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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 23, 2009
By Zach Simeone
RENSSELAERVILLE The bickering of town board meetings has spilled onto the path towards the fall elections.
At its caucus last week, the town’s Democratic Party nominated Councilwoman Marie Dermody for supervisor in the fall election. The party also endorsed Chairman John “Jack” Kudlack and incumbent Sherri Pine as candidates for the two open town board seats.
The Republicans caucused recently as well, but the Democrats later inspected the documentation containing the results of that caucus, which were found to be faulty.
“We had a caucus and it didn’t go well,” said Myra Dorman, the Republican candidate for supervisor. “Some forms for filing the results of the caucus were not filled out according to board of election rules. The Democrats inspected our papers after the caucus and found fault with them, and it was declared a mis-caucus.”
There will be a second Republican caucus this Saturday, at 7 p.m. at the Preston Hollow firehouse. The party plans to nominate Michael Webber and Donna Kropp as assessors, Marion Cooke and Robert Bolte for town board, and there will be a vote on whether Ray Baitsholts or Gary Zeh should be nominated for highway superintendent. Bolte, Cooke, Webber, and Kropp had been endorsed by the Albany County Conservative Party in the spring. [Further coverage of Myra Dorman’s nomination can be found www.altamontenterprise.com, under archives for May 28, 2009; for full coverage of the Albany County Conservative Party’s picks, go to archives for May 21, 2009.]
The Democratic caucus, on the other hand, went as planned. In addition to supporting Dermody, Kudlack, and Pine, the Democrats have endorsed a number of incumbents, including G. Jon Chase for highway superintendent, Peter Hotaling for assessor, and Kathleen Hallenbeck for town clerk and tax collector. The party also endorsed Dennis Pitts, who serves on the town’s wind-study committee, as a new candidate for the other open assessor position.
“I felt that I had brought some positive change to town in the short time I’ve been on the town board,” Dermody said on why she decided to run for supervisor, a position that pays about $10,000 a year. A retired teacher, she has served on the town board for a year and a half. “I think I’ve accomplished a lot in taking the town in the right direction, and I want to continue that in a leadership role,” she said.
Kudlack said this week that the party chose to endorse Dermody based on her actions as a town board member since January 2008.
“She’s really guided the board in the direction it needs to be going in,” said Kudlack. “Our current supervisor didn’t really seem to have any gumption to do what was supposed to be done to take things in the right direction, so she basically took the lead and pushed it to where things should go, and we figured she would make a good candidate.”
Dermody, who has also been endorsed by the Independence and Working Families parties, talked this week about some of her goals if elected supervisor.
“I would like to see the town develop a policy where we create an annual goal or two and, as a board, work together to fulfill that goal,” Dermody said, adding later, “I’d certainly like to see increased cooperation on the town board.”
Town board meetings in Rensselaerville often become an arena for bickering between the town’s Republican supervisor, Jost Nickelsberg who is not running for re-election and its three Democratic council members: Gary Chase, Pine, and Dermody. Town Attorney Joseph Catalano is sometimes pulled into the fray, while Councilman Robert Lansing, a Republican, tends to stay out of it. Dermody recently adopted the nickname “Ms. Excuse Me,” which she brandished on a custom made T-shirt that she wore to a handful of meetings.
“I firmly believe that, once elected to public office, politics need to stop, and you need to start working together for the benefit of the town and its people,” Dermody said. “I think I can bring integrity, I think I can bring a positive work ethic, and I would like to lead by example.”
Prior to being elected to the town board in January of 2008, Dermody taught for 33 years at West Hurley Elementary School in Ulster County. She is now 61 years old and retired.
“When I took office, we were kind of treading water, talking about the same issues month after month, with little closure on anything, and I think we needed to tackle the problems and move on,” Dermody said.
One of those issues, she said, was the town’s bookkeeping system, and a host of complaints by residents, heard at town board meetings, associated with vouchers suggesting that some bills were paid twice. There was also suspicion of foul play. The town’s finances are still being investigated by the offices of Albany County’s comptroller and district attorney.
“There are tremendous issues regarding vouchers and paying of bills; I created a voucher policy with an invoice tracking system so that we are better able to not pay the same voucher twice,” Dermody said. [For more coverage of the financial investigation, go to www.altamontenterprise.com, under archives for Jan. 22, 2009.]
Dermody is also proud of her involvement in revising the town’s procurement policy, and saving money on the town newsletter, which involved the purchase of a new copy machine that, with its printing and stapling capabilities, allowed the town newsletter to be produced entirely in-house.
“There was also talk about the code of ethics, so, with the town attorney, we co-authored a revision to the code of ethics,” Dermody added. “Now, for the first time ever, the town has a board of ethics, fully functional and ready to do its job.”
One of the most prevalent ethical discussions in town is the one on nepotism, and whether or not there is equal opportunity for town employment when one family in this case, the Chase family holds a number of positions. The revised code of ethics states that a town official’s spouse and other family members are not allowed to serve in appointed positions if their duties “conflict or appear to conflict within the scope of duties of the official,” nor may a person be part of any board, commission, or body in which his or her family member serves as an official.
“Now, with a board of ethics, anyone who feels that there’s nepotism, they need to go through the proper channel and discuss it with the board of ethics,” Dermody said. “I would feel compelled to take their recommendations very seriously,” she said, adding, “I am going to put my faith in the board of ethics; I will see what their recommendations are, what they determine, and act accordingly. What I find troubling is that people are looking for the board of ethics to fail without ever giving it a chance.”
Residents have voiced their doubts in the effectiveness of the board of ethics, as it does not have voting power, and is merely an advisory body to the town board.
“My family has lived in this town now for 51 years, and I’ve been here 41 years, other than my stint living in Kingston briefly,” Dermody concluded. “It’s a fantastic place to live, a wonderful place to raise a family. We need to do what we can as a town to encourage our children to stay here, and to build our town in way that’s acceptable to both residents and businesses.”