Thurman has all the challenges you’d expect in a tiny, isolated North Country town — lack of connectivity, difficulty maintaining services and trouble paying for infrastructure.
On top of that, Thurman has a self-inflicted wound — factional division that has gotten so bitter that at times it resembles a backwoods family feud. That divisiveness has driven from office the town’s last two supervisors, Red Pitkin and Evelyn Wood, both of whom walked out in the middle of terms after months of being carped at and criticized.
Both of the current candidates for supervisor, incumbent Cynthia Hyde and challenger Susan Shepler, talk about wanting to move past divisions and work together. But we have an easier time believing in Shepler’s sincerity. Hyde gives lip service to cooperation now that she’s in charge, but back when she was town clerk, she was obdurate and combative, and her behavior was one of the main reasons some meetings degenerated into shouting matches.
Now that she is supervisor, Hyde does not want to talk about past divisions. She has even embraced some of the initiatives begun by her predecessor, Evelyn Wood.
Hyde is carrying on with the white space project for internet access, which Wood led. She has completed the remediation project undertaken by Wood to clean up leaks from the town salt shed and dig new wells for a few homes whose water was contaminated.
But we want to be clear: Hyde’s current enthusiasm for collaboration and compromise is the right attitude. We hope she and everyone in town who supports her will continue that enthusiasm, no matter who wins the election.
Shepler did a short stint as the town’s bookkeeper and has worked handling the financial books for a downstate school district. She is practical, straightforward and realistic.
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“I think there will be negativity,” she said. “But I’m willing to work with everybody in town.”
With her experience with budgeting and handling accounts, Shepler will be an ideal candidate both to put together the town budget and to make sure the town is handling things like billing and record-keeping correctly.
She provided a small example: Town officials intended to sell a generator for $400, she said, although it was worth substantially more than that. As it happens, the generator was not sold, but whenever valuable town equipment is going to be sold, it should be put out to bid, she said.
Similarly, the town should have sought bids to run its white space project, she said, rather than rehiring the person, Fred Engelmann, who put the system together. The town had to pay a disputed bill to get Engelmann back.
Shepler also mentioned the roll-off bins the town uses at its transfer station, saying it is now paying $600 a month to rent bins instead of getting them for free from Warren County, as it did previously.
Shepler is the sort of detail-oriented, results-focused person who can meet the financial challenges of running a small town and resist the personality clashes that have driven the board in the past.
Hyde is trying to make things work, now that she bears responsibility for town operations. But Shepler has skills that will allow her to perform those responsibilities better and the disposition to keep the board on an even keel.