The Walden Community Council hosted a special “Meet the Candidates Night” last week, affording town of Montgomery voters a unique opportunity to hear where the candidates stand on the issues.
The one thing on which every candidate agreed was that they would be voting against the ballot measure to hold a New York State Constitutional Convention.
Democratic candidate F. Bryan Paz and Republican Rodney Winchell are facing off for the town supervisor seat.
Paz was born and raised in Maybrook, graduating from Valley Central High School in 1977. He worked for Yellow Freight in Maybrook for almost 17 years, loading and unloading trailers.
“I know what it’s like to do hard work. I know what it’s like to do hard labor. I know what it’s like to be from paycheck to paycheck,” said Paz.
Paz said he went back to school and finished a law degree. For the last 21 years, he has been a practicing attorney in Walden. He is married to fellow attorney Marcia Jacobowitz, of Walden.
“One of the things that I want to do as supervisor is what I do as a lawyer. I enjoy helping people. I didn’t go into law to make money. While obviously it can be a side benefit, the more important thing is to help people with their problems. I see that the Town of Montgomery has a number of problems and I believe I have the skills and the background to help solve those problems,” said Paz.
Rodney Winchell also grew up in the town, pointing out that he is the fourth generation of the Winchell family in Montgomery. His mother taught at Walden Elementary for over 30 years and he has his own business in the town, working on infrastructure improvements.
“My military service helps in my leadership,” said Winchell, explaining that he learned there how to establish relationships with many different people. “I believe the town needs a CEO, somebody who is a custodian to watch your investments here in our town. I would not tarnish our town of Montgomery’s name or the Winchell name. We’re working on the sixth generation of Winchells here and that means a lot to me.”
Free healthcare for elected officials
With healthcare a matter for debate across the nation, it was pointed out that elected officials in the town of Montgomery currently receive free health insurance for a part-time position. The candidates were asked if they agreed with it.
“I don’t think that elected town officials should get 100 percent free health care benefits,” said Paz.
Paz noted that health insurance is a large expense for everyone and the town’s employees have to contribute toward their health care. Council members receive an annual salary of $5,200 and up to $26,000 in healthcare benefits for a family plan. Paz said elected town officials should pay toward their health insurance at the same rate as the town’s employees.
“If I’m elected supervisor, I make the pledge that I will pay in to the healthcare benefits that I take as an employee of the town and I would ask every other board member to do the same thing,” said Paz.
Winchell however, called it a “complex issue” that needed to be examined as a whole, taking into consideration that elected officials in Montgomery make less than in surrounding towns and that the value of the health insurance weighs into it.
Councilwoman Cindy Voss, who is seeking re-election on the Republican line, said that she does not take the health insurance and wanted to explain that members of the town board work more than just two nights a month during the town board meetings.
“These projects don’t get done just sitting at a meeting two nights a month,” said Voss. “I put in much more hours than that.”
Voss is a lifelong town resident and has worked for 22 years at Walden Savings Bank as VP of Information Technology.
Councilwoman Sheryl Melick (R), who is also seeking re-election, is also a lifelong town resident and has served on the town board for eight years. She has owned Ken’s Service Station since 1980 and has run the business on her own since losing her husband 12 years ago.
Melick pointed out that town board members have not taken a raise in their salary since 1990, while town employees receive cost of living increases every year. However, she has “no problem” paying into her benefits.
“I have no problem not even making a dime on the board,” said Melick. “I do this because I want to and I want to give back to my community and I want to see Montgomery move forward.”
“Whatever the going rate is for every town of Montgomery employee, I’m willing to pay in exactly that same amount,” said David Stoudnour, Democratic candidate for town councilman.
Stoudnour has lived in town for 33 years and has 45 years in logistics in trucking and wrangling truck drivers.
“I’m used to handling money. I know how to handle people. This is a job I can do, this is a job I would frankly love to do,” said Stoudnour. “I am not in it for the money, I am not in it for health insurance. I am not in it for any reason other than the fact that I have a real desire to serve this community.”
Fellow Democratic candidate for town council, Susan Cockburn, said she also had “no problem” paying in and expressed misgivings about the “buyout” currently offered to elected officials who decide not to take the health benefits.
Cockburn moved to Montgomery in 1997, is an environmental engineer and formerly served as the town’s supervisor.
Relationship with the villages
“Each village is part of the wheel as a spoke, the town is the wheel and that’s a wheel I want to see move forward,” said Rodney Winchell.
When asked how he would improve inter-municipal communications with the town’s three villages, Winchell said he would like to improve coordination and cooperation in improving the town’s infrastructure.
