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Not beholden to developers: Joshua Sabo wants to be the next supervisor for North Greenbush.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Wolf Road at the Door

In North Greenbush, pro-development and smart-growth factions are fighting a bare-knuckled brawl in which winner takes all—including the keys to Route 4’s future

By Chet Hardin

 

‘Somebody PLEASE, Stop This Man!!!!!!!!!!!” screams northgreen bushvertias.wordpress.com, in yet another salvo launched in the blogospheric battle for the soul of North Greenbush. A little farther down, the blog’s author, Vincit Omnia Vertias [sic], takes to task, with obvious zeal, its favorite persona non grata, Rensselaer County gadfly Charlie Smith: “The more you scream and rant, the better the case is made for the decision to join forces and ‘Bring North Greenbush Together.’ This Town has taken all the abuse it can tolerate from you. The closer we get to Election Day the bigger and more blatant your lies are. Pinochio’s got nothin’ on you! You probably need to be careful you don’t pop a gasket and implode.”

Misspellings and questionable implosions aside, the blogger makes the point abundantly clear: Charlie (C.B.) Smith has got to go.

Over at northgreenbushpipe line.blogspot.com, a reenvisioning of the North Greenbush town seal sits at the top of the page. Created by Kristin Young (who in drew the original town seal in 1979, as a young girl), the updated version plunders the original’s rural charms: Felled trees lie next to the once curving river, now gray asphalt with double yellow lines running down its middle. It is an image that the Pipeline feels sums it all up: “Kristin has been following the tragedy of [North Greenbush Supervisor] Mark Evers’ total conversion to the development interests he campaigned against in 2005. . . . Kristin sees a new vision for North Greenbush under Mark Evers and his blank check development slate. . . Government of, for, and by the developer.”

For months, the two blogs have played at the same game: The Pipeline, which is widely believed to be the thinly veiled effort of Smith, levels harsh criticism at Evers, at town Democratic Committee Chairman Jeffrey Spain, and at their political allies. Vertias answers with hissing, gleeful rebuttals.

“A group of us got together a year and a half ago ’cause we saw the Democratic Party getting taken over by guys like C.B. Smith,” says Spain. “He ruined the Democratic Party in North Greenbush. And we decided that the only way to get rid of him was to take over the Democratic Committee.” Which is exactly what Spain and his allies did: North Greenbush has 16 seats in the Rensselaer County Democratic Committee, and Spain’s side secured nine of them; Smith’s side held onto only seven. Given that two-seat lead, Spain’s supporters were able elect him chairman, unseating Smith ally Dan Ashley.

“When I got elected,” Spain continues, “I said, ‘I am going to do what it takes to get rid of C.B. Smith.’ That has been my mantra.”

“Town residents have got to understand that we have been under seige for the past two years,” Vertias writes. “The only way we can make Charlie stop, is take away what little power base he has.” That power base, Vertias asserts, lies in the newly formed Greenbush Party and with its candidates for the upcoming townwide elections.

The Greenbush Party came into being back in August with the petitioning effort of a smart-growth faction of North Greenbush, driven by members of the Defreestville Area Neighborhood Association, among others. With the very strong probability that the major parties would be running an identical slate of pro-development candidates in the upcoming elections, the advocates behind the Greenbush Party felt it was imperative to offer the voters another choice. Easily gathering the more than the 500 signatures necessary to start their party, the Greenbush Party now poses the only serious challenge to the ticket that Evers, who is seeking reelection, tops.

“A number of us have got together as a coalition that is very concerned with the direction that politics have taken in the town of North Greenbush,” Mike Angelo told Metroland in August, after working to form the new party. “The town is divided and there is a need for a unifying, coalescing factor to take place.” But when one of the town’s main factions wants to coalesce around retail-development interests and the other one doesn’t, burying the hatchet on the brutal and overtly personal battles of the past two years will be easier said than done.

Center of controversy: The intersection of routes 4 and 43.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

When the residents of North Greenbush head to the polls this Tuesday (Nov. 6), they will be voting for, among other positions, two town council members, a town clerk, the superintendent of highways, receiver of taxes, and supervisor. The Democratic slate features two candidates, Evers and board candidate Louis Desso, who have been endorsed by all four major parties. For Smith, this is an obvious indicator of where their loyalties lie.

“Are we just supposed to believe that the Democrats and Republicans in North Greenbush just love each other?” Smith asks. “When that kind of thing happens, it spells corruption.”

Evers is a registered Conservative and Desso is the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party. The chairman of the Conservative party is Michael Casale, whose family business, Casale Excavating, has been embroiled in controversy over the past year for work it contracted with North Greenbush.

“What has happened in the town is that the development interests, working together with a local contractor, Casale Excavating, which holds a $6.4 million water contract, which is way overspent,” says Smith, “have joined forces with county Republicans and a very narrow majority on the town’s Democratic committee, the town’s Conservative committee, which is controlled by Casale Excavating, and the Independence party, to take control of the town.”

