Help Wanted: Town board members who represent the people they serve…

By Lisa Light

I can’t help but wonder why current leadership all over the world and even in small towns, seems to be polarizing its communities. I have never paid much attention to politics. I never had to…until now. To me, it seemed that things rarely change much regardless of who was in office locally or nationally. The changes that did occur, happened gradually and/or rarely affected me in small town America.

My bubble burst, however, when I heard about the drastic zoning laws that the Chatham Town Board was proposing this summer. I was forced to pull my head out of the sand and pay attention to what they were planning for our historically, live-and-let-live little town. It was jarring to discover that the future of our town is completely in the hands of 5 people – FIVE individuals have the power to significantly change the place where I have lived most of my life and where I have raised my family. How can that be? Shouldn’t we have more of a say and be able to vote when the board is proposing 226 pages of new laws?! The system hardly seems democratic or American! I guess it can, and has worked in the past, but the current Chatham Town Board is a far cry from being a fair representation of the Chatham community. In essence, it has become a bit like a dictatorship, because they are a small group that possesses absolute power without effective constitutional limitations.

A town board should be representative of its constituents. That is the only way a board can successfully govern a community fairly and democratically.

The current Chatham Town Board is 100% white, college educated and financially stable. Three are retired, only one is a woman and none of them were born or raised in Chatham or Columbia County. I do not know their political parties, however, it is truly NOT about what party the candidates belong to in local government, but where they fall on the issues that are important to their community. It is about balancing viewpoints and understanding the people you are serving.

We need to balance the board by voting in 3 new candidates who truly know what it is like to grow up, make a living and raise a family in Chatham today.

Donal Collins was raised on River Road in Chatham. He was closer to my brother’s age and played on his soccer team. I know my brother, always thought highly of him on and off the field. His parents were both teachers and farmers. His Mom, Pat Collins, worked for years at and helped make The Berry Farm what we know today. Donal is among the many Chatham High graduates who go off to see a bit of the world, earn a college degree and then realize that

Chatham is a great place to live. Donal is an interesting candidate because he has a mechanical engineering degree from Tulane University, he is a local farmer, and he works for a small business (Nancy Scans) in Chatham. Donal is a listener and a thinker and when he speaks he says very intelligent, well-thought out, practical ideas and people listen. I believe he will give his heart and soul to our town and he will lead with careful consideration of everyone’s needs and concerns. I am confident that he would make an excellent Town Supervisor.

Abi Mesick grew up in Austerlitz and went to Taconic Hills School. Her Dad, Dr. Barr Davis was a long time Chatham medical practitioner and our family doctor. Her Mom was his nurse, served for years as Austerlitz Town Justice, and together they raised 5 children. Although I went to a different school, I knew who Abi was. She made an impression because she was a quiet, petite, pretty tomboy who wore overalls, drove a pickup truck and could do jobs most girls didn’t attempt to do like climb and cut down trees! One day when I was 16 and a new driver, Abi came to my rescue. The hood of my car flew up and got stuck on my windshield. I was a pathetic, teenage girl that had no idea what to do. She pulled up behind me in her pickup truck, jumped out, grabbed a crowbar out of the back, marched straight to my car, unstuck the hood from my windshield, and then turned and left before I could say thank you. That is Abi. Strong, capable, ready to help and not looking for kudos or anything in return. She too left the area for New York City to study at Columbia University and she too returned to farm, start a business and raise a family in Chatham. She has experience in zoning as she assisted the Town of Austerlitz in passing their first zoning laws. She has demonstrated over the past several months that she will not take shortcuts when it comes to governing and leading our community into the future. She carefully read the proposed zoning and respectfully pointed out areas that needed revision and offered to help when she could. I am confident that Abi Mesick would do an excellent job representing women, children, farmers and business owners on the Chatham Town Board if she is elected.

I first met Vance Pitkin when I was planning the Millennial Celebration, Last Nite First Day, in Chatham in 1999. He was a great support in planning the celebration. He suggested and offered to make a beautiful, metal arch that we could erect in the Village green for revelers to walk through at the stroke of midnight as a symbol of walking from one century to the next. I have since enlisted him to refinish family heirlooms in his antique restoration shop and I have found that he runs his business with precision and integrity. He too is a farmer and lover of animals and the land as well, and would better represent the Chatham working community.

A town board should solicit community input, collaboration and communicate clearly, openly and thoroughly with its constituents especially when they want to make changes to the law. This results in buy-in from the community, ensures that the citizens are aware of the new laws, understand them and will comply. When board members want to change or amend laws, especially risky laws that could be detrimental to the future economy of the community, they need to remember that they are not expert policy and law makers. They were elected to serve their community. They need to thoroughly research, get advice from several experts (not just the ones they pay) and ask their constituents for input. There are several special interest groups in Columbia County who know what their members experience, need and want such as the Columbia County Economic Development Corp, The Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, The Columbia County Board of Realtors, Columbia County Tourism Bureau, and the Chatham Agricultural Partnership.

I encourage Chatham citizens to vote for a board that better represents us on Nov. 5.

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