THURMAN - A crowd of town residents peppered five of the six declared candidates for the open town supervisor post with a variety of questions and concerns during a special town held Dec. 5.
The candidates responded by outlining their vision for the future of the town, talking about town finances, offering their qualifications and suggesting how they'd deal with problems citizens face.
Last month, former Thurman Supervisor John Haskell was removed from office following a felony conviction of defrauding the government. Former Deputy
Supervisor Leon Galusha has been acting as supervisor since the conviction, but has said he cannot assume the post permanently.
Empowered to appoint a new leader to finish the final 11 months of Haskell's term, the town board invited townspeople to meet Dec. 5 with the candidates, pose questions and air their views before the board makes their choice. The board has pledged to choose a candidate at the next town meeting, set for Dec. 16.
The diverse candidate pool consists of Albert Vasak, Edwin Baker, Red Pitkin, Joan Harris and Randall Oppitz and Eugene Rounds Jr. Rounds didn't attend the meeting. Oppitz was narrowly defeated by Haskell in the general election last year and has received the endorsement of the town Conservative and Democratic parties.
One outcome of Haskell's conviction and departure has been discord, with some residents expressing grudges against others based on where they were born or raised. This newly surfaced clash was reflected Dec. 5 in several of the questions asked. Several of the candidates stressed themes of healing and unity during the meeting. Budget, tax and assessment concerns were also addressed.
Here's a sampling of the questions posed, with answers from each candidate at the meeting:
Q: Is there an internal conflict in Thurman between lifelong residents and newcomers?
Albert Vasak Sr: "I am not sure this is a big problem anymore. Newcomers have the same issues as everyone else -taxes are too high and there are not enough services."
Edwin Baker: "When we looked into Thurman's history for the Bicentennial we discovered Thurman was founded by a flatlander!" (Note: John Thurman was from Long Island).
Lawrence "Red" Pitkin: "I do think this is an issue. We have to realize people are not that different regardless of where they are from. It all starts with listening."
Joan Harris: "I do not think this is an issue at all, and I was offended by the comments in the newspaper. I think most people let the comments roll off their backs."
Randall Oppitz: "Comments like 'flatlander' are used to divide - this is a reality in this town. No one has ever treated me poorly, but there is a history of treating 'outsiders' differently."
Q: Should there be a Sole Assessor or should the town maintain the system of three? What is the best approach to get fair assessments for everyone?
Albert Vasak Sr: "The problem is in finding three people who want to do it. There is no trust - everyone has an interest. People have to step up and run for office - here you can actually make a change."
Edwin Baker: "I would support whatever the people have voted for - they have always voted for three assessors. In order to change the system, the town supervisor would have to convince the townspeople."
Lawrence "Red" Pitkin: "From my understanding of the issue, the point is moot - the people have voted and decided on three assessors. We do need to look into the assessment process here - people must be exchanging information so less things get hidden. It has become a personal thing."
Joan Harris: "For a long time I have supported three assessors - I am no longer against appointing a Sole Assessor. It's been proven that not many people want that job-and who would?"
Randall Oppitz: "There is an inherent unfairness in the town's system that needs to be resolved. I am all for appointing a Sole Assessor - I would suggest Peter LaGrasse of Stony Creek."
Q: What is your vision for the future of Thurman?
Albert Vasak Sr: "The biggest problem I can see is that we need to embrace the future - we need cell phone service and broadband Internet. The town itself is the biggest business in town and you (the townspeople) own it. We're not going to get anywhere pointing fingers."
Edwin Baker: "When I was elected Supervisor in '72, I wanted to put a cannon on top of the mountain and take my territory back. Most of the towns in the county were at one time part of Thurman."
Lawrence "Red" Pitkin: "My ideal would be balancing revenues and taxes - each line item needs attention. We need to embrace innovation - 're-thought' can yield a lot of results."
Joan Harris: "The vision for this town is rural - the planning board which I served on already decided this. Businesses may not employ more than 20 people - we want an old fashioned, rural attitude here. I do not want to become Warrensburg - they wouldn't be here if we weren't here first."
Randall Oppitz: "The future is really something that needs to be talked about. We must find a way to generate revenue and protect the survival of Thurman. Taxes are how the town generates revenue. We can't just keep raising taxes; we need to find ways to bring more people into town and develop a larger tax base. Do we consider dissolution and consolidate with Warrensburg? We are doomed without more cash flow - we're already running at bare minimum."
Q: Why are you the right candidate to clean up all the corruption* and restore people's trust and image of Thurman? (wording as expressed by Thurman resident at the meeting.)
Albert Vasak Sr: "The most important thing for me is time - I have all kinds of it these days. I would be here to mitigate the situation and address peoples' concerns."
Edwin Baker: "I have been through this before when I served as Supervisor throughout the 1970s and 1980s."
Lawrence "Red" Pitkin: "We have a huge mess and the 'Us versus Them' attitude will not clean it up. It will take time and work to change people's perception of this community. It is all about listening to each other."
Joan Harris: "I am honest, forthright and accountable - If elected I will need time to look at the facts. It will require department heads to lower their budgets and I will pursue grants. From what I understand, most of our issues are all accounting."
Randall Oppitz: "I was a corporate trouble-shooter for over 20 years. I am very familiar with these types of problems and have fixed them before."
Q: With the combined duties of a Supervisor at the town and county levels, do you have the time to invest in the job?
Albert Vasak Sr: "Yes, I have nothing but time and would happily devote it to this community."
Edwin Baker: "Yes, I am semi-retired and would attend all board meetings."
Lawrence "Red" Pitkin: "I am phasing out the ownership of my business to my son - I expect to be totally out of it in three years. In business, without time management you don't survive - I would definitely have the time."
Joan Harris: "I would not have applied if I did not have the time."
Randall Oppitz: "I have cleared my schedule specifically to do this job."
Q: How would you balance your personal opinions with the will of the people?
Albert Vasak Sr: "I would work specifically for the majority of the townspeople."
Edwin Baker: "I would never do something that the voters did not support."
Lawrence "Red" Pitkin: "My general philosophy is that a supervisor is required to pursue the desires of the majority."
Joan Harris: "I would voice my own opinion. The bottom line is fairness - we need to treat each group fairly. We can't continue to support a snowmobile club without supporting ATV access to town as well."
Randall Oppitz: "I listen carefully and ask questions - is it an emotional issue? Opinions don't always make good sense, especially those driven by emotion."
Q: Do you have a relative who is an employee of the town?
Albert Vasak Sr: "No."
Edwin Baker: "Yes. My grandson Dexter Baker is the town dog-catcher."
Lawrence "Red" Pitkin: "Yes. My mother-in-law cleans the town hall one-and-a-half days per week."
Joan Harris: "Yes. My husband is the trash collector."
Randall Oppitz: "No."