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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 3, 2011
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Democratic incumbent Bryan M. Clenahan, running on his record, is being challenged by Peter A. Golden on the Republican line in Guilderland’s District 30.
“I’m proud we’ve been able to give good service at the least cost to taxpayers,” said Clenahan, who also has the working Families and Independence lines. He was appointed to the county legislature in 2007 to fill a vacancy, and then was elected for a four-year term.
“We need someone to represent Guilderland,” said Golden, who also has the Conservative line. “I know people in Guilderland and can bring their concerns. They haven’t had a voice in the last six years.
District 30 includes Westmere and the Heritage, Oxford Heights, Woodlake, Hawthorn Garden, Serafini Village, and Harmony Hill apartment complexes.
Bryan Clenahan, a lawyer who works as counsel to State Senator Diane Savino and the Senate Children and Families Committee, is proud of the five laws he’s introduced that have been passed unanimously by the county legislature. Two of the laws banned the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles, one banned drop-side cribs, another banned electronic cigarettes for minors, and the most recent created a registry of animal abusers to prevent them from procuring pets.
Clenahan has also co-sponsored a bill on ethics reform, currently in committee, to prevent conflicts of interest and unethical government, he said. “We need a clear set of guidelines,” said Clenahan.
“I’m also committed to open government,” he said, noting unanimous support for resolution to begin webcasting legislative sessions in January, when the legislators have moved into their new chambers in the county courthouse.
“I can work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” he said of the unanimous support for the measures he has introduced.
“There’s a lot more work to be done,” said Clenahan of why he’s running.
On Michael Breslin’s proposed budget, Clenahan said, “Last year, the county executive proposed a 15-percent increase. I worked hard with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to keep needed services while keeping taxes down.”
He feels confident that something similar can be accomplished this year.
Last year, when the rape crisis center, now known as the Crime Victims and Sexual Violence Center, was targeted for major cuts, which including cutting counseling services, Clenahan drafted a resolution to keep services as they are.
Clenahan wants to keep the sales tax as it is. “Towns need their fair share,” he said. Cutting the share to municipalities, he said, would simply raise town and village taxes.
“I think the tax cap is a good idea and we need to do anything we can to stay under it,” said Clenahan of the 2-percent levy limit. Asked how he would manage that, Clenahan said he’d know more once the Finance and Budget Committee hearings have started.
Asked about using surplus reserves, Clenahan said, “Everything has to be on the table.” But he added, “The surplus protects the county in serious crises and keeps up the bond rating…it needs to be at an appropriate level.” Asked what level that would be, Clenahan replied, “I don’t know until we get into the hearings.”
He also said, “I would be reluctant to see more jobs cut.” Instead, he recommended streamlining and “doing things more efficiently.”
“We are about at the minimum we need to provide quality services,” he said.
Clenahan said he will continue to advocate for a new nursing home and expanded home care. “Most of the legislators are in favor of a slightly smaller nursing home and increased home care,” he said. He opposes closing the home or massive downsizing.
He said that 10 to 15 percent of the 230 or so seniors currently at the county nursing home could benefit from home care, which should be “maximized.”
But some patients, with physical handicaps or dementia, need nursing-home care, he said, adding, “County nursing homes specialize in that; others don’t accept them because of the cost and strain on staff. If we do not have a home, they must be shipped out of the area,” which, Clenahan said, is tough on the elderly patients as well as their families.
On hydraulic fracturing, Clenahan said, “I’m definitely very concerned about the effect on land, and the effect on groundwater. There is no requirement now that hydrofracking companies disclose what is in the water they use.”
The state, he said, may pre-empt county action on hydraulic fracturing. “Some counties have taken smaller steps,” said Clenahan. “None have enacted a ban or moratorium.”
He went on, “We need to look into whether the county can take action, and make sure, if it is to be done, that it is done in the safest way possible.”
On redistricting, Clenahan said, “The process this year definitely should have taken into account the effect on people’s concerns. I hope we can do better in the future…I hope this is the last time we go through the process like this. We need a nonpartisan redistricting committee. We need to take the politics out of the process.”
On the size of the legislature, Clenahan said, “The most important part is making sure citizens are represented effectively. We have to consider downsizing.”
Clenahan said he didn’t have a number in mind for an ideal size. “If you do too much downsizing,” he said, “citizens no longer have representation for their part of the community. It’s too diverse,” he said
For example, Clenahan went on, the rural Hilltowns would be likely to be mixed in with suburban areas that don’t have the same interests and concerns.