Paz said one of his main points in running for election was a desire to see shared services and equipment between the town and the three villages, adding that it would help hold down taxes.
Stoudnour noted that the town does have shared services agreements between the villages and other townships for people and equipment, but they could take it a step further with a central maintenance facility for the town and the three villages, with each municipality paying for the service of their own equipment and vehicles.
Melick said the town currently does share the cost in some services, but she feels that they need a little bit better communication between the villages and the town.
“We do communicate with the villages, but unfortunately, I think it is only during certain parts of the year,” Voss agreed.
Voss said the municipalities talk during budget seasons or when something is happening in the town like a festival, but she believes that communication could be opened up with everyone working together throughout the year, whether by conference calls or physical meetings.
“I think that would make us more of a team and more united,” said Voss.
On consolidation, she stated that the villages have to approach the town, but that the board “would be more than willing to take that on and make that happen.”
Transparency and accountability
“I think there’s always a need for transparency and accountability. Certainly every citizen out there should know what their town government is doing and it should be open to those citizens,” said Paz, responding to the question of whether there is a need for transparency and accountability.
Paz said if elected, he would bring back televised town board meetings.
Cockburn said when she was on the town board she had volunteers filming the meeting and providing the video to the cable company. Everyone had to voice an opinion before a decision was made. Town board meetings would run as long as four hours.
“Everything was picked apart in front of the public,” said Cockburn.
“You ought to be accountable for every penny you spend of the residents’ tax dollars,” said Paz. “I will spend your money and watch it as closely as if it’s my own, because part of it is my own. I know I pay more in taxes than I want to and I’m sure all of you pay more in taxes than you want to, so I’m going to try to keep your taxes as low as possible and still provide the best services to all of our residents and taxpayers.”
Winchell said as a business owner, he is accountable every day. If elected, he would make sure there was discussion at the board meetings, and he has no problem with televised meetings.
“Transparency is important and accountability is very important,” said Melick. “We as a board now are very pro-active in watching the dollars, not spending them on anything we don’t have to spend them on.”
Melick also said she didn’t mind being televised and said the meetings had stopped being televised before she joined the board.
“I guess we’re going to have those television cameras up right after election day, no matter who wins, right?” said Stoudnour.
Voss said she agreed with everyone else, that transparency was important, and promised that she “wouldn’t spend a dime” of the taxpayers’ money if she wouldn’t spend her own.
“I’m very conservative,” said Voss.
Promoting business in the town
Winchell said to promote business in the town he would go out and visit the businesses, ask what the town can do for them, and find ways to streamline processes.
Paz pointed out that the town is home to not just the Town of Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, but also the Orange County Chamber of Commerce and the town board should be spending time with them, working to help promote the town and its businesses.
“If you live here, buy here,” said Stoudnour.
Stoudnour said the town board should be promoting the town and encouraging residents to shop local, as well as doing smart planning to handle the growth that is coming.
Voss said she would work with the town’s planning and zoning boards to help move things along more quickly than in the past.
Cockburn noted that when she previously served on the board as town supervisor, she had two studies done on the major arteries through the town and the result was a recommendation to allow for owner-occupied businesses.
“I think we need to do owner-occupied businesses,” said Cockburn.
Cockburn also expressed disappointment in how the current town board has handled the vacant building adjacent to town hall and the loss of the rent revenue.
Meanwhile, Melick explained that the former tenants had to be forced out after failing to pay the rent for four months.
“Still to this day they probably owe us close to $20,000 that they never paid,” said Melick.
As there has been no interest in renting the property, Melick said the town board is moving forward with expanding the town’s police department and court into the building.
In the meantime, Melick agreed that the town needs to shorten the time projects spend before the planning and zoning boards and said she wished the Legoland project—a source of contention in nearby Goshen—would come to Montgomery.
The candidates were asked what they would do to preserve the town’s historical sites, specifically the Colden Mansion and the Mastodon Dig Site.
“Preserving our history is a wonderful thing, but it shouldn’t be at the taxpayers’ expense,” said Winchell, adding that residents are just trying to survive and pay their healthcare and taxes. “It’s not something that I regard as first priority as supervisor.”
Even so, he said if individuals want to fundraise to finance historic preservation efforts, he will help and support them.
“I think it’s very important that we preserve and protect the historical facilities and artifacts in our town,” said Paz. “If the town has to spend some money on that, I think we should, but obviously I think we should be very careful about how we spend that money.”
Paz said there are a number of grants available out there as well.
“Some of these are on the historic register and it’s a crime if we let them go—and we’ve done that already,” said Paz.
