Esslie-Frenia Law June 2023 Leaderboard

Board revisits hate speech issue

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By DIANE VALDEN

ANCRAM—The Town Board wrapped up the old year by reiterating its position against “any expression of hate, intolerance, prejudice, or discrimination toward any individual or group. This includes race, religion, sexual orientation and any other protected class.”

Delivering a statement from the Town Board near the start of the December 21 meeting, Councilperson Amy Gold said, “The Ancram Town Board would like to shed light on some disturbing acts of hate and bigotry which recently took place in our town, and to make its position very clear on such behavior.”

Columbia County Sheriff Donald Krapf, Undersheriff Jacqueline Salvatore and Lieutenant Heath Benansky were all seated in the audience.

The specifics of the “acts” referred to in the statement were not detailed at the meeting. An audience member inquired about what had happened, questioning whether the incidents could be confused with someone blasting hip-hop on the car stereo, rather than someone yelling vulgarities. Councilmember Bonnie Hundt said hip-hop was not involved. Councilmember Amy Gold said there were multiple incidents and Supervisor Art Bassin characterized the incidents as “drive-by, no one stopped.”

The Columbia Paper subsequently learned about one incident in which someone driving by yelled a racial slur out of the vehicle window at a person of color in the Ancram hamlet.

The incident was reported to authorities, though no arrest was made.

The statement, read by Ms. Gold, went on to mention penalties under New York’s Hate Crime Law, and encouraged anyone who believes they have been the target of any such incident to reach out to local law enforcement.

“…this is not who we are. We are a small town that aspires to protect and respect ALL of our residents, businesses, neighbors and visitors and lead by example for our friends, families, and neighboring towns. Let’s not stand by in these moments when our values of community, charity, and understanding are compromised. It is not through hate that Ancram will prosper, but through cooperation,” the statement said.

Accompanying the statement Ms. Gold read a resolution first passed by the board in October 2022. The resolution says that “on behalf of all residents of the Town of Ancram we denounce violence of any kind and condemn any act of aggression, hostility, or violence against any member of our community.”

The board unanimously passed the resolution.

Sheriff Krapf handed the board literature offering tips to parents to help them have important conversations with their children about “not participating in online spaces” that foster hate.

The sheriff said his office takes hate crime concerns seriously and will thoroughly investigate any incidents reported to his office.

On a different topic, during his final monthly financial report before leaving office, Supervisor Bassin gave a brief followup on a matter that had generated controversy and resulted in a split board vote back in May.

Mr. Bassin noted the Ancram Center for the Arts has declined to accept the town’s $67,500 contribution and the money will go back into the town’s capital plan. A majority of board members voted to give the arts center the grant to support the construction of a new community room, which is part of a larger expansion/renovation project, based on the recommendation of the town’s Strategic Investment Committee (SIC). At meetings in months following the vote, members of the public voiced their upset at the board for the decision. Some said information about the grant was not adequately publicized before the vote and the money could have been better spent on other things.

In a December 20 note to the Ancram community broadcast via Ancram email, Ancram Center for the Arts Co-Directors Paul Ricciardi and Jeff Mousseau, and the center’s Board of Directors, wrote that the vote to award the grant had become contentious and remained so even now.

Since the center’s mission aspires “to foster a sense of connection and community through the arts,” the co-directors and the Board of Directors “unanimously agreed that Ancram Center will no longer pursue the grant. We are grateful to have been considered and defer to the town on how the funds, which we have not yet received can be best used to address community needs.”

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

Departing words from and about Clark and Bassin

ANCRAM—The December 21 Ancram Town Board meeting was the last regular board meeting for both Supervisor Art Bassin, who served as supervisor for the past 14 years and Councilmember Hugh Clark who has served on the board for the past 11 years. Neither man ran for re-election last November.

In his final comments as a councilmember, Mr. Clark, who served on the Comprehensive Plan Committee and was the longtime chair of the town’s Zoning Revision Committee (ZRC), recounted and praised the work of the ZRC which has worked to revise the town’s 1972 Zoning Law and bring it into compliance with the updated Comp Plan. He recited the list of names of those who served over the years, characterizing them as a “varied and balanced” group, who made decisions by operating under the ground rule of reaching consensus. It is a “slow” and “inefficient” process, he said, but one that gathers input from all and “brings people together.”

Shifting to his decision not to run again, Mr. Clark, who speaks deliberately and with authority, said his decision hinged on “time and balance.”

“I’ve lost balance in my life. I believe that I’ve paid my dues to live in this special corner of the world, so it’s time to restore balance.”

In closing, Mr. Clark turned his attention to Mr. Bassin, who posted election signs some years back pledging, Leadership you can trust. “That’s what Art Bassin promised. That’s what Art Bassin delivered. For who he is, for what he is, for the standards he has set, for what he has taught, for what he has created—I thank Art, I respect Art…I salute Art.”

Highway Superintendent Jim Miller acknowledged both Mr. Clark and Mr. Bassin for “getting a decent highway garage built and upgrading the highway equipment without breaking the bank.” In particular he thanked Mr. Clark for his long hours and dedication to the ZRC. And on behalf of all of Ancram’s lost dogs, cats, cows, horses, sheep, emus and even a peacock, Mr. Miller expressed deep gratitude to Mr. Bassin for facilitating their return home. Mr. Miller did admit he will not miss the thousands of emails routinely sent by Mr. Bassin plugging up his inbox.

Town Clerk Monica Cleveland said she has appreciated Mr. Clark’s availability for questions and his “never-ending knowledge” on many subjects including protocol and the Open Meetings Law.

She recounted how she and Supervisor Bassin worked together to keep the town functioning throughout Covid—wearing “hazmat suits and masks” while handing out supplies to residents through the side door. She noted they sometimes disagreed and she had to remind him that the supervisor is not the town clerk’s boss. She also told the supervisor he had become like family—playing cars and trains with her young son when she brought him to work with her at Town Hall. She implored the supervisor to find a hobby in his retirement, “preferably one that doesn’t involve email.”

For his part, Mr. Bassin said he is not sure what he will be doing after this.

He praised the town’s powerful volunteer spirit noting the number of volunteers, the energy, the passion, the commitment, the knowledge is remarkable. “We could not afford the talent that we have working for this town.”

He said being supervisor “has been a great honor and privilege and a lot of fun. And for all the hassle, it’s been a wonderful experience.” –Diane Valden

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