Handful of key town posts up for election next Tuesday
By Julia Green
Area voters head to the polls next Tuesday, Nov. 3 to cast their ballots in a number of local races.
Contested races in the News’ coverage area include two seats on the Andes Town Council, the position of Bovina Superintendent of Highways, two seats on the Middletown Town Council, and the position of the Roxbury Tax Collector.
Profiles of each of the candidates on the ballot to fill these positions follow.
Supervisors in the towns of Andes, Bovina, Middletown and Roxbury are all running unopposed for re-election.
TOWN OF ANDES
Daniel Grommeck (Republican), Andes Town Council candidate
Andes native and Town Council incumbent Daniel Grommeck graduated from Andes Central School and attended SUNY Cobleskill, where he studied agricultural business. After leaving SUNY Cobleskill, he worked on his family’s farm until 2007, after which he worked for the Delaware County Department of Public Works and the New York City DEP. He has been a member of the fire department for more than 10 years, and has served as a past fire commissioner as well as serving on the watershed agricultural council.
“I think being a native, living here all my life I know what the people of Andes expect from their town council, and what a lot of their wishes are,” said Grommeck, whose term on the town board came about when he took over his father’s seat after he passed away. “My father was a longtime councilman, so I was in a way brought up with it. There was always talk at home.”
Some of the successes achieved while part of the board of which Grommeck is proud include the new highway garage and the acquisition of funds from FEMA for past floods that have hit the town.
“We’ve just gotten a lot of our FEMA money,” he said. “That’s been a headache and we’re just starting to get that money in. We’ve purchased two new trucks with no costs to taxpayers. Right now the biggest thing is the highway garage. That’s a big project for the town, and it was much needed.”
Grommeck said that he feels the much-discussed issue of gas drilling is going to be a key issue facing the town council in the near future, as well as efforts to keep taxes down.
“In this economy we live in today, it’s a pretty tough thing to do right now, but we’re doing our best and keeping them as low as possible,” he said. “But I think the gas drilling is the biggest issue the council is going to have to face in the next few years.”
As for why he wants the job, Grommeck said that it’s a responsibility he enjoys.
“I enjoy looking out for the best interests of the people in Andes,” he said. “I’ve been here all my life and I don’t plan on going anywhere. I want what’s best for this town, and I feel as a councilman that I can do my part.”
Martin Liddle (Republican), Andes Town Council candidate
A graduate of Andes Central School, Martin Liddle attended Sullivan County Community College and spent four years in the Air Force and four years in construction for a local contractor before becoming a dairy farmer, which he still does today. A member of the town council for the past 28 years, he believes his track record speaks to his reputation.
“People elected me back to the post for 28 years, so I must be doing a pretty good job,” he said. “I enjoy it, and it’s a way of giving something back to the Town of Andes. My time.”
As a longtime member of the town council, Liddle has been part of the effort to get Andes back on its feet in the wake of the disastrous flood of 1996, as well as the building of a new highway garage and the passing of a local law regarding wind turbines in Andes.
“One other thing we had to do was we had to absorb the village into the town,” he said. “The village voted to dissolve, so we didn’t have a choice on that. We did, and everything worked out.”
Liddle anticipates a few issues that will face the Andes Town Council in the near future, including the possibility of gas leases.
“I don’t know how that’s going to turn out, it’s just a wait-and-see situation,” he said. “I’d like to keep our roads in top shape – that’s a never-ending job to keep up with them, and an expensive job.”
Applying the frame of mind perhaps derived from years as a dairy farmer, Liddle added that he doesn’t have any specific goals in mind, should he be elected to another term, beyond handling the day-to-day responsibilities of the position.
“Just the normal routine business, and taking care of things when they pop up,” he said.
He also said that he hopes to see the senior citizen housing at the upper end of Andes materialize into something, though it is still in the planning stages.
“The voters have given me a good vote of confidence over the last 28 years, and hopefully they continue on,” he said.
Denise Norris (Independent, Andes First), Andes Town Council candidate
Denise Norris studied atmospheric sciences at Albany State and currently works from home in Andes, employed by a branch of IBM. Norris, who has a grown child and volunteers in support of large equine rescue, made Andes her full-time home in 2002.
