Jay Town Council faces shakeup
JAY — Because a Jay town councilman resigned last month, his spot is up for election this November.
Bob Segall, a Democrat who was elected in 2017, left his position in early February. Since then, the board appointed Chris Garrow, a Jay resident who works as superintendent of the Essex County Department of Public Works, to fill the position until this November’s election.
So far the only person running for the spot this fall is Knut Sauer, who will run as a Democrat and an independent, according to the Essex County Board of Elections.
The town of Jay includes the hamlets of Jay and Upper Jay and part of AuSable Forks.
Sauer emigrated from Sweden in the 1980s and moved to Jay in 2008. In a phone interview Wednesday, he said he is running because he believes the town is experiencing significant economic problems, and he thinks the council needs some fresh faces.
“The town is underfunded,” he said. “Equipment in the highway and water departments are failing, and the current council is so focused on Band-Aid, day-to-day issues and not the long term.”
Knut claimed highway trucks are in bad shape and one of the water department’s pump stations was once infested with ants.
“I think we need to build a long-term maintenance plan for both departments,” he said. “The supervisor seems to be spread thin, and I would like to work closely with him on solving immediate and continuing issues.”
Town Highway Superintendent Kevin Zaumetzer said his department could benefit from more money, but so could every other aspect of the town government.
“I don’t blame the board for our current status,” he said. “I think they’ve done the best they can do on a limited budget. It’s just the situation we’re in.”
Zaumetzer said he’s had two trucks fail so far this winter. One fell on its side. There was no permanent damage, but it was out of service for two days and required paying a towing service. The other truck, which is only a few years old, suffered a broken radiator hose.
“It split and dumped antifreeze all over, and we didn’t have a backup hose,” Zaumetzer said. “I can’t afford to buy a new truck now, so I often have to dip into my repair budget.
“We’re not a rich town by any means, and we’ve only got so much money to work with,” he continued. “It’s the game were forced into, unfortunately. So I don’t blame a person if they don’t want to stick around for $15 per hour. I don’t want to lose them, but I understand it.”
As for the ant infestation, Zaumetzer said that wasn’t a big issue.
“There were some ants in the pump house, but there’s no way they could actually get into the water,” he said. “We called an exterminator, and the issue was fixed.”
Jay seems to have lost a lot of its tourism and the revenue that comes along with it, Sauer said.
“People pass through here, but nobody stops,” he said. “We’re not developing activities that we can advertise. The tax base is homeowners, and taxes are high.”
Sauer said he would like to create a visit-Jay website. He added that he would prefer it to be run by the community as opposed to outsourcing all the work to the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, which operates other local tourism websites.
“We’ve got a lot of arts and crafts and farming — Asgaard Farms, the Recovery Lounge, Young’s Studio & Gallery — and I would like to build on that,” he said. “We’re not out there as a town promoting those businesses. We have a beautiful community, and we need to show it.”
Why Segall left
Segall resigned from his council position Feb. 4, citing opposition from the board and growing health problems. He’s now helping advise Sauer’s campaign.
Segall said he never felt quite accepted by the rest of the board, which caused him to become frustrated, anxious and depressed.
“I felt like resigning after the first meeting,” Segall said in a phone interview Thursday.
Segall said he brought what he called progressive and modern ideas to the board, but that they were often met with opposition or complete silence.
One of his first ideas on the board was to post public notices on Jay Community News, an online bulletin for Jay residents. He said the idea was quickly shot down because the notices are already posted in the Press-Republican, the town’s newspaper of record.
“I couldn’t believe the resistance,” Segall said. “So I just did it anyway, and pretty soon I had locals asking me, ‘Are you going to put that on Jay Community News, Bob?'”
Another time he proposed Jay take part in the Clean Energy Communities Program from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. If the town met certain criteria, this would let it take from a pool of state funds to invest in new technologies such as solar panels and electric car charging stations. Segall said it initially received a positive reaction from some board members but quickly fizzled out.
“I found it very difficult to continue working with the board,” Segall said.
Segall began to suspect he was a threat to the board and its ways of operating. He said another board member emailed him saying things like, “If you’re going to do as much in 2018 as you did in 2019, I suggest you just resign.”
Segall said the position began to take a toll on his health, both physically and mentally.
“I couldn’t take another month of it, let alone another three years,” he said. “It broke my heart to resign, but I didn’t want to have a heart attack. I felt great after I sent in my resignation, and my depression and anxiety went away only a few hours later.”
Town Supervisor Archie Depo said Segall had approached him multiple times about resigning.
“He came to me twice before that, and I tried to talk him out of it,” Depo said, “but once you file that letter with the town clerk, there’s nothing I can do.”
Depo said he liked working with Segall but wasn’t sure if he was up to task of being a town councilman. Depo said Segall would only show up for public meetings and wouldn’t attend classes from the New York State Association of Towns that educate people on how to fill the role of a town council member. Depo also confirmed that Segall didn’t have the best relationship with another board member.
“(Segall) would bring up issues that weren’t town business,” Depo said. “He didn’t understand the role of town government and would get involved in civil issues like neighbor disputes, things we had no jurisdiction over.”
Segall said he may have missed only two or three town meetings throughout the year and that he did attend some of the Association of Towns classes in 2018.
Nevertheless, Depo said he appreciated Segall as a councilman.
“He was a great guy,” he said. “I like him, and I’m sorry to see him go.”
(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Segall was named as Sauer’s campaign manager. Sauer said he does not have a campaign manager but that Segall is one of his advisors and supporters.)