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Ancram forms committee to look into bad behavior

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ANCRAM—After months of debate, this town now has a Committee for Respectful Behavior (CRB).

The board voted four to one to approve the appointment of the CRB, whose members include Amy Allen, Isalyn Connell, Dave Hall, Jaclyn Ryan, Bill Walters and Abby Westlake.

Town Supervisor Art Bassin, Councilman Hugh Clark, Councilwoman Amy Gold and Councilwoman Bonnie Hundt all voted in favor. Councilman David Boice voted No.

The committee will start by recommending a training program, along with a final policy and procedure for addressing future instances of discourteous or ill-mannered behavior that occurs in the course of carrying out town business at a meeting or elsewhere. Once these elements are approved by the Town Board, the committee will begin to deal with those kinds of complaints, should they arise.

Councilwomen Gold and Hundt will serve as the Town Board liaisons to the CRB and will assist the committee in getting organized and appointing a chair or co-chairs.

The Town Board will continue to accept applications for membership to the committee and may appoint additional members.

The board voted to create a CRB in May.

The matter of disrespectful behavior initially came to light back in January, when Jack Lindsey, resident and Town Ethics Board chair, addressed the board about numerous incidents of “dismissive, sometimes hostile or inappropriate treatment of women who serve the town or come to the Town Hall for constituent services…”

An investigation into the claims ensued, with the Town Board enlisting the services of Attorney Elena DeFio Kean with the Hinman Straub law firm in Albany to look into the matter. Ms. Kean started her investigation February 12 and concluded it with the submission of her findings report April 21. She interviewed 20 people—all were town employees, elected officials or volunteers on one or more town committees.

Ms. Kean’s 13-page report revealed “no violation of law or ethics,” but did find that Mr. Lindsey’s January statement “did accurately convey the feelings and sentiments of multiple females [who] provide services to the Town of Ancram.” The individuals’ feelings of being dismissed or treated disrespectfully “are genuine and sincere.”

With regard to the most recent disrespectful behavior complaint brought up at the June meeting, Supervisor Bassin told The Columbia Paper by phone this week that the matter “is now considered closed.”

The complaint, which was discussed in executive session last month, came from an employee who reportedly received a harassing email from a town resident. Mr. Bassin said the matter was “looked into” by the town attorney, who gave the board a report. He said both parties were communicated with and the matter is now concluded.

Also at the July 14 meeting, the board heard from Will Weiss, chair of the Strategic Investment Committee (SIC) and member of the Financial Advisory Council regarding ways the town might invest a portion of its cash reserve “for the long term betterment of the town.”

Mr. Bassin said by phone this week that the town is expected to end the year with $1.4 million in cash reserve, while the target cash reserve amount is $800,000.

Mr. Weiss identified four areas of possible investment:

*Water issues in the Ancram hamlet

*Workforce housing

*Building a pavilion on property at Town Hall or Blass field

*Adding solar panels to the roof of the salt/sand shed at the town garage.

He elaborated on two of the possibilities, the solar panels and the pavilion. He said more information is needed before solutions can be recommended for the water issues and a separate committee is already working on coming up with recommendations to address the housing issue.

Suzan Flamm, chair of the town’s Climate Smart Community Task Force, told the board that solar panels could be added to the town’s salt/sand shed roof and would generate more than enough electricity to power the garage and salt shed. She said the excess could be credited to the town’s account and applied to other electric needs in town such as the town’s 31 street lights or Town Hall electric usage. The Town Hall already has solar panels which do not generate enough power to cover all its usage. She said the estimated cost for the salt/sand shed panels would be $86,000 after a $10,500 New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) grant is applied. She said there may be other grants available for the project, but that would be something for a grant writer to investigate.

Councilman Boice said that before any investment is made, the board needs to know how much money the town will save. He also expressed concern about the recent explosion of solar energy storage units in Ghent and elsewhere.

Ms. Flamm said the salt/sand shed proposal does not include storage and that the power generated would go “right to the grid.”

Mr. Weiss said cost savings information will have to be gathered. Supervisor Bassin said an engineer will likely have to be hired and a Request for Proposals developed. He said there are “still things to do before we get to Yes.”

With regard to the pavilion, Mr. Weiss said his committee is not recommending that the board commit to building a pavilion. He said a pavilion is not solving a problem, but the goal of a pavilion would be to “add to the assets that the town has to make it a more attractive and better place to live.”

The pavilion could be used for the town’s Summer Kids Camp activities, other town events and possibly rented out for private occasions.

Amid questions about property flooding and prior use as a landfill, the board voted in favor of accepting a $3,925 bid from the C.T. Male Associates, an engineering firm, to do soil testing in both locations to determine where a pavilion may best be built.

The board postponed further discussion/action until next month when it is armed with the engineer’s findings.

The board’s next meeting is set for August 18, 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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