“I have a very broad experience,” Norris said. “I lived on Long Island and my family’s horse farm was turned into a housing development. I understand a lot of the needs of people relocating to the Catskills for primary or secondary homes. I was trained to analytically and am able to understand scientific and economic problems like gas drilling, which is approaching us like a bulldozer, so I can lend my experience understanding science.”
Norris served as the director of the Andes Alliance, which worked closely with the community to reach a consensus on wind turbines and has worked with a number of not-for-profit organizations both here and in New York City.
“I think the biggest pressing issue for Andes is the maturing of the community,” Norris said. “We’re not getting turnover, we’re not getting new families, and that’s a combination of the increasing property taxes and real estate prices, and if we don’t correct that problem, we run the risk of losing any kind of vitality as a community.”
Norris also identified the fate of Andes Central School and the ongoing gas drilling debate as other key issues facing the community.
“How do we revitalize our school? We have a tremendous asset, and how can we use that asset to attract new families into the area? I love where I live, and I don’t want to see it destroyed. There’s something unique about where I chose to live, and I want to contribute my skills to help develop and build and maintain that uniqueness, instead of letting it become like other rural towns across America, like a ghost town. I don’t want to see that happen, so I’m offering my services to the community.”
Norris added that there are things she’d like to see improved in terms of the public’s access to the operations of the town council, including making meeting minutes available online and making people aware in advance of the topics that will be discussed at any given meeting.
“I don’t perceive town council as being a political animal,” she said. “I think it’s about being accessible to the public. I think a town councilman’s role is about being accessible to people and facilitating people in helping to bring their issues forward. I’m running as an independent, so I don’t have any party politics.
“The real issue is not whether the existing council is doing poorly,” she added. “Marty has done a wonderful job in the town. What I pose is, are they the right mix to confront the issues coming at us? Do they have the experience and the perspective and the independence to help Andes navigate into the future, facing gas drilling, increasing property taxes, DEP restrictions and an aging community? That’s the question I’m asking voters to decide.”
Ed Weber (Democrat), Bovina Superintendent of Highways candidate
Ed Weber, who with his wife owns Webcrest Farms in Bovina, graduated from Andes Central School and received an associate’s degree in automotive technology from Delhi Tech. He has been employed as an auto mechanic for 11 years and served as highway superintendent for the Town of Bovina for one year, and is a 36-year member of the Bovina Fire Department, where he has served as chief for eight years and previously served as assistant chief for nearly 20 years. Weber also serves as the dog control officer for the Town of Bovina.
“I’ve had employees for a number of years, and had the job of highway superintendent for one year,” he said. “I’m a businessman and I do construction work of my own and for other people, so I’m familiar with the equipment and the maintenance of equipment, and I feel there are things that could be done at the town level to help control our taxes.”
Weber said that his year with the highway department saw improvement to the roadsides, including a considerable amount of brush cutting that hadn’t been cut in over 20 years. And, he added, he feels that he is able to motivate the crew.
“I think I got more work out of them when I was there,” he said. “They’re a good crew of men, they just needed the direction to do it. And being in business for 30-something years, I think I’ve been successful in doing that. When an issue comes up, I handle it, and when your job is the superintendent, you’re supposed to be handling the job, not letting someone else do it.”
Weber said he sees financial issues as among the major concerns currently facing the department.
“We’ve got to keep control of our taxes,” he said. “We don’t want waste in the highway department. They’ve done some things I don’t approve of in terms of the new highway garage; there are things that should have been researched more. And they should have some kind of a schedule of replacement for equipment that as far as I know they don’t have, or if they do they haven’t followed it very well.”
Weber said that, if elected, one of his main goals is to bring the department up to date in terms of equipment.
“I want to make sure they’re running with safe equipment, and to get the roads in good shape – safe for everybody, as far as brush control along the sides of the roads and the roads themselves, and just to watch out for our tax dollars. They’re my tax dollars, too.
“I think we can do a good job, but I think there’s room for improvement,” he added. “And that’s my goal.”
Robert C. Burgin (Republican), Bovina Superintendent of Highways candidate
Born and raised in Bovina and a 1984 graduate of Andes Central School, Robert Burgin has been with the Bovina Highway Department since 1985.
