Five candidates vie for Keene council, two for justice

Keene town council candidates John Hudson, Jerry Smith, David Deyo and Jennifer Whitney sit alongside town justice candidates Henrietta Jordan and Bill Harral at a candidate forum in Keene on Oct. 16. (Enterpirse photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

KEENE — Five candidates are in the running for two town council seats in Keene. Two people are running to fill a town justice seat.

At a candidate forum hosted by Un!te the North Country at the Keene Fire Department Wednesday, six of seven people vying for public office weighed in on what they saw as the most important issues facing the town. Common themes emerged across party lines: the need for more affordable housing, and the need to find solutions to accommodate the influx of hikers flocking to the High Peaks Wilderness.

Candidates for town justice differed somewhat on their priorities if elected, but both Democratic candidate Henrietta Jordan and Bill Harral, who is running on the independent Common Sense line, underscored the importance of transparency in the local court system and their commitment to fully understand set procedures before making any changes to the town court.

There are just over two weeks until Election Day on Nov. 5, and one week until the state’s first early voting period kicks off. Keene voters who want to cast ballots early can do so starting Oct. 26 at the Essex County Public Safety Building at 702 Stowersville Road in Lewis. Visit the Essex County Board of Elections website for polling hours. Early voting closes Nov. 3.

Town board candidates

There are five candidates running to fill two seats carrying four-year termson the town council . Incumbent Jerry Smith, a Republican, is seeking a third term. Town Councilman Michael Buysse is declining to seek reelection.

The candidates vying for the slot include two Republicans also running as independents, Smith and David Deyo; two Independence party candidates also running as independents, Jennifer Whitney and Devon Holbrook; and one independent candidate running under the Framers party line, John Hudson.

David Deyo

Deyo, 49, is a Keene Valley native and a married father of two girls, ages 3 and 9.

After graduating from high school, Deyo went to college in Long Island and spent 10 years living in Manhattan and Houston, where he worked in the restaurant and nightclub industries. In 1998, he moved back home and bought the Baxter Mountain Tavern in Keene, which he owned until a year and a half ago.

Now, he oversees properties on behalf of second homeowners and manages his own.

Deyo has served as a member of the Keene town planning board for more than 15 years. He’s running for town council on the Republican and independent Justice party lines.

“I think it’s important to contribute,” he said. “When I had a restaurant, I didn’t have the time to commit to what the town board required.”

At the Keene candidates forum Wednesday, Deyo underscored the need for both affordable housing and reliable internet access to attract more residents here — more residents who, he hopes, would enroll their children in the Keene Central School District.

“There has to be some way to get people into this school, whether it be affordable housing … or internet access,” he said. “It’s important to get people to this town and internet is a big part of it. We need to get people into this town and to get people into that school.”

Deyo said he believes the only way to increase the amount of affordable housing in Keene is by creating a new section of the hamlet dedicated to affordable housing.

Asked about whether he would support regulating short-term vacation rentals, Deyo said existing land use regulations are sufficient.

Deyo owns two vacation rentals. He said most people in Keene Valley listing their properties on sites like Airbnb are second homeowners, who pay the county’s bed tax, and use the service as a way to offset the taxes on their property while they’re not living there.

“I think a lot of the regulation that’s needed is already there,” he said. “I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to use it.

“I understand in Lake Placid it’s a different animal from what’s happening here,” Deyo added. “I don’t think we have the same problems as Lake Placid does, and I know they have a serious problem. I don’t foresee that happening here.”

Deyo also pointed to parking for visiting hikers as another issue facing Keene.

“One way to deter people is to make it more expensive,” he said. “That limits the amount of people that are on the mountains at a time and also puts revenue back into the community. It’s a win-win situation.”

John Hudson

Hudson, 65, was born in Massachusetts but moved to the Keene area when he was 5 years old. He has one surviving brother and one sister.

For nearly five decades, Hudson has worked as a carpenter. In 2010, he opened the Hudson Art Center, an art gallery and custom frame shop on state Route 9N.

Hudson hasn’t held elected office before, though he was one of six people interviewed in 2016 for the town supervisor position following the resignation of Bill Ferebee. He has been appointed to a position: he served as a code enforcement officer for Elizabethtown, Jay, Keene and Lewis for five years. He was also an inspector for the Federal Emergency Management Agency for eight years.

