VOORHEESVILLE – After 15 years, Robert Conway’s last day as mayor of Voorheesville is July 1.
Elected four times mayor, Conway announced at the village board meeting on June 22 that he would step down about nine months into his term. The village council then voted, 3 to 0, that administrator Richard Straut would serve the remainder of Conway’s four-year term.
Straut said he was “honored” that his fellow board members had confidence in him “to take the reins”.
For his part, Conway said he had “absolutely no qualms” about Straut succeeding him as mayor, adding that Straut has shown himself to be a very competent and talented board member. Conway said he was sure Straut would do an “exceptional job” as mayor.
Straut was appointed to the board of directors in 2016, after Brett Hotaling resigned to become the village’s superintendent of public works; in 2017 Straut was unopposed in an election to fill the remainder of Hotaling’s four-year term.
Straut was re-elected for his own four-year term in 2019.
Straut, an engineer, has been the village’s go-to administrator when it comes to managing all the infrastructure, fixing the sewage problems in Salem Hills, running a 3 , $ 6 million and act as a middleman on hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the village sidewalks.
When asked if infrastructure would remain in his portfolio as mayor, Straut said he believed he would continue to be very active in village infrastructure projects in part because “it’s something that’s in my wheelhouse, just because of my professional career. “
But he added: “In the implementation of projects, I am really looking for people to continue to help me. “
As for his replacement, Straut said he would like to bring in someone with fresh ideas before getting straight to the point: “I would like to bring in some youth.
“And I’m not making a statement on the board that they haven’t made about themselves,” Straut said. “But I think we all agree that we would like to bring in younger blood, fresh ideas.” Straut in his fifties; the other three trustees are 70 years old.
Straut, along with Sarita Winchell, was re-elected for a full term in 2019; both directors, like the mayor when he was a director, were appointed to the board of directors, after their predecessors resigned mid-term. Winchell’s predecessor, Florence Reddy, had been appointed to the board, as had Straut’s predecessor, Hotaling.
Straut was asked about this Voorheesville trend: Shouldn’t elected officials hold on until their term ends, then walk away?
But Straut said he thought the resignations and subsequent appointments were just “a deal.[s] time.
Conway had been in office for about 15 years and he and his wife wanted to travel, Straut said, a point raised by the outgoing mayor himself.
Straut’s appointment as administrator was made because Hotaling had been appointed village superintendent of public works.
And the appointment of Winchell, he said, “I think that resignation was someone who just said, ‘It’s not for me at this point in my life to be a director.'”
Straut said, “So I think it’s just a matter of timing. It’s nothing more than that.
He also pointed out that no one has come forward to run against the incumbents in the event of an election.
“I’m not saying it’s good or bad, anyway,” he said. “I guess what I think that means is that people are generally happy.”
Straut said something similar in 2019 when asked why he thought no one had ever run for the board: “You know I wonder all the time… I think people have to to be satisfied – I like to say happy – but at least satisfied with things going. We are fiscally conservative, so our village taxes are low. And we provide good services.
Non-partisan succession planning
Straut pointed out that in an age of extreme partisanship, by definition, what he and the other administrators do is political in that they are elected, but village elections are non-partisan.
“I think sometimes people shy away from what they think is politics,” Straut said, but at the village level it’s about the least political position in politics that a person can occupy.
“We’re talking about: How do we repair and improve our water and sewer systems without breaking the bank? ” he said. “How do you revive Main Street without breaking the bank?” “
Straut doesn’t see what he does as politics. “I see this as a community service,” he said. “And I think that’s also how most of the board members see it.”
He encouraged residents to get involved in the village, as currently the board is looking for people to sit on the planning commission, the zoning appeal commission and the conservation advisory commission – which is also something he sees as a major problem facing the village. over the next four to eight to twelve years: “I see succession planning as one of the things I need to look at. “
Straut said he wanted to recruit residents not only for the previously mentioned boards, but also for the board. “We need to recruit people for the boards that I talked about and make sure we have good new ideas,” he said.
Mayor for 15 years
Like many people over the past 15 months, Conway said he and his wife, Linda, had been forced to put things on hold and “maybe re-evaluate a bit.”
He and his wife have travel plans, plans that have been delayed by the pandemic, Conway said, and now with all the opening, he would be out of the village for months at a time, which is not ” not fair to residents, certainly. ”
“I mean, they deserve to have someone who devotes their energy to being there,” he said, and it’s right about time. Conway noted that he has been mayor for 15 years, adding, “The village needs someone who is fully committed.
Conway was appointed a director in 2002, a position he held because he had expertise he could bring to the board and was keen to participate in government, he said.
Conway had served as Albany County’s human resources director until 2012, when he was fired from his post by new county director Daniel McCoy. Conway had worked for the county for almost 25 years and had served as an appointed director for the past 11 years under the leadership of the previous county executive, Michael Breslin.
Now Conway has said he’s “three-quarters of the way to retirement” but still selling real estate.
When running for mayor in 2006, Conway said that after being a trustee for almost four years, he wanted to continue leading some projects as well as other things he wanted to accomplish.
He said he was “mostly involved with infrastructure, and pretty much what we’ve continued to do over the past 15 years: upgrading the sewer plant and the water plant, the water supply systems, the pipes – I mean, nothing really sexy and nothing that a lot of people necessarily know, but those were the types of projects needed to move the village forward.
Yes, there were the visible projects like the sidewalks and what the village added to the railroad, said Conway, “but really, the nuts and bolts of running a village are the things you need to do. keep going, that people don’t notice until he’s not there.
Asked what issues he thinks the village will face over the next five to 10 to 15 years, Conway said, “I think these will be the pressures that have always been there”: Trying to maintain the character of the village while offering the services residents expect while remaining one of the lowest taxed municipalities in the region.
He said Voorheesville has survived drastic and stressful economic times, highlighting the Great Recession of 2007-09 when the housing market collapsed and then the last 15 months with the pandemic.
“So we’ve always been very aware of this and kept a very conservative eye on finances,” he said.
And the village is also looking to revitalize itself and “grow a little bit more” Main Street, Conway said, and hopes to attract more small businesses.
When asked about his greatest success or achievement during his tenure as mayor, Conway noted the board’s ability to maintain the semi-rural and village character of Voorheesville, “while doing the things necessary to keep us modernized, from a certain way “.
For example, said Conway, the village was able to expand its network of sidewalks and modernize some of its infrastructure.
When asked if there was something he would have done differently, Conway replied, “You always wonder if something could be done better.” But Conway then said he would have liked to see the Quiet Zone – to muffle the horns of trains passing through the village – completed during his tenure as mayor.
“Other than that,” said Conway, who had drawn the ire of the former Voorheesville area ambulance service and faced a public backlash over the management of a Saint Matthew Church development. , “I can’t think of anything that I thought was totally wrong what to do next. I have no regrets about that, it occurs to me anyway.