DELMAR — Amid sparring over one candidate’s failure to file a required campaign report and accusations about brackish water in the town water supply and other water/air contamination, the League of Women Voters, Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce and Spotlight News presented a forum on October 24 showcasing candidates for Town office this year.
Both Highway Superintendent and three town board candidates appeared at Bethlehem Town Hall to field questions from voters.The event featured Town Board candidates Joyce Becker, Kellin Rowlands and Tom Schnurr and highway candidates Marc Dorsey and Craig Sluers. All candidates were invited, but only three of the four candidates running accepted. Republican Theresa O’Neill declined the invitation to speak to voters.
Candidates answered questions from voters that had been submitted by October 16 through a digital lock box or at the in-person event itself. Each question was required to be topical in nature and not directed to any candidate. Each candidate answered the same question.
Incumbent Board member Becker, a democrat, is seeking her third, four year term in office, the other incumbent, Dan Coffey, chose not to run again. The other candidates — Rowlands, representing the Uniting Bethlehem Party, has no prior political experience and Schnurr, a democrat, is a member of the Bethlehem Democratic Committee. The election will fill two seats on the board.
The Uniting Bethlehem party was recently created through Rowland’s petition process. After a two-month court battle with the Albany County Board of Elections, he and the party will appear on the ballot. The BOE challenged the validity of signatures presented in the nominating petition and disqualified Rowland, but a court order reversed the decision of the BOE. The BOE appealed and lost in a 5-0 decision. In the end, Rowlands had 20 valid signatures more than the required number of 928.
During the questioning, the three candidates for Town Board agreed on several issues, such as each other candidate’s dedication to do what’s right for the town, their passion and desire to make the town better. They also agreed that some issues raised would need further study and analysis, such as whether to create a public safety commissioner to oversee all emergency responders, the impact of short term rentals and need for additional water infrastructure.
None of the candidates opposed the Town library holding a drag queen story hour.
They also all agreed that the Republican candidate who declined to join the forum either should have been there or, as Becker stated, “missed out on a wonderful opportunity.”
However, the candidates significantly diverged on how open and accessible the Town’s Board is to the concerns of residents. Rowlands stated “the poster child for why I sit here is the Town’s lack of responsiveness to the concerns of its citizens,” referring specifically to real property involving the Port of Albany.
During the forum, Rowlands fell back upon the Port project several times to demonstrate what he believes to be the current town board’s lack of responsiveness and resident lack of access.
He claimed the Town has failed to take action about “toxic heavy metals” he claims have been leached from the Beacon Island CCR landfill into the Normanskill, Hudson River and around Glenmont from burning coal over time and endangering residents in Glenmont. Rowlands cited no specific report or data. Becker stated that the Town Board has no authority to make decisions on that property and referred residents go online where they can find guidelines for the port project and research testing of water and air.
Spotlight News reviewed documents from the Port of Albany project and could not find any water testing that showed chemicals or metals leaking into the rivers.
Becker also rejoined that she is “always willing to listen” and noted that the Town Board often allows speakers at Town Board meetings to exceed their prescribed “three minute limit to hear concerns of residents.”
“If I get an email from a resident I will respond,” she said. She also later cited the recent Heath Farm land project as an example of town resident participation in town governance.
Rowlands later praised the Heath Farm process of “civil engagement” that he called successful, but said the project was “a misuse of resources.” Both Schnurr and Becker enthusiastically supported Proposition 2 that allowed the town to purchase the Heath Farm property and to secure open space for the Town.
Schnurr recognized the “fantastic work of town staff”, but acknowledged there is “a need for a better system of resident input and to track those issues.” He said he would work to put such a system in place and to increase “information sharing” by “getting notices out to communities better” and “engaging in different forums around town.”
Rowlands also claimed that Glenmont residents do not have “access to high quality water”, that “in several instances Town of Bethlehem water is semi potable and brackish” and that he is concerned about “contamination of heavy metals in the drinking water.” Both Schnurr and Becker said they had not heard that.
In a phone call on Thursday, Oct. 26, Rowlands pulled back some of his comments.
“I was not accurate on my comment about the water being brackish,” he said.
Also Rowlands said that someone sent him data on social media about the heavy metal contamination of the public water. He said he would find it and send it to Spotlight News. He has not done so at deadline.
Spotlight News reviewed the water quality reports found on the Town’s website at townofbethlehem.org/719Water-Quality Reports and they showed no such contamination or brackish water in the Town water system.
“Assertions that the Town water supply is brackish (meaning it has high levels of salt, like ocean water mixed with river water) or contains heavy metals are inaccurate”, Town Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Paul Penman said when reached for comment on the claim that the Town’s water was brackish or contained heavy metals.
Another source of contention during the forum involved Rowlands’ failure to file certain campaign finance reports.
Early on in the forum, Schnurr alluded to that issue by referring to voter need to “know where support comes from” and to follow the laws on transparency. He said, “it is hard to write laws if you’re not going to follow them.”
Schnurr later repeated that assertion in response to a submitted question that asked the candidates about how their campaigns were financed and whether they had filed their state campaign finance reports in a timely manner.
After Schnurr said he had filed his, Rowlands stated, “I wish I could say the same” and admitted that he had been “derelict and delayed” in “at least one of my filings.” He blamed his omission on not having a “legacy infrastructure upon which to draw” because he is an unaffiliated candidate. He further stated that as an unaffiliated candidate, ”I am accountable to myself. I do my own finances. I am writing the rules to be an unaffiliated candidate because it is largely without precedent and at the end of the day I am more than happy to stand up here or in any other forum and take full accountability for anything I may have shortcomings in.” He did not state that he would make the requisite filings.
Schnurr then pointed out that “the rules apply to everyone”, “are not new, they are not hidden” and were written by the State of New York, not a political party. Ultimately, Rowlands agreed that “the rules do need to apply to everyone” and “do need to apply to me.”
Highway Superintendent candidates Dorsey and Sleurs read prepared statements.
Dorsey, who highlighted his construction work background, touted the accomplishments of his last two terms as Highway Superintendent. He named building department morale, extensive re-paving of town roads, continuing waste and garbage pick up during covid, renovations to the town fueling station, and the construction of new sidewalks among those achievements.
While Dorsey recognized that both he and his rival “love the town” and have been “life-long residents”, he said that he has “become a proven leader.” If elected, he said would reduce the use of road salt and strive to make operations more energy efficient.
Sleurs opened his statement by focusing on his over 38 years of fire service and his and his family’s long and strong community ties. He promised that, if elected, he would “do my best to make the town a better place” by managing the budget and looking for ways to save money.
He also promised residents “if you call about an issue I will meet with you and work with you as a stakeholder to resolve the problems to the best of my ability.” He said he has already heard a lot of concerns about traffic safety and would work to “provide low cost, effective solutions.”
The event was recorded and can be found on spotlightnews.com and the Spotlight News’ Youtube channel.