they would sign it.” Of those 150 people, 148 signed. “We only needed 67 signatures,” he said. “Then, we filed it, and the Westerlo Town Board picked it apart and challenged it.”

In August, Milner brought his petition to the Albany County Board of Elections, but his paperwork was flawed in form. At the Sept. 12 caucus, Milner was nominated by Westerlo’s Republican Party to run for town board.

Walter’s party line

Between being appointed by the Democratic town board in April, and hoping Hillary Clinton would end up on the presidential ticket, Walter, a Republican, figured it would be a good idea to switch parties, she said in October. But, the county’s two election commissioners — one, a Democrat; the other, a Republican — were split on whether or not Walter was eligible to run on a Democratic line.

Walter had filled out the paperwork for becoming a Democrat, but her registration would not take effect until after the Nov. 4 election. When a candidate like Walter is nominated by a party she is not enrolled in, that candidate is required by law to file a certificate of acceptance for her nomination. Westerlo’s Democrats nominated Walter at their Aug. 20 caucus, but she never filed her certificate.

“I understand you’re supposed to get a form saying that I’m accepting the nomination,” Walter said in October. “I haven’t gotten that in the mail yet, but I know [Westerlo Supervisor Richard] Rapp is looking into that. I’m waiting to hear from him.”

The last date to file a certificate of acceptance was Sept. 19; the last day to file a certificate of nomination was Sept. 16.

So, Walter’s ability to run on the Democratic line fell into the hands of the two commissioners of the Albany County Board of Elections: Republican John Graziano, and Democrat Matthew Clyne. Graziano said she couldn’t run as a Democrat; Clyne said she could.

“When you’re not a member of the party that nominates you, and you don’t accept from another party that you’re on their line, my position is that it’s null and void,” said Graziano in October. “That’s what the law says. She is a registered Republican, but she got the Democratic nomination. She needed to file an acceptance, and she didn’t do it,” he said.

Graziano said that, though Walter has not yet filed acceptance for her nomination as a Democrat, she has filed for acceptance to run on the Conservative line.

“By September 16, they have to file a form that says, ‘We had this caucus and decided to nominate so and so,’” Graziano went on. “So, essentially, you have three days after the last day of filing a caucus nominee. [Clyne] says, because nobody filed a complaint, it’s not a problem. But who would do that before the filing date? Nobody.”

“Under the statute,” Clyne said in October, “because she is not an enrolled member of the party yet, she had to file a certificate of acceptance. If you don’t file a certificate of acceptance under those circumstances, then the certificate of nomination is not valid,” he agreed.

But this issue didn’t come to Clyne’s attention until well after the filing date, he said. “There were no objections filed to it, nor was any invalidation proceeding commenced, so, my position was that her nomination should stand,” said Clyne.

Robert Brehm, deputy director of public information services for the New York State Board of Elections, said in October, “The Election Law says that, if you’re not an enrolled member of that party, for a position other than judge, then you have to file an acceptance and nomination by certain dates or it’s null and void.”

So, he said, “A candidate that is not an enrolled member of the party needs to file an acceptance by the deadline, and the board’s responsibility is to make sure that they have all the necessary parts.”

“Interestingly enough,” said Graziano in October, “me and [Clyne] have been fighting over this for a long time, and we’ve been trying to get it resolved, but we’ve been unable to, and we expect to have to go to court because he has taken a position that is different from mine.”

If the commissioners had agreed on the issue, Walter’s nomination would stand, “but we have a disagreement on the effect of this thing,” Clyne said in October. “If somebody had objected, there’s no question that [her nomination] would have been thrown out.”

“The commissioners,” Brehm said, “have the responsibility to conduct the election and certify the ballot, and it takes both commissioners working together to accomplish that.”

The law is the law, said Brehm, “but the commissioners have to use their best judgment to apply the law. When they have a disagreement, they have to work through that and come to an agreement as to how to proceed. It’s not a process that happens on its own; it happens to be a process where it takes the two of them working together to come up with the best solution,” he said.

“The ballot has to be certified,” said Graziano. “If [Clyne] wants [Walter] on, and I want her off, we need somebody else to make that determination.” That somebody else is a Supreme Court judge.

“Not every issue is decided by somebody making a complaint,” Graziano concluded, “and this is one of those issues.”

It was taken to court twice in October. Judge Joseph Teresi of the New York State Supreme Court dismissed both of Walter’s petitions that month, for failure to submit a certificate of acceptance, and commencing her petition in an untimely fashion.

In November, Walter ran on the Conservative line and lost the election.

Looking for transparency

Bonnie Kohl-Laub, wife of ousted planning board chair Leonard Laub’s, acted as interim chair of the new Republican Committee during the election. She said in September that she couldn’t be happier to be at the forefront of Milner’s cause.

“Nobody in town knows what the town board is doing. Jack saw the lack of transparency, he saw the private meetings, he saw that something needed to be done to protect this place, and he decided to run,” said Kohl-Laub in September. “I’m very pleased, because Leonard and I are so happy to be living here, and I’m so happy to be in a position to help Jack run for town board.”

“We’d love to have him if the Republicans up there want to caucus for him and nominate him,” John Graziano said in September.

“There’s no artifice in Jack Milner,” Kohl-Laub said. “I think that if he says something, he will die trying to make it happen. He’s an honorable man, and he will make all attempts to create transparent government, put forth sustainable agriculture, and save Westerlo.”

GOP plans

Now that he has won the election, Milner plans on making sure his voice is heard.

“I’m going to have to ease into it at the start, to find out what my limits are and so forth,” said Milner in November, “but I’m not just going to sit still, and, if something comes up, I’m going to voice my opinion,” he said.

“Until recently, a lot of people thought it was a waste of time to come to town board meetings,” Milner said, “because none of the things they were talking about were being addressed.” This, he says, will change.

His first order of business will be to hold a public forum, he said, at which town residents can express any concern they may have with the way the town is being run. The purpose, he said, is to keep things transparent, and to get a handle on what is going through the heads of those he will be representing.

“I don’t know if that’s ever happened here,” Milner said. “The people need to tell the town board what’s on their minds.”

Kohl-Laub is not planning on working in politics much longer. Rather, she said in November, she would like to hand the job of furthering the town’s political diversity over to John Graziano.

“John is from the Hilltowns, too,” Kohl-Laub said. “One thing we both want to discuss is how to support development, while protecting the area and maintaining how lovely it is out here.”

“It feels damn good,” Leonard Laub said in November, of Milner’s election to the town board. “When I was asked to make myself available for the planning board position, I initially thought, ‘Here’s a chance to add some zip to the situation.’ What I found is that there is an agenda, which was to go slow, or not at all,” he said.

Laub said then that he looked forward to Milner’s proposed public forum. “There’s a debate to be had, and having it in public is going to give everyone a better idea of what the town can and should be doing,” Laub said.

“We’ll see where things go,” Kohl-Laub said. “What’s important from here is transparency of government, so we can know what’s going on and plan accordingly.”

“I’m really thrilled,” Milner said, “that I got such a great response from the people who voted me in, and I’ll do my best to help our public out, because I got into this to look out for the people.”

— Original reporting on Dr. Myria Emeny by Tyler Schuling.

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