In his first regular meeting as Woodstock town supervisor, Bill McKenna directed the Town Board in appointing Richard Heppner as councilman and Cathy Magarelli as deputy supervisor and in promoting mental health awareness.
The board unanimously appointed Heppner, the town historian, to serve through 2017. Heppner will fill McKenna’s former council seat since McKenna had to resign in order to become supervisor.
“I wish the appointment wasn’t even necessary. I’d rather be sitting there watching Jeremy with his hat on reciting Shakespeare,” said Heppner, on Wednesday, January 11. “It’s a big loss. Jeremy was a friend and a remarkable supervisor. Whatever I can do to help the town with the transition, I’ll do.”
Though Heppner qualified it with “I’ll never say never,” he said that he has no plans to run for the seat in November. “Right now, I’m appointed, not elected. The vote I got is actually Jeremy’s vote,” said Heppner. “I share his vision and it’s incumbent on me to honor his views to the people who elected him. Now, I can’t vote against my own conscience, but it’s important to do what I can for the next series of months to keep things moving forward. I’m not coming in to knock tables over.”
Though Heppner will remain as Town Historian, he said he will forego the stipend that goes along with that position. “I appreciate the town’s trust. It’s a tough time now. I want to encourage young people to get involved in local government. Anything I can do to help that is fine.”
Town Clerk Jackie Earley’s office received 10 resumes from both newcomers and longtime residents, but “one name came up repeatedly,” McKenna said of Heppner.
“There were great, great resumes,” said McKenna, who told applicants, especially new residents in town, not to feel rejected and to stay involved in local politics.
“There were two or three candidates who I know very well who would have done well,” said Councilwoman Cathy Magarelli, who said she felt it was better to bring on someone who is familiar with the town and its operations. She said it is difficult to get to know someone in a short interview. During the election season, there are debates and people have time to state their positions and introduce themselves. “I encourage all who applied to go through the election process,” Magarelli said.
McKenna also appointed Magarelli to serve as deputy supervisor. The second-in-command person takes the role of supervisor when he is unable to perform his duties. McKenna was deputy supervisor during Jeremy Wilber’s illness.
The Town Board unanimously appointed McKenna supervisor at its organizational meeting January 3, just two days after Wilber lost a battle with cancer. Wilber held the position for 13 years and one day, becoming the longest-serving supervisor the day he died. About 1000 people attended his memorial on January 8 at the Bearsville Theater, packing the performance space and filling the adjoining lounge area to pay tribute.
Promoting mental health awareness
The Town Board passed a resolution declaring May to be Mental Health Awareness Month following emotional stories about how much Wilber cared about the subject.
“Mental health conditions are real and prevalent in our nation with one out of four Americans and one out of five children affected by mental illness,” the resolution states. “More people die from suicide in the United States than from traffic accidents and an estimated 22 veterans die from suicide each day.”
Tina Yun Lee, resource development, outreach and program coordinator for the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), spoke of how touched she was that Wilber was so supportive of the ribbon campaign to raise awareness and how he supported school programs and training for law enforcement. Lee said when her daughter coping with depression, Wilber took an interest in her poetry and encouraged her. “I found out later that all these years, my daughter would send him poems and he would write back,” Lee said. “He was a good leader and he was a person. He cared. He will be really missed.” Lee said she visited his office on one occasion and was impressed to see her daughter’s poetry on the walls.
Councilman Jay Wenk, a World War I veteran, found it especially troubling that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day. He said with all the news, “it gets glossed over.”
Taking gun safety seriously
Wenk proposed a resolution to be sure gun owners handle their firearms safely, but Supervisor McKenna and Councilwoman Magarelli said it would be far better to back something up with action.
“I think gun safety is important. It’s critical,” said McKenna, who didn’t think a largely unenforceable resolution mandating how people handle firearms would further that effort. McKenna encouraged Wenk to contact the area sportsmen’s clubs to ask for their input at a future meeting along with Police Chief Clayton Keefe.
McKenna said he’d be comfortable with supporting a resolution calling for the town to sponsor regularly scheduled gun safety classes after conferring with area clubs.
“Having the public more involved is more important than just passing a resolution,” Magarelli said.
Wenk agreed to consult with area sportsmen’s clubs and arrange for representatives to speak at the February board meeting.
Too many memorializing resolutions?
After seeing U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Face the Nation, Councilwoman Laura Ricci proposed a resolution urging the Senate not to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. She said McConnell has not specified when replacement legislation would be passed, leaving people in danger of not having insurance.
“Whereas this means our U.S. government may repeal Obamacare before the replacement health care program is in place, and may risk our citizens currently covered under Obamacare totally losing their health care coverage for a period of time,” reads part of the resolution.
But McKenna argued it won’t reach elected officials before a vote takes place.
“The strongest thing we can do as a town is flood the congressman’s (John Faso’s) office with phone calls,” he said.
The board can’t take its time passing resolutions every time Congress does something against the town’s best interests, said McKenna, adding it opens the door for more resolutions that don’t have any legislative authority. Such motions are often called memorializing resolutions.
“Every time we do one we get three more people who want to do one,” he said.
Wenk said he doesn’t trust congress to come up with a replacement for the Affordable Care Act anytime soon. “Those lying, miserable bums in D.C. that are and have been running things have had six, seven, eight years to come up with a replacement,” Wenk said.
There should be no more talk of repealing Obamacare until Congress comes up with a replacement and presents it to the public, Wenk added.
Moving on with solar plans
With an agreement to build a solar array at the wastewater treatment plant on indefinite hiatus, McKenna said he wanted to start the new year with a discussion about alternatives.
Saugerties has discussed the possibility of building a solar array at the transfer station on Route 212. Upon learning this, McKenna said he asked Saugerties Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel about making it into a collaboration with Woodstock. Helsmoortel was very receptive, McKenna said.
Last year the town entered into a power purchase agreement, or PPA, with IGS Solar, which was to build the array to meet most of power needs for town operations. Under a PPA, the company would be responsible for building and maintaining the array and then would sell the power generated by the array back to the town at a rate lower than Central Hudson’s.
Through a process called remote net metering, any excess power is fed into the Central Hudson grid and the town would receive credits.
Central Hudson said the town wasn’t eligible for credits because it didn’t own the planned array. That issue was sorted out, but the town hasn’t seen any action from IGS, which had planned to start construction last summer.