By Jo E. Prout
ALTAMONT — Four posts are open this spring election season, and candidates for each are running unopposed.
Village voters will go to the polls on March 19.
Newcomer Lesley Stefan is seeking to replace longtime Justice Neil Taber who is retiring this month.
Incumbents Mayor James Gaughan and trustees Kerry Dineen and Dean Whalen — who each first ran for office eight years ago — are seeking re-election to the village board.
Stefan, 28, has been an Altamont resident for two years, since her return from Virginia where she studied at William & Mary Law School. A Voorheesville native, Stefan graduated from Clayton A. Bouton High School before attending Syracuse University where she majored in policy studies and geography.
She is an attorney for the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.
Stefan said that acting as village justice would be an interesting way to offer public service.
“This is a great opportunity for me to serve,” she said. “I thought it would be a good thing to do for the village.” Before throwing her hat into the ring, she attended village court and observed Justice Rebecca Hout, she said.
As one of two village justices, Stefan would alternate court duties with Hout and be on call for arraignments at any time of the day or night.
“I really thought about it,” Stefan said of the time commitment she felt she could give to the court.
Stefan said that she held leadership positions in law school and as an undergraduate. She also worked in legal aid during an internship in Virginia, she said. Her experiences showed her different aspects of the law, she said.
“I think it’s a good idea for a village justice to be an attorney,” Stefan said.
Stefan passed the New York State bar exam and was admitted in January 2012. She is also currently admitted in New Jersey.
Stefan resides with her grandmother, Judith Newcomb, in Altamont, and her cat, Huck, whom she adopted after volunteering at a pet clinic during her time in law school. Her parents live in Voorheesville, and her brother attends Syracuse University.
After the election, Stefan said, she will be “grateful to everyone who sees that I am fit to hold that office.”
Mayor James Gaughan, who is retired from a career with the State Education Department, is running unopposed for the first time since he took office eight years ago. A village resident since 1984, Gaughan said that he is running again because “there’s still work to be done.”
Gaughan wants the entrance to the village along Route 156 to be improved by the state’s Department of Transportation, he said. He said that fixing the road would be “an economic plus to the village” once it looks and feels as nice as the village entrance on Route 146.
“I’m determined in the next four years to get it done,” Gaughan said.
Gaughan also wants to see more improvements in services the village offers to youth and seniors. He said that the village has increased senior services like transportation programs.
“It’s the youth we’ve come up short on,” he said. A skateboarding program should begin this spring, he said. He said that the village is working on grants for an underground railroad archeological program for youth, and that village employees, like members of the police department, will be reading to preschoolers at the library.
Gaughan said that the village is outside the state’s power structure, but that he wants to “change the mindset of the importance of attending to us out here.”
In the past year, Gaughan has supported providing village water to users outside the village.
“Once we...make sure our water resources are not overburdened, the neighborly thing to do is [share]. It’s a benefit to us in terms of the infrastructure. I see it as an enhancement to our village. I think it’s a good thing,” he said.
“We will continue to be very careful,” he said, of the amount of water offered outside the village.
The village police department came under the spotlight, again, this year as a local resident accused the police of excessively asserting its authority. The village board remained relatively silent, saying that it supported its police chief and his department’s actions.
Asked if the village should continue to budget for its own police department, Gaughan responded simply, “Yes.”
Gaughan along with Dineen and Whalen had served on a citizens’ committee that evaluated the police department. After residents had complained about excessive police force in the village nearly a decade ago, the village board appointed a committee to examine the department; it released a report that favored keeping a police department in the village but was critical of a full-time commissioner that couldn’t make arrests and of so many part-time officers. Subsequently, the commissioner at the time offered his resignation and the number of part-time officers were cut back.
About the election being uncontested, Gaughan said, “It’s a good message that I’m doing the right thing for the majority of people.”
Trustee Dean Whalen, an architect who headed the village’s master planning committee, also supported providing water outside the village last year, and he said this week that he is “in favor of extending” service. He said he had not seen the proposal for development near Bozenkill Road, but he described the amount of water being offered a “conservative first take.”
Asked about the governor’s push for consolidation, Whalen said, “That’s always out there.”
He said that the village evaluates its budgetary needs each year, but consistently supports having its own police department.
“Yes, there’s things that we see that we can’t talk about, that people who question the need don’t see,” he said, defending the need for a separate local force.
Whalen said that some of these “things” are “harder to catch or handle” by a department outside the village.
“The things we see reports on...to us shows us the value of having a department,” he said.
Asked to give an example of what the police are handling, Whalen said, “I can’t.”
About the recent charges of excessive use of authority by the local department, Whalen said of the officers, “They handled it the way it’s normally handled. It was handled the way it would have been handled if a car from Colorado [had been stopped.]
“It’s a budget strain,” Whalen continued, “but we feel it’s a real value.”
“I do feel the department should be in Altamont,” said Trustee Kerry Dineen, a Guilderland school music teacher. She noted the results of a villagewide survey conducted nearly a decade ago that showed that, of the residents who participated, more than half of them wanted the local police department to continue.
Dineen said that the village board members constantly “look at supplying services in a better way.” She noted the village code enforcement officer’s duties that were merged into those supplied by the town, in the same person of Donald Cropsey. (Since Cropsey’s recent retirement, the town of Guilderland is currently undecided on how it will structure its zoning department.)
“We’re always looking at consolidation,” Dineen said.
Dineen hopes to continue working on village projects, like the sewer project that is currently underway, she said.
“I like being part of the team that’s working for the village right now,” she said.
Dineen voted to supply village water to properties just outside the village.
“I was in favor of the development that was [proposed]. It fit for the village,” she said. Part of Bozenkill Road, on which new homes are proposed, is in the village, she said.
“The houses were going in either way,” Dineen said. Builders would use wells and septic tanks if they did not use village services, she said. The village can use the fees paid by outside users, and the property owners can use the water, she said.
Dineen has served the village board since 2005
“I like the fact that we have a huge wave of volunteerism going on in the village the last eight years. I’d like to see that continue,” Dineen said.