NEW LEBANON–Tistrya Houghtling, the newly-elected New Lebanon town supervisor, sees her mission as helping to effect change on the local level.
What kind of change? For Ms. Houghtling, a Democrat, it begins with citizen involvement: “The future of my children, of everyone’s children, really depends on getting people involved in the life of the community. That’s where change starts.”
Supervisor Houghtling has three children: Julian (9), Kaitlyn (7) and Harley (4), who, along with her mother, Judy Zimmer, and Deputy Town Supervisor Doug Banker, form The Echoes, a folksy, feel-good band with an inspirational bent. Years before children, and before entering civic life, Ms. Houghtaling managed touring bands and lived on a 40-foot bus, a different city every night.
Back in New Lebanon, Supervisor Houghtling, who was born and raised here, began serving the town in 2010 as deputy court clerk, and in 2015 won the first of two terms as town clerk. In 2018, during her second term, she ran for the seat in the 107th Assembly District against incumbent Jake Ashby. Her challenge was unsuccessful but right after the final results were in, then town Supervisor Colleen Teal asked Ms. Houghtling if it was too soon for her to run for supervisor. It wasn’t.
The position entails much more than just supervising town business, Ms. Houghtling says: “I’m HR, payroll, and my own bookkeeper,” adding she’s glad she doesn’t need to tack “micromanager” onto the list, thanks to competent co-workers.
Her vision for the community includes a community center “attractive to both seniors and young people,” she said. “Why shouldn’t our town provide ways to connect folks?” She added that offering students specific opportunities to serve the community also is on her agenda, pointing out that this would help them fulfill their schools’ community service requirements. Ms. Houghtling is creating a volunteer committee to bring in people of all ages to pitch in with special events and other town functions.
Ms. Houghtling also plans to seek grants to create a bike and skate area at Shatford Park. A new ice-skating rink, in the final stage of construction, is scheduled to open in late January underneath the Pavilion on Route 22.
She is creating a business and economic development committee, in which both residents and local businesses owners will be invited to promote the town’s commercial interests. To encourage more people to stop and patronize the many restaurants and other businesses that already populate the strip along Routes 22 and 20, she’d like to get a highway speed reduction plus a flashing light at a strategically-placed cross walk to give the road a bit more of a “Main Street” feel.
“No, we’re not Chatham, nor are we trying to be, but we do need to revitalize our ‘downtown’, make it more attractive and accessible,” she said. Another goal is enticing a food market to settle on or near the strip so that town residents needn’t travel all the way to Chatham or Pittsfield for groceries.
The new supervisor wants to see the New Lebanon business district expand beyond the hamlet to include West Lebanon along Route 20 near the Lebanon Valley Speedway and she hopes to tap into the resources of the Columbia County Economic Development Corporation and “spend some tax revenue on development” in the Town of New Lebanon.
Among the town assets Ms. Houghtling would like to market is “our rich history.” Mount Lebanon was the main spiritual home of the Shaker community, and Lebanon Springs, long renowned for its healing properties, was for many years prior to World War I a fashionable spa.
Acknowledging the diversity of people, interests and opinions within her town, Supervisor Houghtling says: “Even if we have different visions for our community… we have to find common ground. And everyone at the table needs to have a voice.”
The Echoes perform a sing-along concert at the New Lebanon Library Friday, March 20 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.