NEW LEBANON–Seven positions in town government are up for election November 3 but there are only three seats contested. Leading the town ballot is the race for the two-year term as supervisor between incumbent Supervisor Mike Benson, a Republican also endorsed by the Conservative Party, and Town Clerk Colleen Teal, also a Republican, who is running on the Democratic line. Ms. Teal’s term as clerk expires this year.
There is also a race to fill the two-year post of Town Clerk between Jennifer Kelly on the Republican line and Tistrya Houghtling on the Democratic. Two candidates are seeking a four-year term as town justice, Democrat Schuyler Gail on the Democratic line and incumbent Justice Jack Nevers on the Republican and Independence Party lines.
There is no contest for the two open four-year seats on the Town Board, and the two-year positions as of highway superintendent and town tax collector.
Mike Benson. As his current term comes to a close, town supervisor, Mike Benson is seeking re-election for his third term since 2012. A registered Republican, Mr. Benson is backed by the Republican, Independent, and Conservative parties. Now 53, Mr. Benson was born and raised on his parent’s dairy farm in New Lebanon. He has lived in Virginia and later Loudonville, NY, but has been a full time New Lebanon resident for the past four years, along with his wife Christine and their four kids (two sons have since moved). For the past 25 years Mr. Benson has been the owner/operator of B.C.I. Construction Inc. in Albany. Mr. Benson is also an active board member for the Columbia Economic Development Corporation, the Columbia County Industrial Development Agency, and the Berkshire Farm Workforce Development Committee and a graduate of SUNY Canton.
Mr. Benson considers his greatest accomplishments in office to be cost saving. “I run a business and I felt like I could do a good job running the town…. I’m a numbers guy when I dug into our town budget I was absolutely frightened,” Mr. Benson says. He helped to budget for and construct a town hall at half the proposed cost. Christine Benson didn’t want to move with four children to a town with no grocery store, but after a Hannaford came close but then backed out of plans to build a new market in the town Mr. Benson was not able to find another grocer.
For 32 years the town and county have disagreed over who was responsible for a million-dollar closure and clean up of the landfill on Old Post Road. In 2013 Mr. Benson and the board were able to come to an agreement with the county and the state that covered 90% of the cost from outside the town’s budget. Mr. Benson has also worked to lower local taxes from a level he feels residents cannot afford.
Colleen Teal, a registered Republican backed by the Democratic Party, is challenging Benson for the position of town supervisor. Ms. Teal, 54, has lived in New Lebanon since she was 9. Ms. Teal has a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an accounting minor from Sage College. She worked as an assistant bank branch manager and served in other financial roles at G.E. She also worked as a substitute teacher while her daughter was in the New Lebanon school system.
Ms. Teal is currently serving as town clerk, a position she has held since 2002. She decided to run for supervisor because “my term was up this year, running again as town clerk and seeing what’s going on in the community was not an option, it was just breaking my heart.”
Ms. Teal would like to see the supervisor position changed to a full-time job to allow greater accessibility to residents and staff. She would also like to take full inventory of the town’s assets and create a long-term maintenance plan to budget for repairs. She wants to reinstate the town newsletter, mailed to all households in New Lebanon. It would connect many senior and low-income residents who lack Internet access. Ms. Teal would also like to see town employee wages and benefits raised, because she says New Lebanon has one of the lowest paid staffs in the county. She also plans to fight for the county to provide better services to New Lebanon.
Geographically on the northeast edge of the county, buses for seniors will not come to New Lebanon, although residents pay the county tax for them.
