COLONIE With Republican town councilman David Green already on the Colonie Town Board, the addition of Jennifer Whalen and Christopher Carey will give the party three seats to the Democrats two on the six-seat board.
The breakdown in political parties alone leads to an interesting dynamic once they are all sworn in at the town’s organizational meeting on Thursday, Jan. 7.
Colonie Town Supervisor Paula Mahan, who successfully defended her seat in office last November, will be among those sworn into office this week, as will incumbent councilman Paul Rosano. It remains too early what she may share at her State of the Town address in a few more weeks, but it can be assumed it will address issues such as crime, infrastructure needs and town finances, all broached while she was on the campaign trail. “A few things,” said Mahan. “It’s certainly something we’ve been working on: we’re going to continue to monitor our financial standing. Our goal is for us to continue to grow our fund balance.” The supervisor added that the town’s focus was to continue to work with Albany County and a residential tax cap, as well as on the policy makers’ on-going plans to upgrade the town’s infrastructure.
Colonie’s concern over crime is shared throughout the region. The Capital District has seen a noted influx of drug activity in recent years, and with it an increase in crime activity. The relationship between drugs and crime encapsulated within the details of last August’s murder of Colonie hairstylist Jacquelyn Porreca. On the heels of that case, the town’s first homicide in four years, both incoming Republicans made a note to speak of the number of officers on the town’s police force.
Carey, a retired detective and 32-year veteran of the Colonie Police Department, spoke often of his concerns over what he perceived to be an understaffed police force at October’s political forum.
“If the staffing numbers aren’t up over there,” Carey said it would be concerning for several reasons. Though Colonie hired ten new officers to the force last October, there is still the matter of older officers retiring. Of the ten new hires, some come over with prior experience and can hit the streets immediately, while others require going to the police academy, followed by additional on-the-job observation. Carey said he thinks his experience would place him as a natural fit to oversee board matters concerning the police force. “We have to keep the town safe. The numbers are still a goal of mine. I don’t know if I agree with the current staffing numbers.”
In addition to his years serving as a volunteer fireman and with West Albany Ambulance, Carey said he’s served the community for nearly 40 years. Despite what was reported previously, he said he is not concerned with police morale. Instead, he said, his concerns are with other departments within Town Hall, specifically with the highway department.
In relation to Carey’s near 40 years in public service, Colonie’s population has increased nearly 20 percent in that time. The town’s population has grown from 69,147 residents reported in the 1970 U.S Census to approximately 83,000 in 2014. In addition, the town continues to see business growth along Wolf and Albany-Shaker roads, and continued residential construction in North Colonie where school officials are addressing an influx in student population. The public service demands associated with that kind of development has the incoming councilman already preparing to reach out to each department and evaluate what needs to be done.
“You have to have an open conversation with the department heads and the supervisors,” he said. “I still have a lot to learn. It’s a complex government, with budgeting and costs. I have some learning to do.”
During the campaign season, it appeared Whalen spoke from the same page as Christine Benedict, the Republican candidate for town supervisor. Where Benedict fell short of obtaining enough votes to overcome Mahan, Whalen earned enough of the voter’s confidence to gain one of the three open seats on the board. “I look forward to starting [this] week as a councilwoman for the Town of Colonie,” she said. “I can’t wait. It’s been a dream of mine.”
Whalen, a small business owner, expressed interest with involving herself in contract negotiations for the town. Her loudest of viewpoints were directed towards town policy makers. In October, she said the mismanagement of the town “drives me crazy.”
As with Benedict, Whalen expressed her wishes to involve herself with a town landfill faced with fines and a dwindling lifespan. “[It’s] driving our town into crisis,” she said in October. She has also been critical of the town’s Industrial Development Agency, voicing publically that businesses that have received funds in the past are “over their head.” The agency’s financial reporting came under scrutiny two years ago after a 2013 audit of their books failed to reveal an adequate money trail for revenue and expenditures. Whalen said she wants to takes steps towards making town business more efficient and accessible to the public.
Despite perceived differences between parties, Colonie’s town supervisor doesn’t view the upcoming year as a drastic change to a board that has worked well together in recent years.
“I always do my best by starting with a positive approach,” said Mahan. “I have no problems working with people of different party affiliations.