Newfane town offices attract interest
NEWFANE -- There is stark contrast between the town and school ballots for Tuesday’s Town Meeting voting.
Newfane’s School Board has just one listed candidate for five open positions. And there’s been so little interest in the board that officials are asking for voter permission to decrease the number of seats from five to three.
But on the town side, races for Selectboard, Town Clerk and Treasurer have attracted eight candidates. Voters will make those choices via Australian Ballot voting that is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday at Union Hall.
-- On the Selectboard, some change is inevitable, as Chairman Jon Mack decided to not seek another term after three years on the governing body.
Incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick is the sole candidate for one available three-year term. He first won election to the board last year in a successful candidacy for a one-year seat.
His family operates Fitzpatrick Excavating, and Fitzpatrick said he is interested in road issues and in continuing the town’s recovery from Tropical Storm Irene’s flooding in August 2011.
There also are three candidates for two available one-year Selectboard terms as incumbent Chris Druke, former board member Gary Katz and newcomer Gil Eisenhuth are facing off.
Druke, owner of Druke Insurance Agency, is finishing her second one-year term. Druke has been praised for her extensive involvement in the town’s flood recovery, including financial issues related to federal and state reimbursement.
"We have some wrap-up work. We don’t have Lynch Bridge rebuilt yet," Druke said, adding that there is "still quite a bit of work to do" regarding the town’s Irene-buyout properties.
Druke said she also is interested in promoting Newfane’s economic viability. Otherwise, she said, "I really do not have an agenda. I’m more of a person who says, ‘This is work that must be done.’"
Katz previously served on the Selectboard for seven years, including three years as chairman. He also is a previous lister; has served as president of Windham County Historical Society; and is on the board of Valley Cares.
Katz says he has "no specific personal agenda" but wants to "represent the town as a whole." Too often, he says, a vocal minority can drown out more-moderate majority opinions.
"What we need is to have people on the board who look at the issues not based just on how much noise is being made ... but rather, to step back and look at it from the perspective of the entire town as a whole," Katz said.
Eisenhuth has no experience in elected office, having recently retired as Putney’s postmaster after 33 years with the U.S. Postal Service. He has resided in South Newfane for 15 years.
He said he brings budgetary experience as well as "excellent listening and decision-making skills."
"I think it’s a good idea to have to mix of people in there," Eisenhuth said. "What I bring to the table is business sense and a willingness to listen."
-- The Town Clerk’s office has been filled for five years by Gloria Cristelli, who said she has worked hard to modernize and transform the town office.
"My goal is, let the transformation continue," she said.
For example, Cristelli said land-record documents are being digitized and indexed online. Original documents are returned to their owners within two to three business days, which is a big change from previous backlogs, she said.
"These documents in the vault and other services are accessible 40 hours a week or by appointment," Cristelli said.
Cristelli also noted that she uses a voting tabulator to improve accuracy and serves as the town’s secondary emergency-management official.
She is being challenged by Cina Friend, who said she wants "to get that good old hometown feeling back into the Town Clerk’s office again. I’ve heard from people that they want more openness, more communication and an expansion of hours."
Friend said she wants to open the town office on Fridays and Saturdays for convenience’s sake.
Friend has not held elected office. But she previously owned her own business and worked in juvenile corrections, which she says prepared her for the record-keeping functions of the Town Clerk’s job.
"I have a history with record-keeping, and I’m meticulous with the way things work," Friend said, adding that "I just enjoy being with people."
She also believes Cristelli’s simultaneous service as Town Clerk and as a Newfane Selectboard member may present a conflict of interest.
"One of my reasons for running for Town Clerk is to do just that," Friend said. "I want to know what’s going on. I want to be informed. But the Town Clerk has enough work to do."
Cristelli, however, sees no conflict and says she recuses herself from Selectboard votes that could overlap with her duties as Town Clerk.
"I didn’t elect myself," Cristelli said. "I ran twice, and twice the legal voters of Newfane elected me to the Selectboard at the same time as I was Town Clerk. Let the voters speak."
-- The voters also will speak on who should serve as Newfane’s town Treasurer and Tax Collector.
Incumbent Treasurer Maureen Albert-Piascik says she has "given 10 years of quality work to the town of Newfane."
"The yearly outside audits are without incident, and the auditors have noted each year that no sign of fraud was found," she said. "The treasurer position is a multifaceted one, requiring the treasurer to be quick and on top of all that needs to be done."
Albert-Piascik said she would like to see town residents be able to pay their taxes via credit card, a move that she believes would lead to "more tax money and less delinquency."
She added that the treasurer is an independent elected official.
"I work for the people and not the Selectboard," she said. "I listen to the people, and I go by what the people are asking."
Her challenger, Merle Tessier, had a slightly different take on that same topic.
"I’ve made a pledge in my campaign to work with the Selectboard," Tessier said. "They really need to know where they are (financially) in order to get where they’re going."
Tessier serves as Newfane’s Zoning Administrator and said he has extensive experience in finance.
"There are some issues that I felt need addressing. I have 47 years of experience in accounting. I feel that would be very helpful, especially in terms of budgeting," Tessier said. "I want to return transparency to the position."
Tessier narrowly lost the same race last year: After a recount, Albert-Piascik won the election by six votes, 138 to 132.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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