On Election Day, Shandaken residents will vote for two of four candidates running for town board. Incumbent Peter DiSclafani is on the Democratic ticket, along with Vivian Welton, while council member Gael Alba is retiring. Kyle Steen and Ken Booth were nominated by the Republicans. The town board currently has four Democratic members, alongside Republican supervisor Rob Stanley, who is running for reelection against Democrat Brian Powers. This week, we profile the town board candidates, and next week, we’ll address the two candidates for supervisor.
Ken Booth recently retired after 41 years of working in such roles as tech support at Westchester Medical Center and salesman for a software vendor. He worked for Rotron, back when it was in Shokan, and he has a Masters degree in business administration with a management information systems concentration. “I have some executive experience,” he said, “some business experience, and I raised kids in this community for 35 years.” He married Jane Dibbell, whose mother was a local kindergarten teacher and whose father was an insurance agent. Booth has been active in the Phoenicia Elementary School PTA, cubmaster for a cub scout pack, a church trustee and financial secretary, and is currently an EMT with Shandaken ambulance.
He’s running for office because “I want to speak up for the families in town. The church is losing membership, the school might close, the scouts have died off. On the ambulance squad, we’re hiring people from out of the area. We’re focused on renting out our homes rather than getting families to live in them.”
Booth feels measures can be taken to encourage families to move to the area. For eight years, his job in Westchester enabled him to work from home, which he sees as a possibility for attracting residents. He wants the town to ensure Internet coverage is available, and he wants to see broader cell service established.
Regarding short-term rentals (STRs), Booth said, “From being on the ambulance, I’ve been on a few calls where I believe if they had a safety inspection, people would not have been hurt. There was no railing on a deck, carbon monoxide detectors weren’t properly installed, there was a loose carpet. I’d like to see inspection and regulations to have at least minimal safety standards. We don’t know if the water supply is good, if there’s a legal sewer hookup, if they’ve overloaded system when they’ve made additions. From the standpoint of homeowners, people don’t realize their homeowners insurance may not cover rentals. We need to have that information out there for people.”
Recent town board meetings have seen complaints about properties in Big Indian that residents feel need cleaning up. On this issue, Booth said, “I’ll go along with the rules and regulations of the town. The town’s been lax with building inspection, so there’s not a lot of consistency.” Hiring additional help for the building inspector may be a solution.
“The Democrats have had a 4-1 majority on the town board,” said Booth. “They’re complaining things are not getting done, but they haven’t cast a single ‘nay’ vote or made proposals. We need to be challenged to get our act together. Unless we have families moving here, we’re not going to survive as a town.”
Peter DiSclafani has been a town council member for the past four years and also served on the council for half a term in 2008-09, becoming town supervisor for 2010-11. He’s a long-time fireman and has, with his wife, owned and run the Catskill Rose restaurant in Mount Tremper for over 30 years. “I know how things run, how money comes in and goes out,” he said. “You want to keep the customers happy so they keep coming back. You’re not overcharging, just trying to give a good value for their dollar.” As an active member of the Methodist Church in Phoenicia, he helped arrange to have Flying Cat Music hold its concerts in the sanctuary, which he feels has been “a benefit for the congregation and the community.”
He’s found the council position rewarding. “I can bring something to the community, offer some of my knowledge of business. I want to keep an eye on the fiscal health of the community. I’ve made lots of advisements to the town board, although it doesn’t always get acted upon. I appreciate being able to help.”
DiSclafani would like to see more done with the county-owned rail corridor. He feels the rail trail being built along the Ashokan Reservoir will bring a lot of people to the area and would like to see it extended into Shandaken. Among the town’s needs, he wants to prioritize getting funding to repair sidewalks in Phoenicia and Pine Hill.
He feels the clean-up of properties in Big Indian has been “a long time coming. I think in a lot of ways, people accepted that’s just the way it is. I’m glad to see there’s been some movement towards being a good neighbor, not just doing whatever you want. Sure, we have a lot of freedoms to do what we want to our property, but you have to realize, you’re their viewshed. If that’s not your concern, you’re not being a nice neighbor.”
