By Marcello Iaia
WESTERLO — With only three members, all Democrats, the town board needed a unanimous vote to fill its two vacancies at the Jan. 3 meeting.
“Nay — I oppose,” said Councilman Anthony Sherman on the motion to appoint Democrats Theodore Lounsbury and William Bichteman to the board.
Unless a special election is held, or votes are changed in a revote, the vacancies remain.
Sherman, a Democrat, created the same 2-to-1, non-action votes during the town re-organizational meeting earlier that night, preventing the establishment of The Enterprise as the town’s official newspaper and wages for library workers.
State law requires a majority of a board’s full membership — three on a five-member board — to pass any measures.
“The options available to the board is to revote now or revote after it appoints members to replace the resigned members,” Laz Benitez, public information officer with the state’s Department of State, wrote The Enterprise in an e-mail this week.
Benitez also wrote, “If a specific legal mandate for action exists, yet a town board fails to take the action required, court action may
be commenced to compel a local government to act. State agencies generally cannot reverse the decision of a town board, but may render advice upon request. The electorate is always free to share with its town board members (either in writing or at Open Meetings, if the public is permitted to speak) whether or not they agree with the votes taken by the board.”
If a re-vote were held, Sherman would have to change his vote, or councilman Alfred Field and Supervisor Richard Rapp would have to change theirs.
Calls to Sherman and Rapp were not answered this week.
“I have no comment,” said Sherman when The Enterprise asked after the meeting why he cast his opposing votes.
Sherman, who works at the Hanny Reels manufacturing plant and had chaired the planning board, took office as a town board member last year.
When a supervisor abruptly resigned from the Rensselaerville Town Board in January 2012, remaining board members deemed a special election too expensive, and instead appointed a replacement.
Rachel Bledi, Republican commissioner at the Albany County Board of Elections, told The Enterprise in February that a special election could cost the rural Helderberg Hilltown, similar to Westerlo, $4,000 to $5,000.
The Westerlo council was at full-strength with five members at its Nov. 7 meeting. Councilmen Gregory Zeh and Edward Rash both submitted letters of resignation that night.
Rash, who works as a marketing and sales manager at Hannay Reels, Inc., said he would like more time for recreation and with his wife after 25 years with the town.
Zeh had sold his Westerlo property that day and said he wanted to raise his children closer to family in Loudonville.
Town Clerk Kathleen Spinnato asked Rapp during the Jan. 3 meeting whether the 2-to-1 vote carried. Maureen Sikule, a Westerlo resident and a Berne-Knox-Westerlo Board of Education member, asked a similar question after the meeting. Rapp confirmed both times that two votes was enough for passage.
Spinnato said on Wednesday that she had spoken with counsel and called Bichteman and Lounsbury to tell them their swearings-in were not valid.
Resident Anita Marrone sat in the back of the audience of roughly 20 community members on Jan. 3. She asked Rapp to explain the process of nominations, who is on the board, and whether the committee approaches or interviews prospective nominees.
“They came and said they were interested,” responded Rapp, who is chair of the committee.
Other members of the committee include Field; Amanda Stalker; former highway superintendent John Nevins; and Charles Benninger, who has operated the town’s transfer station for decades.
Rapp told The Enterprise after the Jan. 3 meeting that Sherman has expressed interest in joining the committee. He said he did not know why Sherman voted the way he did.
No Republican nominations were made for the empty seats.
“As Republican chairman, why didn’t you bring somebody up?” Wilfred VanIderstine, a member of the zoning board of appeals, asked of Jack Milner, the new chair of the town’s Republican committee.
“I went over and asked about it and I heard you already had someone picked out,” said Milner. He said on Monday that he had visited Rapp at his house.
“I was trying to get Joe Boon, but I guess he’s changed and he’s independent now,” said Milner of his search for a Republican nominee. “But a committee for the town of Westerlo you’d think would be made up of all political origins.”