Casale Excavating won the bid to lay the infrastructure for Water District 14. Last year, the town ran out of money to pay Casale Excavating for work that it already done and work that it had yet to do. Casale’s original bid was for $6.4 million. When Casale stopped work on the district, it was estimated that the overrun had amounted to $830,000.

“I have tried to make this clear,” says Kathryn Connolly, North Greenbush town clerk. “Every water district in this town was overspent in one way or another. District 2, which was not Casale Excavating, was overspent in 1993 by $425,000. And it too was because of rock and shale and all of that.”

Connolly doesn’t see the overrun as that big of a deal.

“But apparently,” she says, “if you make an issue out of it, it becomes an issue.”

And an issue it has become. At the end of last year, Evers moved to bond the debt out townwide to pay off Casale. In January, petitioners gathered 200 signatures to stop Evers. The petitioners wanted to vote on whether the whole town would absorb the costs for the water infrastructure of one section of town. Others balked at the idea of paying off what they considered kickbacks to a political ally of the supervisor.

“The supervisor wants to take an overrun of $830,000 that occurred in Water District 14 and spread that overrun across the entire town,” says outgoing council member Richard Fennelly. “I did nothing but honor a petition that was brought before the town that said that if that is going to happen, the undersigned want to have a vote on it, called a permissive referendum.”

The town had between 60 to 75 days to hold the permissive referendum after Fennelly got a resolution passed through the town board. However, no efforts were taken by the supervisor, the town clerk, nor the board to ensure that the vote could occur, and the deadline came and went. After threats of a lawsuit, the town rescheduled the vote for Oct. 16. Again, the date came and went without a vote.

“There was a resolution passed in a town board meeting that simply said, ‘October 16,’ ” Connolly says. “There was no time scheduled; there were no places scheduled. I have said since the first meeting in June, ‘You need to certify the people who are going to work; you need to give me a time. What places are you going to use?’ . . . And another resolution has never been passed.”

“The board has never made a move,” she says. “It is a board decision.”

“I wasn’t instructed to do anything,” Evers adds, attempting to dodge blame. “So I didn’t do anything.”

It was his feeling that Joshua Sabo, the town attorney (and his opponent for supervisor on Tuesday), and Fennelly should have organized the vote. “You know, we left it up to the attorney and nothing was communicated to anybody what had to be done.” The town clerk has run special elections in the past, but said she didn’t have the time to do it either, also passing the buck again to Sabo.

“I am not running the town,” says Sabo. “If I was running the town, it would have gotten done. There is a problem, you solve the problem, you comply with the law. Here, everyone is looking for the supervisor to lead the town, to say what the town is going to do to solve the problem. . . . The town attorney doesn’t run the town. If he wants me to run the town, he can say so. But it is not the town attorney’s job.”

“They know what the law says,” says Smith, who points to a section of town code that he says specifies that the clerk is responsible for all elections. “They know they have an obligation to hold that vote. The board set the vote and the supervisor is responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the town. And he just, along with the town clerk, who I think is in complete cahoots with him on this, decided that they would nothing to cause that election, for the simple reason: To protect Casale Excavating’s control of the Conservative Party and the contract that they hold in Water District 14.”

Evers, Smith says, is “inviting litigation against himself and the town clerk for failing to upholds the laws of permissive referendum.”

The vote has been rescheduled for Jan. 16—conveniently post-election.

“Today is Day 109 for the North Greenbush Democratic Committee violation of State Election Law requiring the on line filing of a Financial Disclosure Report due July 15, 2007,” reads the Oct. 31 post at the Pipeline. “They are also 25 days late on a 32 Day Pre General filing due October 5th and 4 days late filing their October 26th 11 Day Pre General Report. The Board of Elections has sent them another letter attempting to get them to file as required by law. They have completely IGNORED those letters and apparently blame others for their actions. Laws apparently don’t apply to the ‘reformed’ democrats under Jeff Spain and his Treasurer, Tax Collector Kyran Devery.”

Every weekday for the past 109 days, the Pipeline has posted some sort of variation on the information above. Sabo, the current town attorney for North Greenbush and Greenbush Party candidate for supervisor, wonders if his opponent, as well as the other Democratic-endorsed candidates, do not want the public to know who is donating to their campaigns until after the election is over because the donations are coming from the developers, contractors, and even the Casales.

Further, Sabo charges, his opponent, Evers, as well as board candidate Desso and others, held a fund-raising event last Wednesday (Oct. 24), the invitation to which directed those so inclined to make checks payable to an entity that was not registered with the state Board of Elections as a fund-raising committee. The committee, called Bringing North Greenbush Together, therefore hadn’t filed any reports disclosing who was giving what.

“And it is absolutely illegal,” Sabo says. There has since been a complaint made to the state BOE.