The biggest issues facing the town in the coming year include infrastructure improvement, which he feels will increase property values, and STRs. “We need to come to grips with a good comprehensive law for the STRs to bring them into the law books. If you’re a bed-and-breakfast, there’s a law, but something needs to be done to come to grips with the different types of Airbnbs there are.”
Vivian Welton currently serves as the Shandaken liaison to the Ulster County planning board, a position which enables her to be “in touch and aware of all the towns in Ulster County and the issues they deal with. I have a good overview of how they’re trying to manage issues.” She attends Shandaken town board meetings and serves on the Board of Assessment Review as one of three people who consider tax assessment grievances. “I’m familiar with a lot of the people who are currently running the town government. I’d like to continue the work they’re doing and improve on it.”
Welton has been a homeowner locally for 20 years and retired full-time to the area in 2016. Having had a career as a physician’s assistant, she said, “I’m a problem-solver by profession. I can listen to people’s concerns.” Her decision to run came when she was serving as secretary to the town’s Democratic Committee and “saw there was a need to step up. I’m the kind of person who steps up. I wanted to be more active in town government.”
She sees STRs as “an underestimated positive backbone of our current economic situation. It’s a source of much-needed income for a lot of people, including seniors on a fixed income, second homeowners who want to retire here but keep their house in condition ‘til then, and people just getting by who want extra income to pay bills. They’re bringing more people into the area who can patronize businesses. I’m hearing people don’t want to see unchecked expansion of STRs to the point where it will impact the community. It’s necessary to have regulations to help those people who feel inconvenienced get solutions to the problems. I think we can work out a reasonable set of rules with the help of the community.”
She hopes issues like the Big Indian clean-up will proceed more smoothly in the future, without the need for neighbors to go to such lengths to have their concerns addressed. “There’s a lot the town can do to be more proactive with other derelict properties. There should be a policy townwide to motivate owners to clean up accumulation of junk.”
Welton sees the biggest issue facing the town as economics. “People don’t know if they can continue living here with the lack of jobs, young people are moving out, and businesses are closing. Infrastructure is one of the obstacles to businesses making a go of it here, with the lack of sewage, parking, and sidewalks. Quality of life is another issue, preserving what is beautiful and desirable about our community.” She feels the town should work with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the Catskill Watershed Corporation to obtain more funding for work on infrastructure. “Private grant funding is something we also need to explore. We need people with the motivation and expertise to show us how to tap into those sources.”
Kyle Steen, a 30-year resident of Shandaken, attended Phoenicia Elementary School, graduated from Onteora High School, and is a member of the Sons of the American Legion. He’s worked in town as a server and bartender, and has participated in local fundraising events.
“I want to see a change in the way people outside feel about Shandaken,” said Steen. “I grew up here and had the best experiences here. When I needed help in town, when I fell down as a kid and hurt myself, there was always someone a stone’s throw away to help me out. The sense of community and compassion is something I want to instill in the new generation. A lot of people are getting away from that. I want to bring it back and people to realize we can still have that.”
He sees the STR issue as major and feels the town has taken the right step in forming a committee of people on opposite sides of the controversy to frame regulations. “I believe in the system and that these people will come to a fair agreement on what should be done. At first, at the meeting, I felt people were against each other, but by the end they were listening to each other and not just brushing it off.” Personally, he isn’t for or against STRs. “I don’t want to see them go away, because we need the business and the people in the town, but I don’t want to see it run rampant either. We need some form of regulation, maybe not much, but it has to be fair.”
Aside from STRs, he sees the town’s biggest issues as getting people to move to and stay in the town, increasing businesses, and having activities for the youth. “We have to spark the interest of youth. If they don’t ski or hunt or hike, we have to find out what would grab them and give it to them.” He’d like to see the parks upgraded, particularly the Big Indian playground, which has outdated equipment.
Steen is glad people are urging clean-up of properties in Big Indian. “A lot has gone forward already, and it seems to be going in the right direction. I know at least three spots that have already been cleaned up, and I’m confident things will be fixed.”
He feels he has the character to make a good council member. “I’m a person with an open mind. I won’t be bullied into narrow thinking, and I don’t have a personal agenda. I just want to do what’s right for the town as a whole. I want to be that person people can rely on, and I can give them straight answers.”