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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 29, 2009
By Zach Simeone
BERNE With current Supervisor Kevin Crosier not running for re-election, Republican Carl Baranishyn and Democrat George Gebe are vying for the post, each making his first run for office. Both retired, Baranishyn was a businessman, and Gebe an educator.
In the race for town board, incumbent Democrats Joseph Golden, a retired teacher, and Wayne Emory, a graphic artist, are being challenged by two Republicans, both longtime town residents: Kenneth Crawford, a farmer, and Rudy Stempel, a former town supervisor who owns a lumber mill.
Colin Abele, a lifelong Berne resident at 26, told The Enterprise earlier this month that he is dissatisfied with this year’s candidates for town supervisor, and announced his write-in campaign for the position. [For full coverage of Colin Abele’s write-in campaign, go online to www.altamontenterprise.com and look under Hilltown archives for Oct. 15, 2009.]
Candidates shared their thoughts with The Enterprise on the following issues:
Comprehensive plan: The town is in the middle of a full review of its comprehensive land-use plan. A survey was mailed to town residents last month, and the planning committee is meeting with different groups in town to hear what their needs are. What kinds of things do you want to see in the revised plan, and why?
Sewer project: Berne residents are divided on the town’s sewer project, originally mandated by the state because sewage from private septic systems was seeping into the Fox Creek. The cost of the project was recently increased to $3.6 million, though nearly half of the cost is covered by state and federal grant money. Those who oppose the project say it’s far too costly, despite the aid received, and some have called it intrusive. Researching worldwide sewer projects tells of different types of sewer projects that vary from the conventional system Berne intends to build. Should some of these alternatives have been considered, and should they be considered now? Or should Berne move ahead with the planned sewer project?
Wind power: Since Shell WindEnergy tried buying land from Hilltown residents last year for a commercial wind farm, the Helderbergs have been an arena for heated discussion on how appropriate a commercial wind farm would be for the area, and Berne now has a wind-power moratorium in place, set to expire in March of 2010. What do you think about bringing wind power to Berne, and what related zoning should the town have in place?
Employment: The highway department workers’ union has filed a grievance with the town over its employment practices, specifically regarding the hiring of an employee without first advertising the position, and the eventual placement of that non-union employee in a union job. The arbitration to follow could end up being costly. Do you think that this should have been avoided by following the town’s employee handbook by advertising the position and interviewing applicants?
Born in the Bronx, George Gebe, 65, has lived in Berne for over 35 years. His father bought their farm in the 1950s, he said.
“My dad had friends up here, and he bought the farm because I was interested in agriculture,” Gebe told The Enterprise.
This led him to the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, where he got his associate in applied science degree. He went on to the University of Georgia, where he got a bachelor’s degree in animal science, with concentrations in dairy science, vocational agriculture, and botany. Next came the University of New Hampshire, where he got a master’s degree in plant science, with a concentration in biochemistry. He took summer courses in vocational agriculture at Cornell University as well.
Gebe retired in 1999 from the Greenville Central School District, where he was the middle-high school principal, and taught technology courses to seventh- and eighth-graders. Prior to that, he taught vocational agriculture in the Schoharie Central School District from the early 1970s until 1986, and was an advisor in the Future Farmers of America program.
Now, he spends much of his time working for Helderberg Ambulance, of which he has been a member for more than 20 years, and has spent a combined 10 years as president, vice president, and board member, he said.
“I probably run about one-quarter to one-third of the calls,” Gebe said this week. “Since I’ve been retired, I have the time.”
The leadership skills he has acquired over the years are part of what made him want to run for supervisor, he said.
“I’m an experienced administrator, and I think that’s something we need here in town at this point,” said Gebe. “I have a business background, also in agriculture, and I’ve made thousands of decisions as a high-middle school principal. In the ambulance I’ve had to make decisions.”
With regard to the comprehensive planning process, he said he has not been to the committee’s meetings.
“I’m waiting for the plan to come out so that I can take a look at it,” Gebe said. “I want to see what the actual results are. Some people are talking about windmills and everything else, so, we can take a look at what that is.”