“I started as a laborer and worked my way up to truck driver and machine equipment operator and then I held the deputy position for four years, and then I was elected in 2007 to be the 2008-09 highway superintendent,” Burgin said.
In addition to his role within the highway department, Burgin has been a member of the fire department and EMS for about 24 years and has been fire chief for the past 14 years.
“I have a lot of experience with FEMA,” he said. “I got the town $200,000 in FEMA money since I took over. We’ve put together a road maintenance program, put together snowplow policy procedures, worked together with school districts to get plows out ahead of buses and make them as safe as we can – that’s actually worked pretty well.”
Burgin added that, since taking the reins of the highway department, he believes the updates to the road system are among his greatest successes.
“We’ve done over 20-something miles of ditches and culverts, and just general maintenance,” he said. “We’ve brought the maintenance up from what it had been in the past.”
Looking forward, Burgin said he doesn’t anticipate any specific challenges facing the highway department, beyond routine maintenance, but there are some goals he would like to accomplish.
“We’ve got to work on a road-sealing program to try to keep up with sealing our roads,” he said. “I know if we don’t have CHIPs [Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program] money it’s going to be tough to do, but we’ve got to somehow keep up so our blacktop roads can be where they should be. That and just maintaining them, keeping them smooth… just keeping the public happy.”
As for why he is seeking re-election, Burgin said, “I enjoy it, and I was elected by the people. I enjoy helping people. I think that shows with all my dedication in the fire and EMS field. And I just enjoy it.”
John Bernhardt (Democrat), Middletown Town Council candidate
After 35 years in public education, Margaretville resident John Bernhardt believes that public school teaching and working with kids in an educational capacity is one of the greatest forms of public service.
“I like to believe I threw myself into that assignment in its entirety. I was involved in everything you can be involved with that has to do with the school,” said Bernhardt, who served as a coach, adviser and trip chaperone as well as a teacher and administrator.
Bernhardt, who grew up in Sullivan County, received a degree from SUNY Oswego and a certificate of advanced studies from SUNY Cortland in the administrative field. He and his wife relocated to Margaretville 11 years ago.
“This is the first time I’ve ever pursued a public office, and I think one of the nicest parts about local politics is that none of the candidates are really against anybody,” he said. “Each person thinks they have something they can offer to the town.”
Bernhardt says that, in his case, what he has to offer is experience, communication skills and a familiarity with a small school and a small community.
“I think the work of the town board is a close parallel to the work of a school board, and I spent close to 20 years attending school board meetings, and the last 11 of them being the primary person who put together the agenda and facilitated the meeting and worked on a host of activities that I think will parallel the work of a town councilman. I think my written and speaking communication skills are strong and that should be helpful, and I have the capacity of being a good listener and I think that’s important. And the third part of the skill set I think is important during these times of declining resources, my experience in small schools I think prepares me for not having available the resources we’re accustomed to.”
Bernhardt anticipates that growth will be a key issue facing the town council in the near future, adding that towns are going to have to be more assertive in seeking opportunities for economic growth in order to provide professional opportunities and that local residents are going to have to be open-minded to such changes.
He added that civic duty is a major reason why he is seeking the position.
“I’ve always felt my generation has kind of let go of the ball in terms of civic involvement, as opposed to what our parents did, and I just thought this was an opportunity for me to do my part in trying to do something about that.”
Michael Finberg (Democrat, For Middletown), Middletown Town Council candidate
After serving two full terms on the zoning board of appeals, Michael Finberg was first elected to the town board in 1997. In 2003, he ran in a three-way race for town supervisor against current supervisor Len Utter, and has, to date, served three terms on the town board. The owner of Margaretville Bowl since 1986, Finberg and his wife, Joanne, have lived in the Catskills full-time since 1972. He has also served as president of the then-Greater Margaretville Catskills Chamber of Commerce and was on the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, of which he served a term as director.
“I think one of the key aspects of any town board member, elected, or any town board-appointed member is the ability to both question and deliberate, even when one has a view in opposition either to the majority or anyone,” Finberg said. “The idea is not to win, the idea is, through deliberation, to arrive at what is best for the township. The job is not personal aggrandizement, but to improve the governmental process for the township.”
Finberg believes that his willingness to pose such questions and enter such debates is one of his key qualifications for service on the town council.