Peter Golden, who describes himself as a proven taxpayer advocate, says he offers an alternative to politics as usual in Albany County.
An author and former business owner and journalist, Golden was elected to a term on the Guilderland School Board, and ran two years ago for Guilderland supervisor.
Golden says he has learned much by going door-to-door in District 30. “Bryan has never been to my house,” he said of his opponent. “We’ve been there for six years and my wife is a registered Democrat.”
Golden says the two big issues in his campaign are taxes and jobs; he’d also like to make people more aware of the legislature’s dealings.
Many running for county office, Golden said, such as Clenahan four years ago, have no opponents. “The system is broken,” he said. “I grew up when our main enemy in the world was a one-party country the Soviet Union.”
Golden said of the current situation, “Everyone points at everybody else.” Referring to legislators who say they have little control over increasing costs, because of labor contracts, Golden asked, “Who made the obligations? A lightning bolt? People made these deals.”
About what he offers, Golden said, “First of all, I can bring some sanity. Secondly, I can inform people. Third, I plan to get meetings on the Internet, if I have to pay out of my own pocket.”
Golden said he feels terrible about people leaving the area. “The way government in Albany thinks, government underwrote everything. We have run out of money. We can’t print rubles.” The county must be put on firm footing, he said. “All the other talk is nostalgia.”
He went on, “I understand people’s nostalgia for the machine. It made people feel safe…[creating] a sense the elderly would be taken care of and indigent people would be helped. And all you had to trade was your vote…There was no social-service net. There is now. We’re paying for it.”
“I support Governor Cuomo’s idea of the tax cap,” he said. “Ten times that is outrageous,” he said of the county executive’s proposal.
Golden is adamantly opposed to raising the sales tax. “You lose business if you collect more sales tax,” he said. “In the long run, you start chasing investors out of communities and you put schools in a harder position…When the schools go, you’ve lost your appeal…Why not dissect the budget, do some zero-based budgets? See what the actual costs are that’s usually less than people claim.”
He also said, “Medicaid is big and must be dealt with nationally.”
The real issue is jobs, Golden said. “The bigger the tax burden, the less likely we are to create jobs…If you raise taxes more, people buy less.” So, he said, of raising sales taxes, “There’s no bump in revenue.”
Golden suggested that the county legislature become an agent of change for the area, working together with towns and local chambers of commerce, reaching out to create more business opportunities.
“How many legislators have gone out to look at what is being done to bring in high-tech industry?” he asked. Pitches should be made to recent graduates, he said, concluding, “Let’s sell Albany County.”
He also said, “Money is not going to magically appear from somewhere. We need to create jobs. The legislature is fighting over a shrinking pie. We need to go out work together and make more pie.”
“There’s no point of negotiation,” said Golden of the current situation. “The people who want higher taxes have such a wide majority…The tax cap can be a point of negotiation.”
Golden said that the surplus reserves should be at about 3 percent of the county’s budget.
“I’d like to see budgets and actuals for the last five years running how much they really collected and spent,” said Golden. “When the tide goes out, you get to see who’s swimming naked.”
Such is the case, he said, with revenue streams collapsing. “I bet all kinds of stuff are built into the numbers that they don’t spend,” Golden went on. He suggested looking at the number of supervisors per workers and the job growth.
“Patronage plays a role,” he said. Going door-to-door campaigning, he said, “They all know people who got jobs.”
Golden wants to see the number of Guilderland residents who use county programs. “Are Colonie and Guilderland paying Albany’s bills?” he asked. Again referring to the residents whose doors he’s knocked on, he continued, “That’s why they’re so annoyed.”
He also said, “Cutting jobs isn’t free. People go on unemployment. And there’s social displacement….In the long run, the deer-in-the-headlights approach for the county will work out as well for the county as it does for the deer.”
On the county’s nursing home, Golden recommended looking at other counties to see what works and what doesn’t.
“Instead of politicizing this, you look at cost, figure out what’s necessary, and do it…whether it’s private, public, or a combination,” he said.
On hydraulic fracturing, Golden said, “You need to look at where it was done and what the impact was.”
Golden strongly supports reducing the size of the legislature. “It’s got to be done fairly,” he said, recommending run-off elections between candidates whose districts have been consolidated into larger ones.
For drawing new district lines, Golden said, “A computer program may be the fairest thing, depending on who wrote the program.”
“Politics is the local sport in Albany,” concluded Golden. “We have major league politics here…Unfortunately, we can no longer afford it.”