Gebe went on to say that one thing he hopes to help accomplish as supervisor is the completion of the sewer district.
“I think you’ve got to look at how long this is going on,” he said. “It’s been going on since the ’70s that we need some sort of sewer maintenance. We finally, in the last nine years, have a plan that the town has been working on, and has been approved by the [New York State] Department of Environmental Conservation, the state health department, and the county health department. From what I understand, there is a dealing from DEC stating that, if we don’t do something, they’re eventually going to close down these houses and not allow people to live in them.”
On researching alternatives to the conventional system that Berne plans to build, Gebe said, “Soil conditions and the topography in town have to be considered. Most of the plots in this town are undersized they aren’t large enough to put in a private septic system on a person’s property.”
Gebe thinks the town government still has much to learn about wind power before making a decision about whether or not larger-scale wind power is right for Berne.
“I’m not against small windmills for individual homes, but I think it’s too big a topic for myself or the [town] board to make a statement at this point until we get all sides and see what the community wants to happen,” he said. “I’d like to have an open meeting to discuss that, and have people come in and give us facts on either side, so we’re kept abreast on that.”
Gebe also expressed interest in traveling to local wind farms.
“I know Lowville has a huge wind farm in that area,” he said. “I’d like to see what they’re finding out before any decisions are made here on wind power. This is too large and important a subject to just make a decision by one person or even by a board. We need more facts, figures, and data.”
With regard to the grievance filed by highway workers, and the impending arbitration, Gebe said he was unable to comment.
“I’m privy to understanding some of that, but, since I’m not the supervisor, I can’t comment on that,” he said. “I know that a grievance has been filed, and I assume Kevin [Crosier] will be discussing that with the board, but, for me to step in there and say anything I can’t do that today.”
Carl Baranishyn, 68, has lived in Berne since 1992; his parents owned his High Point Road property before him. He has been retired since 2000.
Baranishyn attended the State University of New York College of Technology at Farmingdale, and, upon completing a two-year program, transferred to C.W. Post, where he received a bachelor’s degree in business management.
In the 15 years before his retirement, Baranishyn consulted on behalf of a company called Cox.
“I’d been working with the Federal Aviation Administration on a worldwide basis with respect to aircraft de-icing safety,” Baranishyn said. “They were developing a system in order to detect ice on aircraft.”
He also consulted with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), General Electric, as well as other companies with respect to “training equipment, test equipment and weapons systems,” he said, but declined to go into detail.
Baranishyn created a stir at Town Hall in January, when he told those present at the regular town board meeting that members of local snowmobile clubs had been trespassing on his and his neighbors’ property for the past five years, and that, since High Point Road the road he lives on is not a designated snowmobile trail, snowmobilers using the road are a liability to the town.
Members of both the Middleburgh Ridge Runners and the Helderberg Ridge Runners two snowmobile clubs came en masse to Town Hall as Baranishyn made his case.
The Ridgerunners later requested that the county designate a portion of County Route 13 north of High Point Road as a snowmobile trail, but the Albany County Department of Public Works concluded that this piece of road was neither suitable nor safe for snowmobiles.
Baranishyn decided to run for town board because the needs of Berne residents are not being met, he said this week.
“I believe that, in the few years I’ve been attending town board meetings, it’s been a closed-type session where people’s views and needs are not being totally met by the board,” Baranishyn told The Enterprise. “There is no one specific thing; it was an accumulation of small items, when people come in and address their problems and, while the town board was discussing it, the people weren’t allowed to raise any additional questions or make any additional statements.”
Public comment at town board meetings is strictly limited to three minutes per person at the start of the meeting, and comments are often not welcomed when agenda items are later being discussed.
“When you’re in a discussion going on, questions come up,” Baranishyn went on. “If you’re not allowed to ask questions, how can the board make a rational response? You can’t have a three-minute comment before the meeting. When they mention something that raises a question in your mind, you should have the opportunity to express it. The town board is supposed to be sitting there, listening to the facts and reaching a conclusion based on the best interests of the town.”