If elected supervisor, Ms. Teal anticipates a greater role in decision making and would like to work towards transparency with the community and a better informed board. “Most of what I’ve done as town clerk was not done by myself, I’d like to see more community involvement and input from residents”
Jack Nevers is seeking re-election to town justice, a title he has held for sixteen years (with a four year break). Before that Mr. Nevers, now seventy-five, worked as the court constable in New Lebanon and served on the town board for ten years. Jack graduated from Dalton High School in 1958 and left college to serve in the army, where he was honorably discharged with the rank of Sergeant. Forty years ago Jack and his wife June moved to New Lebanon and have raised their six kids here. Mr. Nevers worked for a Fortune 500 company and later went on to work at various trucking companies in driving and management positions. Mr. Nevers also served as president of the Lebanon Valley Protective Assoc. Now retired, Mr. Nevers feels he has the time to invest in this position, “As a judge you have to be compassionate fair and understanding and a good listener, stay up to date on laws. We’re on call 24 hours a day for arraignments, 2 o’clock in the morning, weekends, holidays, and being retired I have more time. I hope I have another four years as elected official.” Mr. Nevers is running as a Republican endorsed by the Independent party.
Schuyler Gail is running for town justice, endorsed on the democratic ticket. Raised in Williamstown, MA Mrs. Gail and her husband Colby relocated from her great grandfather’s farm in Berlin, NY to New Lebanon four years ago where they are raising two young children and operate Climbing Tree Farm. Mrs. Gail is a 2005 graduate of Warren Wilson College with a social science major. Schuyler has been part of the New Lebanon farmer’s market for six years, volunteers at her children’s schools, and is a founding member of a five farm C.S.A. project. Climbing Tree Farm was the 2014 Beekman Mortgage Lifter Grand Prize winner for innovative farming practices. Before the Gails started their own business Schuyler worked in the social service field doing teen counseling, mental health care, domestic violence and substance abuse counseling. According to Democratic party campaign material, Mrs. Gail is committed to upholding the integrity of the court system, restorative justice, and creative problem solving, and feels her experience will help her to help others and will make the community “a safer and healthier place for all of us”.
Two seats are open on the Town Board in this election. Kevin Smith and Mark Baumli, both endorsed by the Democratic Party, are running unopposed. The terms of the other two members of the board, Chuck Giraldi (R) and Dan Evans (C) do not expire until end in 2017.
Kevin Smith, 49, has lived in New Lebanon since the age of five and has owned Smitty’s Pizza on state Route 20 for 18 years. Before that he operated a home maintenance business and managed an Agway store. He is a member of the town Board of Ethics. His daughter is a graduate of Lebanon High School and his son is a senior there. Mr. Smith is seeking election due to concern over money management and keeping a well-informed board. He says he successfully worked to obtain a referendum on proposed sidewalk construction in New Lebanon. He would like to see more services for seniors, including snow shoveling and prescription pick-up.
Mr. Smith would also like to see more activities for young people similar to the skate park in Pittsfield managed by teens. And he wants to create a plan to maintain town buildings and would like to work with the fire department to negotiate a new building. Another concern of his is attracting more business to New Lebanon and reviving the state Route 20 commercial strip through the hamlet.
Mark Baumli, 53, a lifelong resident, lives on the same street as his mother and comes from a family with strong ties to the community. His father ran a business out of his home and served on the Town Board and fire department. Mr. Baumli has worked in Albany for the past 10 years as an accountant for Albany Molecular Research. Before that, he was an accountant at the KB Toys headquarters in Pittsfield.
He is treasurer of the board of directors of the Theater Barn.
Mr. Baumli shares Kevin Smith’s concern over senior citizen access to resources. As a lifelong resident he feels he understands the town’s needs and as a practicing accountant Mr. Baumli says he has the skill to manage a budget. “Locally we’ve done well at holding back the taxes, we also need to be aware of putting money in reserves in case something does go wrong,” he says. He wants to address vacant homes on Route 20 and get them back on the market. Mr. Baumli would also like to see more events like the community picnic in a town where many people work remotely and don’t know their neighbors.
CLERK, HIGHWAY SUPERINTENDENT
As Colleen Teal leaves her thirteen-year stint as town clerk Jennifer Kelly endorsed by the Republicans is running against Tistrya Houghtling (Dem), current court clerk, to fill the town clerk position.
Jeff Winestock is running unopposed for re-election as highway superintendent, a position he has held for the past 26 years. Tammie Darcy is running unopposed for tax collector.