“I think that in my service to Middletown in the terms I’ve served, anybody who has reviewed the minutes or come to a meeting will agree that I am regularly questioning,” he said. “One has to bring to the table not necessarily a knowledge of but an ability to discern and learn about; to find the answer, if it is not clear. I have done that, and if elected, certainly plan to continue.”
Looking back, Finberg said one of his fondest memories and a memory of which he is most proud when considering his service is the creation of a playground at Margaretville Central School prior to the addition to the building. Finberg served as a co-coordinator of the group effort.
“We, the steering committee and community, fund-raised and raised approximately $30,000 so that the playground itself cost the taxpayer nothing and we continued to fund-raise so maintenance wasn’t a tax burden on the school budget or taxpayers of the village or Town of Middletown. And for those five days, as with an old-fashioned barn raising, the community came together. That coming together of the community was one of the highlights of my life.”
Looking forward, Finberg said that the economic future is, without doubt, the key issue of concern facing the town council.
“With the erosion of our tax base under the land acquisition program, we are going to have to continue to face appropriation of tax dollars as wisely and judiciously as possible and as we have fewer businesses or erosion in the tax base, we then have to look closely at limiting services of the town. The goal is certainly not to have anybody work less, the goal is to balance the need for tax dollars coming in with services provided.”
“One of the joys of living in our community is that we all can have a positive effect on the quality of our lives,” Finberg said. “The ability to have some influence is not only an important position but something I take as a trust once elected, and that leads me to try to think first of Middletown in those situations and second of the Finbergs, so I’d like to continue that.”
Jacob A. Rosa (Republican, Independent, Square Deal), Middletown Town Council candidate
Jacob Rosa graduated from Margaretville Central School in 1993 and received a certificate of completion from Northern Catskills Occupation Center in equipment operation prior to opening his own logging and sawmill business. A member of the Catskill Forest Association’s board of directors since last year and a member of the organization since 2005, he said his professional background and his regular attendance at town council meetings are two things that would serve him well in the capacity of town council member.
“I have an extensive knowledge in equipment and mechanics, which there’s no board member right now that has that kind of background,” he said. “I’ve got youth and energy on my side, and I want to work with others to try to make this a place I can live the rest of my life. I run my own business, so I can deal with a budget. And I’m pretty up-to-date on everything that’s going on locally, both town and county issues, because of attending the meetings.”
Rosa said he believes that a key goal of the town council should be the elimination of waste in the budget at the town level, as well as promotion of local businesses.
“Without local businesses, we’re not going to be able to stay here,” he said. “So those are my two things. We’ve got to cut waste in our local government and promote our local businesses and try to keep them here. The citizens here need a place to work.”
Rosa’s decision to run for the town council was a result of his feeling that there needs to be “some new young blood” on the board.
“I’ve been putting in all the time at all the meetings as it is, so I would be suited to fill the shoes and move into that position pretty easily,” he said. “I know basically what’s going on already, and I just think with some young blood on the town board there’s definitely a possibility to bring new ideas. We need to get more young people interested in local government if we plan on staying here.”
If elected, Rosa said one of his goals for the town council is to reduce the budget, which he said he feels is “very possible to do.”
“I spoke with one of the candidates the other day on some ideas of how to reduce it, and I’ve already been in contact with a couple other members, so even if I don’t get elected the ideas at least get kicked around the table and they can try to do something with them,” he said. “Our tax base is… well, I don’t own a lot of land, but I certainly pay a lot in taxes.”
Rosa also serves as the chairman of the economic development committee, which is in the process of working on some green energy ideas for the area, which he says could “very easily roll over and be a cost savings for the town, if the town decided to get involved.”
He added that he hopes to be involved in a process to make the town a place where more young people will choose to stay.
“There were 26 in my graduating class and there are five of us still here, and that was only 16 years ago that I graduated,” he said. “This has always been my home, and I want to try to keep it so I can afford to stay here for the rest of my life.”
Joan Moore (Democrat), Roxbury Tax Collector candidate
“I’ve lived in the area here for probably 60 years, and I have five children, four of whom live here locally,” said Joan Moore, who has been doing the taxes for the Town of Roxbury for the past eight years, in addition to being responsible for the taxes of Roxbury Central School. Moore has worked with Suburban in Grand Gorge for 40 years, the majority of which time was spent working with credit and accounting.