In September, the town collected responses from residents to a 10-page, 41-question survey that asked the people of Berne what they want to see in the soon-to-be-updated comprehensive land-use plan; the current plan was developed two decades ago.
Baranishyn read and completed the comprehensive plan survey, but thinks there may be some ambiguity regarding how people’s responses to the survey are interpreted.
“It was written in such a way that the answers could be interpreted at the whim of the individuals interpreting it,” Baranishyn said. “There are things in there that, if you answered it one way, it could be taken as, ‘You’re against it,’ but another person could read it and think, ‘He’s for it.’”
Baranishyn said of the committee’s chairman, James Cooke, “Jim put a lot of work into this thing, but I attended some meetings where some board members would throw blocks in his path.”
While, Baranishyn thinks that there should have been more research into how to fix the specific septic systems that were polluting the Fox Creek rather than building an entire sewer district, he admits he does not have all of the facts, he said.
“The problem there is, I don’t have all the information necessary to reach a definitive conclusion,” Baranishyn said. “I’m neither for nor against it, but I do believe that not enough research was done into alternative methods. I also believe, if you do any research worldwide or even in New York State, you will find out there was probably no sewer district with only 107 houses in it.”
With regard to the utility of bringing wind power to town, Baranishyn thinks that people are drawing conclusions without doing sufficient research.
“My initial answer would be, no,” he said of whether or not a commercial wind farm would be appropriate for Berne. “There’s not enough area to put up 50 or 100 wind turbines to generate sufficient power to make it even close to being economically feasible. I’m all for green energy; solar panels up here could very well be the more logical solution. Again, people are jumping to conclusions before all the facts are made available, and everybody’s after this grant money or this state money. What happens when that dries out? What do they do with these wind turbines? Do they just walk away from them?”
Looking at the circumstances surrounding the grievance recently filed because of the town’s hiring practices, Baranishyn said he knows of other instances in which the town did not follow its own policies.
“There have been many openings which have never been advertised,” Baranishyn said.
“There have been several times, that I am aware of, where résumés have been submitted and discarded, and only one person interviewed. I sat in upper management for many years; you can’t just take one résumé and throw the rest out. I think the town, in certain instances, does not follow its own policies. And, in that case, it leads them into a situation where they have a liability.”
He went on, “If the arbitrator does rule against the town, then the town has a problem, and the town we the people have the problem, because the five men that sit there made a decision that was incorrect for whatever reason, and, now, we of the town have to pay for it.”
Joseph Golden, 67, is running for his third four-year term on town board. He is retired from the Schoharie Central School District, where he taught high-school seniors economics and local government. He has lived in Berne off and on since 1950, he said.
It’s not the town board’s accomplishments during Golden’s two terms that have made him want to run again; it’s what has not yet been accomplished, he said.
“There’s the review of the comprehensive plan, which I think is a big deal,” Golden said. “Then, the review of the zoning ordinance; the sewer district; the senior center-library combination. So, they’d be the main things. You get halfway into these things, you want to finish them up,” he said.
Before deciding what he wants to see in the revised zoning, Golden wants to see the results of the recent survey.
“Basically, those surveys are a measurement of what people want to see happen,” Golden said. “I guess that’s what I would look at. That should tell us everything we need to know. I want to reflect what people put in the surveys and all these meetings.”
On the sewer district, Golden said that the town does not have much choice with regard to what kind of system it puts in place.
“The previous plan selected would have been more expensive because it would have required a manned treatment plant,” Golden said. “We really can’t make the choice of the type, because there’s a bunch of levels of engineering involved a ton of state agencies, so, this is pretty much the only one that they would have considered. The system that I think we’re going to go forward with is one that takes care of the state limits on a whole bunch of things like discharge into the creek. If we went for more sophisticated, it never would have been cheap enough to come below the state-mandated charge.”
Golden said he has not made up his mind on how appropriate commercial wind power is for Berne.
“I think the first thing is, we’re going to have to get a lot more info on what’s expected, what’s intended, and what’s appropriate,” he said. “And you’re going to have two sides, three sides, or four sides to this. The infrastructure on large wind farms sounds pretty imposing.”
