BETHLEHEM Town residents were greeted by a new, fresh board during its members’ first meeting of the year, an organizational session, held on Wednesday, Jan. 13.
Only the supervisor, John Clarkson, and his deputy supervisor, Town Councilwoman Julie Sasso, remain from last year’s board after last November’s election season, when one incumbent was ousted and another decided not to seek reelection. However, Democrats had reason to celebrate once again, when Joyce Becker and David VanLuven won out over their Republican opponents.
The new five-member Town Board hopes to eschew the criticism its predecessors received last year, particularly over their handling of the town-wide tax reassessment and squabbles with Bethlehem Police over contract negotiations. Board members, as well as several other elected officials, were sworn in during last week’s organizational meeting.
“We’re a new, young board,” said Joyce Becker with excitement in her voice, the day after she was sworn into office. With her approachable demeanor, aided by her Southern drawl, Becker aims “to be that person that listens to others, not just hear others- there’s a difference there.”
“I’m hoping that people will feel free to contact me or contact David VanLuven. We’re very approachable. Just let us know when they have concerns,” she said. Tackling police negotiations will be her first order of business, she continued.
While liaison responsibilities have not yet been announced, when Supervisor Clarkson does decide which board member will be assigned to town government departments, Becker said she is interested in gaining “a better working relationship with all town employees.”
“It’s time we looked at personnel in each department and made sure we have enough resources to cover everyone’s needs,” she said.
A former town employee herself, Becker spent 29 years working for the Bethlehem Town Board under seven supervisors. She has lived in town even longer, and considers her experience to be her biggest strength. “I understand what happened in the past, and that’s what you need to understand in order to understand the future,” she said.
Another person offering her significant experience to the board is Doris Davis, the former Republican who was chosen as interim Town Board member last month by the current Town Board: Clarkson, Sasso, Becker and VanLuven.
“I have absolutely no political agenda,” said Davis when her appointment was announced last month. “I’ve lived in the town for 50-plus years, and I’m thinking, ‘maybe I can do something to help.'” She will serve a year-long term left by former councilman Bill Reinhardt, who was elected to the Albany County Legislature.
“I think Doris is a great addition and I feel strongly that Doris is the best candidate to fill that position,” said Becker, complimenting her as “a kind of person that looks at all sides of an issue and does her research.”
Rather than choose a Democrat who would be aided in next year’s election by his or her appointment to the seat, the Democratic majority on the Town Board chose Davis, an unaffiliated former Republican, for her background in town government and her promise to not seek re-election, thereby un-politicizing its decision.
Davis served on the Town Board for 10 years between 1994 and 2003 under late Town Supervisor Sheila Fuller. Her guidance on the Normanskill landslide issue should serve useful as she experienced a similar landslide during her last term in office, the Delaware Avenue landslide of 2000, which slowed traffic for months and destroyed a business.
As a Town Board member, Davis was one of the founding members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Committee, an experience which may be a key factor in Clarkson’s thought process when he eventually hands out department liaison appointments to the Town Board members. Since her leave from Town Board, Davis has actively volunteered much of her time at Bethlehem Senior Services, so her appointment as its liaison would not be surprising.
After going through the tedious process of reviewing 25 applications for the vacant seat, Davis says the new board members have already established a group dynamic which seems to be working thus far.
“That’s not to say that things are all hugs and butterflies. We are not always going to agree, but we can work toward making the best solutions to issues.” said Becker. “The community will be well served.”
Other officials sworn in during the organizational meeting include Brent Meredith, superintendant of highways; Nancy Moquin, town clerk; and Alicia Roney, receiver of taxes.
John Smolinsky and Daniel Coffey were reappointed as chairman of the Planning Board and chairman of the Zoning Board, respectively.
The next Town Board meeting will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 27.