Paz went on to point out that before the town took on the Benedict farmhouse, a study should have been done so that they knew beforehand about the lead and asbestos.
“We could have accepted a superfund site because we didn’t do the proper due process and look at what we were accepting,” said Paz.
Cockburn said if elected she will go to work to find the funding for preserving the town’s historic sites.
“People are struggling to pay their taxes,” said Melick. “We as a town own a couple of different buildings that are in need of work. To take taxpayer dollars and put them into these sites here just doesn’t seem logical.”
Stoudnour said there are grants available.
“There are grants available for red-headed children with freckles who want to go to Yale—and I’m not making that up. There are always grants out there,” said Stoudnour. “My grandfather dug wells for a living and I used to ask him, ‘Granddad, how deep do you have to go to hit water?’ He goes, ‘You’ll know when your boots are wet.’ That’s how deep we’re going to have to go on these grants. We keep digging until we get money.”
Voss said that while she thought it was important to preserve the town’s historic sites, it shouldn’t be on the taxpayers’ backs.
“It’s just that there’s so many more things that we need to do in the town, that we have to be careful where we spend our money,” said Voss.
Candidates for Town Justice
The candidates for town justice were asked for the main strengths and weaknesses in the justice system, how they would improve them, if the town court has adequate staffing and how they plan to expedite cases through the court.
Judge Raynard Ozman (R) is seeking re-election and faces Democratic challenger Lynda Mitchell.
Ozman has served as town justice for the last four years, has a total of 20 years of judicial experience and his own private practice. He also previously worked for the ASPCA in Manhattan as an animal cruelty investigator.
“Since taking the bench, my entire career has been focused on the fair administration of justice for all,” said Ozman.
Ozman said the weaknesses in the justice system stem from lack of funding and the strengths are the specialty courts that are now in place or just on the horizon. Specialty courts include courts like drug court, which tries to turn the tide on addiction.
“When you have an opioid addiction the likes of which that we’re gripped in now, it affects the individual, it affects the family and it affects the community,” said Judge Ozman. “We don’t provide first aid, we provide last aid. We’re really there sometimes to save someone’s life—and that’s what we do.”
As for workflow, he said he schedules different types of cases on certain days so that people don’t spend a lot of time waiting for their cases to be heard and said there is no backlog.
Lynda Mitchell is a lifelong town resident, former Orange County Probation Officer and Assistant District Attorney. She served as an ADA for 24 years before retiring and currently works part-time for a firm doing foreclosure work.
Mitchell, having appeared in the town court as an attorney many times, said Montgomery is a busy court, but the staff handles the workload “phenomenally.” She said the question on adequate staffing was something she would definitely keep an eye on.
Mitchell said courts can get really busy and clogged up by people wanting to drag cases out and that sometimes there are cases that seem to drag on for months and months—not that she was saying that is the case in Montgomery.
“That should not happen. That is not justice,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell promised that if elected, she would be very attentive to moving cases through the court in a way where justice was served to all parties involved.
“It’s the responsibility of the judge sitting in the court to make sure that doesn’t happen, to move cases along so that justice can be served in a fair and swift manner that shows respect and dignity to everyone involved,” said Mitchell.
Both Town Clerk Tara Stickles and Highway Superintendent Charles Woznick are running unopposed for re-election to their posts.
Stickles has served as Montgomery Town Clerk for nine years, is a lifelong resident of the town and Valley Central graduate. She has over 21 years of municipality experience, starting her career as a water billing clerk and recording secretary in Walden in 1996.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of this position is meeting and assisting so many of our town residents,” said Stickles. “I enjoy the work immensely and I am there for you. It is highly rewarding being able to help others.”
Woznick has served as town highway superintendent for the last 15 years. He is also a member of the Maybrook ZBA and serves as a fire investigator for the Orange County Fire Investigation team. He is a volunteer firefighter for the Maybrook Fire Department and their past fire chief.
Woznick said right now the department’s struggle is with manpower, trying to keep up with the growth of the town.
Each year, the town seems to add new roadways and expands its park systems.
“There does get to a point where you can’t do more with less,” said Woznick.
Woznick said the hard part is trying to choose the battles and knowing what can wait. Moving forward, his plan is to keep the roads in good shape.
“Everything starts with the roads. Everything. Everything you do starts with the roadways. If you’re not driving it, you’re walking it or riding your bicycle,” said Woznick. “We have to keep them safe and that’s what we take pride in doing and I’ll continue to do that.”
Election Day is Nov. 7.
By RACHEL COLEMAN