WARRENSBURG - The major news stories of 2008, both in northern Warren County and nationwide, seemed to share a common theme - upheaval.
Some things citizens have taken for granted faltered or were shattered - whether it was plunging retirement savings or home values, or the integrity of our state Governor. Society was in flux during this pivotal year - in unprecedented turmoil.
Meanwhile, Adirondackers kept their eyes on the future, knowing they've weathered many challenges before, and will likely face many more in the future.
Political disruptions abounded
Locally, new approaches to government were implemented, jobs declined, fuel prices skyrocketed then plunged, and government officials were convicted or shamed into resignation - who can forget the bizarre and sudden fall of Eliot Spitzer?
The Governor who was elected in a landslide vote and with high hopes apparently spent about $80,000 on prostitutes - he was caught in a wiretap that he had endorsed as an Attorney General leading a campaign against crime.
Locally in Thurman, long-time Supervisor John Haskell left his post after he was convicted of defrauding the government. Many decried the felony conviction as an injustice, calling his action as an unfortunate, innocent mistake, while others saw the jury's decision as justified.
Chestertown Attorney Fred Monroe took the helm of the county Board of Supervisors as Chairman, after the retirement of Bill Thomas, completing his seven years leading the county and 18 as North Creek Supervisor. Area attorney Sterling Goodspeed, former Warren County District Attorney, took Thomas' place.
Also sworn in Jan. 1, 2008 was Bolton Supervisor Kathleen Simmes, who replaced Alexander Gabriels as the town's leader.
Thurman Town Clerk Nancy Beadnell retired after 26 years, leaving the office to Cynthia Hyde.
Also, Lawrence "Red" Pitkin was sworn in as the new Thurman Supervisor, promising reconciliation to a town that had become split by the Haskell conviction into verbal crossfire between those born and raised in town and newcomers.
Unprecedented crimes, arrests and convictions
Armed with the support of rank-and-file police officers, Nathan "Bud" York took over as Warren County Sheriff, replacing long-time sheriff Larry Cleveland, who had shepherded the sheriff's department through growth and modernization. Cleveland was largely responsible for overseeing the construction of the new county public safety complex including the new jail.
York made changes, beefing up drug enforcement and establishing a canine unit and a motorcycle patrol.
2008 was a year for bizarre crimes, arrests and convictions, including the arrest of a Troy man for repeatedly ramming a manned sheriff's patrol car repeatedly with his truck - not long after he'd wielded a knife and caused a ruckus at the Warrensburg VFW Hall.
Arrests were made for a number of sex attacks and assaults on minors locally, and Warrensburg hosted its first police stakeout in recent history, with sheriffs officers arresting an apartment manager for rape.
Meanwhile Lake George hosted a record marijuana bust, with the owner of the Lone Bull Restaurant and his son accused of growing vast quantities of the drug in a cabin they owned near the restaurant.
In September, Warrensburg restaurant owner Anthony Sapienza was convicted of 13 felonies. related to his sexual abuse of two teenage girls, both underage. Sapienza is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 14 in the case, and he faces yet another trial for other indictments.
One police story had a happy ending. Yelping puppies alerted parents of a Stony Creek boy that he'd been buried alive in a collapsing sand bank. Dakota Beadnell, then 12, was dug out from underneath tons of sand in April by his parents, aided by rescue workers.
Another event sparked mourning among many.
New York Army National Guard soldier Mark C. Palmetier of Wevertown and North Creek died in an ambush in June in Afghanistan.
Government redefines boundaries, budgets
During 2008, Monroe administration at the county asserted itself, preaching for an end to unnecessary spending. Along with newly appointed budget officer Kevin Geraghty, the administration attacked what they saw as departmental inefficiency, pushing department heads to lower their budgets and influencing them to reduce pay raises.
Although the process was riddled with contention, county supervisors adopted a 2009 budget with the lowest tax increase in a decade -2.9 percent. All of this evolved with the backdrop of a catastrophic national economy which experts said mirrored the Great Depression - although local banks continued sound economic practices, most jobs remained secure, and cash registers kept ringing in the region.
Locals shun gloom, show their charitable spirit
It is in these uncertain times that we saw the true character of our local citizens, the best of our communities.
Despite the economic gloom, Adirondackers continued to turn to pull together in 2008, and look out for one another.
Their charitable, thoughtful community spirit prompted them to raise record amounts for the annual Scott Remington spinal cord benefit, plus a tidy sum for Vern Baker family of Thurman facing a battle with cancer, and for dozens of other local charitable causes.
Other turmoil surfaces
Economic uncertainty hit home in Warrensburg, as angry citizens packed the town hall in Spring, protesting raised assessments they said were unfair and arbitrarily determined. Within weeks, the local assessor retired.