The outcome of the comprehensive plan review, he went on, will play a role in how he shapes his opinion on the matter.
“I think the smaller wind turbines are probably a fine idea if you want to have one at your house, as long as there’s enough distance between you and your neighbors,” Golden said. “It would be good to have specific information on who gains and who loses and what kind of protections we need.”
On the issue of employment practices, Golden said that, while the employee handbook should always be followed, it may not have helped the town’s current situation with the highway department.
“Our employment handbook doesn’t cover union,” he said. “The only thing that would have happened that didn’t happen was to advertise the position. I think one of the confusions there one tension point is that gentleman was doing work for the town in parks and stuff like that, and I think his position was expanded. Yeah, it’s always best to follow the handbook to a T. I think this is one of those things where both sides have a point, but, when they grieve it which is their choice, and their right we’ll see what the process develops into.”
Wayne Emory, 52, is running for his second consecutive four-year term on town board. He’s been a resident of Berne since 1986.
Outside of his work on the town board, Emory has been a graphic artist for the New York State Lottery for 29 years. He has an associate’s degree in graphic design from Bryant and Stratton College.
“I really thoroughly enjoyed myself over the past four years,” Emory told The Enterprise this week. “I’ve learned a lot. I know there’s a lot coming before the town, like budgetary concerns, a lot of things going on state- and county-wise. We’ve discussed that alternative energy is going to be coming to the forefront. Of course, there’s always something just around the corner waiting for us to handle.”
Emory hopes to continue learning, he said, and this motivates him to continue his involvement in town business. He is a former member of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Board of Education and the BKW Parent Teacher Association.
“I’ve been very involved with the town since I moved up here,” Emory said. “The last place I expected myself to be involved in was town politics. But, when I looked at my positive experience on the school board, I thought I’d give it a shot.”
Emory thinks the work being done on the comprehensive plan is important, but did not comment on what specifically should go into the revised zoning.
“I think they need to revisit it,” he said of the comprehensive plan. “It’s not so much that the area has changed, but issues have changed. Things in the front are the alternative energies, and people are really concerned about maintaining the small-town feel; they want to stay away from development. But, I think it’s important the comprehensive plan be reviewed and updated, and it’ll be good to see how it all turns out.”
Emory went on to say that continuing towards the planned sewer project is the best course for the town to take.
“In the beginning, they did explore several different types that could be installed, and the system they’re looking to install, they deemed to be the best for the area and the most cost effective,” Emory said. “Basically, they had done their homework…and the study has gone on for quite a long time. I think the direction they’re going in seems to be the best, given what research has been going on. And it’s hard to believe these monies would be available again,” he said of the state and federal grant money going into the project.
Emory thinks the ongoing discussion on wind power in Berne is an important one.
“It’s very controversial,” Emory said of bringing wind power to Berne. “As we get the ideas of what the town residents really want, I would hope that would come out of the comprehensive plan. I’m really not necessarily for or against it, more about what’s in the best interest of the citizens of the town.”
Commercial wind power is a “huge undertaking,” and one that is not fully understood, he went on.
“I really don’t know if it’s right for the area,” Emory said. “It would have to be in an area that would be least intrusive for the residents. They’re really concerned with keeping the area the way they have it and, frankly, I don’t blame them.”
Emory believes that, while town policies should be followed, he does not know if the proper process was followed in the particular hiring being disputed by the highway workers.
“It was my understanding that it’s a part-time position, and he was already a part-time employee for the town,” Emory said.
The town’s employee handbook states that any existing position to be filled should be advertised, and applicants interviewed.
“Whether it’s a union or non-union issue, I really don’t know about that,” Emory went on. “I’m assuming, since they’re taking it to arbitration, that the process will describe to us what did or did not occur. I’m a firm believer that, if there’s a process in place, then they can investigate it fully. Since I’ve been in town, it’s been important to follow whatever rules we have in place.”
A former supervisor, Republican Rudy Stempel is now making another run for town board. Stempel, 80, is a lifelong resident of Berne, excluding the three years he served in the United States Army as a combat engineer during the Korean conflict.