“I enjoy doing them and try to do the best that I can for the people, and would like to continue doing so,” she said. “When you turn your work in to the county, it has to be to the penny, and we’re talking about a lot of money, a lot of pennies.”
And, in the eight years she’s been doing it, Moore said she has always turned them in correctly, down to the penny.
“And,” she added, “where I work we do have a lot of auditable things that we have to account for, and I’ve always done very well at that, so I do feel that my background from work has helped me a lot.”
In addition to her familiarity with the numbers game, Moore said that the relationships she has built are an added asset in the role of the town tax collector. She believes that she has a good working relationship with both the county and the school; additionally, she recently digitized all of the school taxes, making them available on computer – a process she anticipates repeating with the town taxes.
As far as pressing issues facing the next tax collector, Moore said that she feels many people are unclear on the role of the position.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand that the tax collector does not make up the tax bill, so they kind of feel that I have some sort of control over what their taxes would or wouldn’t be, and I really don’t,” she said. They’re not figured out at my level. The town or the school come up with the figures based on what has to be collected – that’s where the taxes come from. My role is just keeping people informed as to where to go for what they need to know.”
“I do truly enjoy working with the people, and hopefully I’ve served them well enough for them to get out and vote for me,” she added. “I enjoy serving the people and feeling that they have somebody they can depend on, keeping their money straight.”
Ken Kessel (Republican), Roxbury Tax Collector candidate
Ken Kessel worked for General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC), the financial services arm of General Motors, in Manhattan prior to his retirement in 1995, after which he relocated with his family to Roxbury. He currently has a stained glass and picture framing business and serves as the treasurer for the Roxbury Fire District and the treasurer for the Roxbury Library.
“I don’t ever want to take the negative approach because it’s a job, and I’m not trying to get rid of this person for political reasons other than the job came up and I was asked and I just thought I could do it,” he said. “I’ll try to make myself more available and see what people’s needs are.”
Kessel added that while he has a background in financial services, he believes his ability to work with people to be his top qualification for the position.
“I’m fairly good with numbers and things like that, but primarily I feel I’m better with people,” he said. “I like people, I like the small-town life. I usually get along with most people – not that that’s going to make them happier paying their taxes. But I have to pay them myself, so we can both joke about it.”
He added that he doesn’t see political affiliations as playing a particularly key role in the race for tax collector.
“I don’t think there’s a big need for a very large change,” he said. “All I would do differently, if anything, would be to make myself a little more accessible and just make it easier for the people. It’s a difficult position because it’s not really a political thing. There’s no real big Democratic or Republican viewpoints that are going to dictate how this job is done, in my estimation.”
And, in a decision that would probably resonate with fellow taxpayers, Kessel said a key factor in his decision to run was financial.
“I really enjoy the small-town life, and if I can do something for the town as well as get paid… and I don’t want that to sound harsh,” he said. “We’re on social security, and so much of it, unfortunately, is about money. Paying the taxes, and earning the money to pay the taxes. I could give you a long, flowery thing about civic duty, and that’s definitely part of it, but like everything else in life, it’s partially about money.”
A number of candidates are running for re-election unopposed in various area races. Those unchallenged candidates are listed below.
Supervisor: Martin A. Donnelly (Republican)
Town Justice: Joseph R. Grieco (Republican)
Town Justice: Nicholas R. Burton (Independent)
Superintendent of Highways: Michael R. McAdams (Republican)
Supervisor: Tina Mole (Republican, Independent)
Town Clerk/Collector: Catherine S. Hewitt (Republican)
Member of Council: Evelyn Stewart (Democrat)
Member of Council: Charles F. McIntosh (Republican, Independent)
Supervisor: Leonard E. Utter (Republican)
Town Justice: Glen R. George (Republican)
Assessor: Michelle Shamro (Independent)
Supervisor: Thomas S. Hynes (Democrat)
Town Clerk: Diane L. Pickett (Democrat)
Town Justice: Wayne Pebler (Democrat)
Member of Council: Gene Cronk (Republican)
Member of Council: Allen R. Hinkley (Republican)