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New Year, New Council, New Troubles

Tensions flare as changes in the Troy City Council start to go from idea to reality

by Erin Pihlaja on January 2, 2014

 

The mood in the Rensselaer County Supreme Court on Troy’s Second Street was peaceful, even celebratory, on Tuesday morning (Dec. 31) for the swearing-in ceremony for seven of the nine total members of the new Troy City Council. It was a drastic change from the tone that has pervaded the council’s operations since the general election in November.

Changes: Wiltshire, far right, closed the ceremony as Rensselaer County Democratic Chairman Tom Wade, center, and Lynn Kopka, outgoing council president, look on. Photo by Erin Pihlaja

Council member Rodney Wiltshire received more votes than incumbent council president Lynn Kopka, which earned him the title of president for the upcoming council, effective Jan. 1. With the change of leadership also came the option for Wiltshire to nominate other council members to chair positions of special committees; and to propose candidates for the positions of city council legislative secretary, city clerk, and city deputy clerk.

It appears as though the changes were not met kindly by everyone within the council. In early December an e-mail exchange, primarily between Wiltshire and Gary Galuski, a council member in his fourth and final term, was leaked to the press. The exchange highlighted the tensions that were building.

The communications indicated that Wiltshire was not interested in having Galuski continue to chair the Recreation Committee. Galuski wrote, “Never have I or any of my colleagues been submitted to the type of threat incoming Council President Wiltshire issued to me with a guarantee of no chairmanship simply because I asked when we will caucus to conduct such business. . . . I urge you to remind incoming Council President Wiltshire he was not elected Emperor . . . ”

Galuski had attached a prior email from Wiltshire in which Wiltshire wrote that Galuski had hung up on him during a discussion and that Wiltshire had tried to make prior contact multiple times. He referred to Galuski as “bizarre, unprofessional, discourteous, and disrespectful.” Wiltshire ended his e-mail with, “I am not his boy, or the house nigger.”

“I don’t think that being the first of color is the important part of it,” said Wiltshire, who has previously stated that to his knowledge he is the first nonwhite male to hold the top council position. “But when you take a step back and look at the dynamics of Troy—it’s diversity. Our city has a sizable nonwhite population, it’s good to see some representation.

Wiltshire didn’t say whether or not he felt that racial issues were to blame for the tensions. “It’s a transition,” he said. “Change is hard for everybody. It has not been as graceful as you might expect as when the power stays in the same party, but we’re getting through it.”

Council member Ken Zalewski, who is in his fourth and final term, said that he’s seen many instances of drama in government before. “Every single time there is a transition, it is topsy turvy, this time it was just made a little more public,” he said. “Everyone is on the same page.”

“I want to take the personalities and personal issues out of it,” Wiltshire said. “I think people aren’t always happy when they don’t get what they want to what they think they are entitled to. We are in a good spot with this administration and we’re on an upswing. It’s a good time to be in city government here in Troy, and we’re going to work together.”

He added that he has been busy “trying to establish a process” in the council for “big to little things,” like filling the positions in the clerk’s office. “I’m trying to make the process as open and transparent as possible.”

Wiltshire said that they received 28 applications for the slots and that interviews had already been held for qualifying candidates. He added that he expects to make a decision by this Friday, which he will then present to the council for a vote that will take place next Thursday (Jan. 9). He admitted that the meeting might highlight some of the negativity that has taken place so far. “The in-your-face drama has calmed down a bit,” he said, but added that he expected the upcoming meeting to be tense.

“We’ve got smart, talented people here who want progress,” he said. “I want to make the city as good as it can be.”

Zalewski, who will chair the Technology Committee, agreed with that sentiment. “I want to see a wi-fi mesh throughout the entire city, and I hope it will be free. We want to talk to fiber providers which would create competition. I’d like to see better Internet access for everyone in Troy. We have tons of ideas and ambitious goals for the next two years.”

“I hope everybody gets on the boat, because when the boat leaves the dock we’re not coming back for you,” said Wiltshire. “I welcome anyone who wants to work together. Everyone’s voice will be heard. But I will not tolerate any sort of undermining or that kind of nonsense. Next Thursday, the tone will be set by everyone.”

Appellate Judge Edward Spain oversaw the swearing-in proceedings—which marked his last official duty after 36 years on the bench.