“There is a pattern and practice of shielding the donations made for this campaign from the public eye,” Sabo says. “The Democratic committee that has been paying for ads has not been filing required reports indicating who has been donating money. The Rensselaer County Republican Committee, who is also contributing to this campaign, is not filing appropriate reports.”

Devery did not return calls for an interview. Evers, however, says that the proper paperwork for the new committee has been filed. And as far as the Democratic committee’s failure to file, that lies squarely with Smith and former Democratic committee Chairman Dan Ashley, Evers says. Chairman Spain agrees with Evers, claiming that the bank statements for the committee were in such disarray when he took the chairmanship that $21,000 in funds were unaccounted for. The committee needs that information, they say, before it can file.

“There was no information. There were no receipts. Absolutely nothing. Nobody talks about this! I have $21,000 of unaccounted-for funds,” Spain says. “They wrote a check to Dan Ashley for $3,000 and all it said on the check was ‘golf expense.’ And I have copies of all the statements from the bank.”

Spain has turned over the documents to the Rensselaer County District Attorney’s office months ago, but the office has yet to investigate.

“Apparently,” he says, “she has bigger fish to fry than that.”

“Blame C.B.! Blame C.B.,” Smiths laments. “How many times have I heard that? Twenty-one thousand dollars they accuse me and Dan Ashley of stealing. And what do they think that we did with it? Cause if you go online and read the reports that were filed and still online at the state Board of Elections, you will see every check accounted for every penny, right down to a $50 check to St. Jude’s Church in memory of Jeff Spain’s mother when she died.

If someone stole $21,000 from a political committee, he argues, wouldn’t the district attorney take some interest?

It is a lie, but it is one they repeat over and over again, Smith says, in the hopes to confuse the real financial scandal: “How many developers are donating to them? Let’s see. How much money is Casale giving? Tell me why they are ignoring two requests from the Board of Elections?”

“If Charlie Smith did something like that, held an illegal fund-raiser, they’d string him up a flagpole,” Smith proffers in the third person. “If I was the one who failed to report financial contributions as treasurer as a party, they would be all over me. But look at what they are doing. Jeff Spain and Kyran Devery, they had a report due in July, we don’t know a dime of what they have collected or what they spent it on.”

Chairman Spain has made little secret of his pro-development inclinations, going so far as to tell Metroland, “I would love to see Route 4 become another Wolf Road,” with the same big-box retail and strip malls lining the rural stretch of road from Hudson Valley to the intersection of Route 43, site of the controversial future Van Rensselaer Square Mall in Defreestville.

“When you look at Wolf Road, do you see anything bad? It is all thriving businesses,” Spain says. “There is no reason why Route 4 from Hudson Valley all the way through East Greenbush couldn’t be just like that.”

“I want to see development in this town. We need the sales tax dollars,” he continues. “C.B. and Josh Sabo have fought it every step of the way. Have you been over to routes 4 and 43 lately? That land has been zoned commercial for years, but the people in Defreestville having fighting it, because someone saw a deer in there 10 years ago. Seriously. Someone saw an albino deer like 15 years ago and now they want to keep that forever wild. So now everybody in North Greenbush drives past that intersection to go to Crossgates, to go to Colonie Center, to go to Wolf Road, to spend their money, when they could spending there money in the town of North Greenbush, but the people in Defreestville have said ‘no.’ ”

He adds that Sabo and Smith are such fierce opponents of the development at routes 4 and 43 solely because their political support comes out of Defreestville smart-growth movement.

Evers, for his part, says that he doesn’t quite share in the chairman’s vision.

“I want tax money coming in. I want dollars,” Evers says, “And I don’t support Jeff’s statement that we want it to be another Wolf Road. That is not my intent. I am interested in developing the properties properly, so that it will benefit the whole town.” He points out that the credit rating of Rensselaer County was lowered this year, and Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino’s new budget proposes a 5-percent property tax increase.

Smith, for one, is unimpressed with the claims of either Spain, Evers, or anyone else from the pro-development faction of North Greenbush politics as to just how far down the Wolf Road route they are willing to travel. A grim future of government manipulation at the behest of big money is all that he sees if they gain complete control of town hall.

All one has to do, Smith says, is look at the record.

He points to the Oct. 26 posting at the Pipeline, which details the actions of North Greenbush former town attorney and wife of the owner of Bonded Concrete, Linda Mandel-Clemente: “The controversial former light fingered town attorney got herself appointed to the town Planning Board in the final days of her tenure in 2005 with one of the three Board votes coming from Bonded employee, Councilman Bob Ashe. Less than a month later she votes to approve the controversial site plan for Van Rensselaer Square Mall before she is forced off the Planning Board by a criminal prosecution surrounding her New Year’s Day removal of town records.”

Ten months later, the Pipeline continues, and “Bonded Concrete trucks are pouring the concrete at the Mandel-Clemente approved site . . .”

Finishing the Pipeline’s thought, Smith says: “It was all about making money.”

chardin@metroland.net


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