In Thurman, local taxpayers were exasperated over a town budget, hammered out during the leadership transition, that calls for a 25 percent tax hike in 2009.
In education, school administrators and school board members were confounded by threatened state-aid cutbacks, and began to plan budget cuts. At Warrensburg Central, this process began long before the national news trumpeted an economic collapse.
Proposed cuts to activities at Warrensburg High, ideas suggested by the local school board to contain ever-increasing school taxes, prompted a peaceful demonstration of students in January. The students lobbied to retain a diverse, comprehensive education. The cutback proposals struck many as a sad irony after Warrensburg Central was chosen as a model school by the state for its record of outstanding student achievement despite a deprived local economy.
In March, Warrensburg High School Principal Dan Roberts, concerned about ever-stronger initiatives to cut educational programs, announced his retirement. His long-time ally Doug Duell, took over in July with a fresh energetic approach.
At North Warren Central, parents turned out in force in December, decrying the reorganization of the schools, including the elimination of the elementary principal post.
Faced with complaints about how the changes weren't publicized, the school administration responded by pledging better communication.
Both schools will be dealing with their budget concerns, beginning this week, in a series of meetings open to the public.
Commerce not immune from upheaval
Headlining the year's events on the commercial front was the announcement that chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices will indeed develop their multi-billion-dollar facility in Luther Forest, which is expected to be a long-term linchpin in the region's economy, providing thousands of jobs, many of them with substantial pay. Regional Economic experts have predicted that dozens of satellite businesses will locate in the region, offering steady jobs with high wages.
Despite the demise of giant national financial firms, local banks continued to use sound fiscal practices and extend local residents their traditional services.
Also, in direct opposition to the dire national news, local sales tax revenues continued to increase through 2008, despite softening tourism.
Meanwhile, the center of tourism, Lake George, launched an effort to make the village government evaporate, while transferring services, employees, debt and assets to the town which encompasses it. Controversy continues on this issue as the government consolidation is expected to go to vote in March.
In Bolton, the theme of upheaval hit home, as the historic Sagamore was sold to new out-of-state owners for about $88 million, and dozens of employees lost full-time positions.
In December, the new owners of the world-renowned hotel announced they'd be closing down through March except for special events - a move to conserve cash and jobs.
Also in the business news was the unfortunate outbreak of gastrointestinal illness at the Great Escape Lodge which sickened hundreds. The facility has since improved health measures.
During February, the historic Prospect Diner reopened in Lake George Winter to great fanfare, months after a destructive fire.
The River Street Athletic Club opened in Warrensburg in March, offering new facilities for those serious about staying in shape. They joined Panther Mountain Fitness, a facility that opened weeks before in Chestertown.
The Athletic Club is among several enterprises located at Riverview Plaza, an ambitious redevelopment of the former Outlet Barn as a professional and commercial plaza.
Adirondack issues spark new concerns
Local municipalities joined a legal fight to retain state tax payments, tens of millions of dollars annually, threatened under a court decision that put such payments in limbo.
The counties prevailed, yet at the end of the year, Gov. Paterson proposed a cap on such payments to lessen the state's ongoing financial shortfall. Adirondack officials again find themselves in an unusual alliance with environmentalists in fighting for full tax payments.
In mid-February, The state and the Land Conservancy announced a deal to preserve 134,140 acres, designating more acreage as forever wild. At years end, area politicians were lobbying state officials to stop buying up land if they want to contain the state deficit and stop choking the local economies.
Local land transfers for environmental protection were more readily accepted.
In Spring, the area municipalities acquired 12 acres straddling West Brook in Lake George from the Charles Wood Foundation - the former Gaslight Village. The plot, to be developed as a stormwater-filtering park and a festival grounds, was hailed as a major accomplishment.
Rancor surfaced later, however, when a coalition of county leaders, lead by Lake George Supervisor Lou Tessier, sought to preserve and restore two buildings on the property to use as headquarters for festivals and community events.
Some businesses closed their doors, a felon ran for local judgeship, highway budgets soared, although weeks later, fuel prices plummeted to their lowest levels in nearly a decade - cheering financially stressed commuters.
Upheaval also prevailed as a devastating ice storm ravaged vast areas of northern Warren County, causing widespread road closures and power outages that left about 9,600 households and businesses out of power, some for up to a week.
Life isn't easy in the Adirondacks-but that is where we find our strength-it is required here.
For better or worse, 2008 will be remembered as a year of change, a year of evolution, a seminal time. And like most evolutionary events, the process was brutal and painful.
In order to survive we must continue the discourse and introspection which all of this flux has created. If this happens and we continue to evolve as a people-we will be just fine.