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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 29, 2009
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
RENSSELAERVILLE G. Jon Chase, a Democrat, has been Renselaerville’s highway superintendent since 1998.
“My dad did this job for 30 years,” Chase told The Enterprise in 2006. “I’m the fourth or fifth generation in the town doing highways…I know every road. I know every tree in town,” he said, launching into a story of a butternut tree in Medusa that had once held a mailbox for multiple houses back in the days when the postal service traveled by horse.
“I never cut it down, but I got accused of it,” said Chase. “I get accused of everything.”
This rural Helderberg Hilltown has 43 miles of road for every 1,000 residents by far the greatest differential in the county.
Four years ago, Chase was challenged by Stephen Wood on the Republican line and kept his job by just a handful of votes.
He has been at the center of a number of controversies in recent years, reported on by The Enterprise, and did not return calls for the past month, seeking an election interview.
Chase, whose son, Gary Chase, is a Democratic councilman, has been at odds with Republican Jost Nickelsberg since Nicklesberg became suupervisor in 2006; Nickelsberg is not seeking re-election.
When Nickelsberg took office on New Year’s Day in 2006, he cut Joyce Chase’s job, doing paperwork for the highway superintendent. Joyce Chase is G. Jon Chase’s wife and Gary Chase’s mother.
Nickelsberg said he made the move to cut costs and to avoid a conflict of interest. (The town at that time did not have a policy on nepotism but has since adopted one.)
By July of 2006, the schism between the supervisor and highway superintendent had become so pronounced that Nickelsberg called a special meeting simply to talk to Chase, who frequently does not attend town board meetings.
Asked what caused the schism, Nickelsberg said then, “It’s a combination of the social, political, historical, and economic.”
Nickelsberg also said then that Rensselaerville spends about $13,000 per mile each year on its 82 miles of town roads while the neighboring Hilltown of Berne spends $10,000.
Chase summed up the reason for the lack of communication in one word politics.
Nickelsberg commented then on the complaints regularly raised at monthly town-board meetings about the roads in town.
The town’s lawyer at the time, William Ryan, said that Chase broke state law by loading salt and sand from the town’s supply into a private citizen’s truck.
Other complaints, from residents, centered on the poor condition of shale and clay roads in town, and an allegation by Wood that highway workers went on a golf outing and falsified time cards to be paid for the day, which Chase flatly denied.
Nickelsberg brought in engineers who critiqued Chase’s work on several roads; Chase responded that he wasn’t finished with those roads yet.
He said he was one-and-a-half years behind on a 10-year program, “Oil prices are out of sight,” he said. He also said that flooding had caused extensive damage to town roads, which took much time and many resources to repair. The flooding washed out many shoulders and culverts, he said.
“Once you’re elected, they should let you do your job,” Chase said then, describing himself as an experienced leader who oversees an efficient department of 10 workers.
“In the nine years I’ve been here,” he said in 2006, “I’ve brought in one-and-a-half to two million dollars from federal, state, and county programs.”
Chase said, when he became highway superintendent, the town had 25 miles of paved roads and now has double that.