For 50 years, he has owned Rudy Stempel and Family Saw Mill Inc.
“We saw lumber for local people, and businesses buy lumber from us,” Stempel said. “I wanted to build a house, so I bought a saw mill, and people started buying lumber from me. The town of Colonie buys lumber from us.”
Stempel has been a volunteer firefighter and a Kiwanis member, he said, and is on the town’s Republican Committee.
Stempel is running “because the town needs a two-party system I don’t care what anybody says,” he told The Enterprise this week.
“I don’t like the way some things are going,” Stempel went on. “Some people have gotten too big for their britches, and they need to have their wings clipped a little bit.”
Things have changed for the worse in Berne, he went on.
“This town was a nice town,” Stempel said. “This is a town where all the people used to be friendly. Now, for some reason, they’re all spying on each other and running amok.”
He declined to go into detail on what goals he has as a town board member.
“I’d rather not go into that because it’ll take my secrets away from what I want do,” Stempel said.
When he last ran for town board in 2007, Stempel said that he would like to look into subsidizing small businesses and farms as the government does in Canada.
On the comprehensive plan review, Stempel said that a town needs zoning to a certain degree, but there is a right way and a wrong way to go about zoning.
Stempel went on to say that the town should have considered an alternative sewer system to the conventional system being planned for.
“I said, time and time again, where they should have put the system, and nobody would listen, and it would have cost a lot less than it is now,” he said.
Stempel thought that a sewage treatment system should have been placed near Milton Hart’s old feed store in the hamlet. Stempel added that he put in the sewage treatment system for Camp Cass in Rensselaerville more than 30 years ago.
“You’d probably need a couple sand traps and a couple open cesspools, or just put in big tanks down there,” he said. “It’d have to be really looked into.”
If bringing commercial wind power to Berne will benefit town residents, then it should be considered, Stempel said.
“I think, if it’s going to benefit the town, and they construct it up on the mountain where nobody can really see it, I think it’d be pretty decent,” he said. “But, if it’s not going to benefit the town, and they’re going to construct it badly, I don’t think they should do it.”
Further, with regard to the grievance and upcoming arbitration between the town board and the highway department, the town should always follow its own policies, Stempel said.
“If that’s a handbook, and it’s properly done, and it’s mandated, then they should follow it,” he said. “If you’re going to make laws, you can’t break the laws when you make them.”
Kenneth Crawford has been a dairy farmer in Berne for 55 years, and is on the town’s Republican Committee.
He decided to run for town board, he said, when he saw the lack of interest in politics among the younger people of Berne.
“To try and get anybody to run is awful hard,” Crawford told The Enterprise. “I think, being a businessman, I can add to the town government. I don’t know too much about the sewer district, but I know they got a lot of grants to build it.”
Once the zoning ordinance is revised, Crawford would like to see more small businesses in town, he said.
“Years ago, when I went to high school, we had three or four gas stations and grocery stores, and it was really helpful to the people, I think,” Crawford said. “Car repair shops, they don’t have any of those anymore in town.”
Crawford also thinks that more alternatives to the current sewer project should be considered.
“I think they should investigate a lot more before they go along with it,” Crawford said. “After they get it in, will the town be able to afford to maintain it? It’s not maintenance-free. I don’t think anything is.”
A movement towards harnessing wind power might be inevitable, Crawford went on.
“I think, if they put it in a secluded place up in the mountain somewhere, where it won’t do any damage to anybody, I don’t see anything wrong with it,” he said. “With the high cost of electricity and oil, I think wind is probably the way we’d have to go eventually. With solar, you have to have a lot of sun. This summer, we didn’t have too much sun. I doubt how efficient it would be.”
Crawford thinks that the grievance that has been filed over the town’s employment practices could have been avoided if the highway department was not unionized, he said.
“I was sorry to hear they went union,” Crawford said. “Years ago, the union was a good thing to help the people; now it hurts any business. Most businesses are trying to get away from union because they’re not beneficial to businesses anymore. They demand too much of a small businessman, or even the town it costs them a lot, more wages. It’s just like this problem they’ve got now.”