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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 16, 2012

Knox Town Board adds Pokorny, skips interview process

KNOX — After nearly two months of being a member short, the all-Democratic Knox Town Board has filled the empty seat with Amy Pokorny, a longtime community servant, renewable energy advocate, and wife of the town assessor.

Board members Mary-Ellen Nagengast, a Democrat, and Patricia Gage, the town’s Republican chair, decided not to run for re-election last fall, which led to a four-way race for those two open seats; voters elected Democrats Dennis Decker and Dennis Barber.

But, when Republican Councilman Travis Stevens won a seat in the county legislature, he resigned from his post on the town board. In the months following, the town’s Democratic and Republican parties canvassed the town in search of candidates to recommend to the board, but the board itself did not formally interview candidates.

“I have been involved in public service most of my life in one way of another,” Pokorny, 59, told The Enterprise, “and I have a lot of experience of different kinds with public service here in Knox, and it seemed like a natural fit.”

Pokorny’s community involvement includes her work with the Helderberg Hilltowns Association, the recent movement to increase low-impact tourism in an effort to boost the local economy; and Helderberg Community Energy, a group that has spent years researching the propriety of wind power in Knox.

She and her husband, Assessor Russell Pokorny, live in a home that is completely off the grid, powered by renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. They also own the Octagon Barn, which has been a venue for community activities like the farmers’ market hosted by Friends of the Helderbergs, and for Star Parties with the Dudley Observatory, where residents can take advantage of Knox’s dark skies and look into space through telescopes.

Pokorny is also a member of the zoning board of appeals, and of the Helderberg Kiwanis. She is retired from a career with the New York State Department of Social Services, where she did “program and policy research, and computer program implementations and training,” she said. She also wrote the department’s newsletter, and was an employment counselor for welfare applicants and recipients.

“I think the most important issue to everyone is keeping taxes low, and I think that’s a big part of the work the town board does,” Pokorny said. “So, I think I can represent people of all parties on that issue — everyone wants to keep their taxes down. I’m interested in environmental issues. I’m interested in building the local economy, and keeping it strong.”

Potential conflicts?

As the secretary and treasurer of the town’s Democratic Committee, Pokorny was involved in the party’s candidate-search process.

“I’m sensitive to the fact that we’re all Democrats on the town board right now,” Pokorny said, “and I want people to know that I’m interested in hearing from people in all parties, and hearing their thoughts.”

Gage, a former town board member and currently the town’s Republican chairwoman, said Wednesday that she was pushing for Michael Swain to fill Stevens’s seat on the board, being that Swain was the third-highest vote-getter in the fall election, and wishes Republican candidates had the opportunity to interview with the town board. Linda Carman had also expressed interest in joining the town board; a Knox Republican, Carman is the mother of Berne Town Board member Bonnie Conklin.

“I made the assumption that everyone would be getting an interview, and that the ruling party, the Democrats, would make a decision,” said Gage. “But, in a world where there’s supposed to be equal opportunity, it would have been nice for our candidates to have been interviewed.”

Councilman Nicholas Viscio, also the town’s Democratic chairman, said that, while the committee had discussed the potential for a conflict of interest with a husband and wife serving as assessor and councilwoman, the Democrats still felt Amy Pokorny was the best choice for the town board.

“Knowing Russ was the assessor, and knowing Amy would have to recuse herself from different pieces of business on a rare basis, we didn’t see it as a big issue,” said Viscio. “Neither Russ nor Amy will sit at the same table, so to speak, for their regular forums.”

Councilwoman Pokorny, too, acknowledged the potential for conflict.

“I’m prepared to recuse myself from voting on any of those issues, and even from being involved in some discussions, when it’s inappropriate,” she said. “We’re all aware that, in a small town like this, there’s bound to be conflicts.”

Viscio referred back to Michael Swain’s recent run for town board, and his being married to Republican Town Clerk Kimberly Swain.

“It’s interesting that one of the individuals who ran for the board last year would have sat at the board with their spouse, if elected,” said Viscio. Though the clerk sits at the dais, she is not a voting member of the board. “That would have been a little more of an awkward situation.”

Viscio described Pokorny as a “you-go-girl” kind of woman.

“She’s done more than talk the talk,” said Viscio. “She’s walked the walk in so many ways, and I can’t think of somebody better to be on the board.”

By Zach Simeone

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