“I decided — I’m getting older and I know a lot about this town and I feel I can make a difference,” he said.

Hudson is running for one of two town board seats as an independent candidate under the Framers party line. He also filed as a Republican, but was knocked off that party line in the June primary.

Hudson pointed to high taxes, uneven property assessments and parking issues as the biggest problems facing the town.

“The biggest issue I see are taxes — they’re very high and very uneven,” he said. “Our tax assessor resigned and there will be a new tax assessor in 2020. The town is going to go through a reevaluation. I want to make sure that’s done fairly and evenly.”

He also cited parking issues stemming from the influx of hikers visiting the High Peaks Wilderness as a problem, but said everyday parking for local businesses is also in short supply.

“Hiker parking and regular business parking has been an Achilles heel in this town for some time,” he said.

Hudson believes the town should move toward expanding the trailhead parking area at Marcy Field and charging hikers to park there to shore up revenue for the town to expand its shuttle system and better maintain the parking lot.

He said there’s also a lack of affordable housing for those who want to live in Keene and enroll their children at the Keene Central School District, and he believes some of the buildings in town are unsafe.

“We really have a lack of permanent housing,” he said. “It’s all becoming Airbnbs. I would be looking at that and seeing what we need to do.”

In a phone interview following the forum, Hudson said he believes the town’s code enforcement officer should be paid more and given more time to work on ensuring buildings — including those used as short-term vacation rentals — are safe for occupancy.

Devon Holbrook

Devon Holbrook, who is running on the Independence party line for town council, did not respond to a request for comment and was not present at the candidate forum in Keene Wednesday. Holbrook, like Hudson, was one of six candidates who were interviewed for the town supervisor position following the resignation of Bill Ferebee, a Republican. Town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr., a Democrat, was ultimately selected for the role and won the subsequent election for the position.

Jerry Smith

– Smith, 66, is seeking a third term on the Keene Town Council.

A Keene native, Smith was a foster parent and worked at Keene Central School for 34 years as its head of transportation. Now, he’s retired and running Jerry Smith Landscaping.

At the Keene candidate forum Wednesday, Smith highlighted the need for affordable housing here, but noted his personal difficulties with developing that sort of housing.

“I’ve been trying to do senior housing between Adirondack and Market Street,” he said. “I own 13 lots. For 20 years I’ve been trying to get some grant money. We just can’t find the money. There’s no money to do that.”

Smith joined the other town council candidates in pointing to hiker parking as one of the primary issues facing the town. He said the existing lot at Marcy Field needs to be expanded.

“The only way we could do anything is to make a large parking lot at Marcy Field and bus (hikers) up to the trailheads,” he said in an interview following the forum.

Smith also pointed to ongoing water issues — which he said has caused water bans, prompting the town to ask residents to monitor their water use — as something that needs to be addressed.

“I’d like to do one and two water districts,” he said. “We’re having problems with water. I hope to solve that problem before I’m out of office.”

Jennifer Whitney

Whitney is running on the Independence party line for town council as well as the independent Honesty party line. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday, though she did attend the candidate forum Wednesday.

At the forum, she said retaining a sense of community in Keene would be one of her main priorities if elected. Whitney also said she’d like to see more investment in the town’s recreational facilities — like the pavilion, community center and skating rink — and more of an emphasis on green infrastructure, which she said could include the installation of solar panels on the town’s salt barn or stations to capture rainwater.

Like the other candidates, Whitney pointed to hiker overcrowding as a concern and agreed that hikers should be charged a fee to park at the Marcy Field parking lot.

“I was thinking maybe the Holt House can become a visitor center that’s open all the time,” she said. “I’d like to explore the purchase of a new bus, another one, so we can get people parked at Marcy Field.”

She said the town should compile a list of current Airbnbs and any additional regulations should apply to short-term rentals established in the future.

Town justice candidates

Two candidates are running for one Keene town justice slot.

Henrietta Jordan, running on the Democratic line, is a Keene Valley native who lived in Vermont for many years. After graduating from college, Jordan worked for a Head Start program; developed a victim assistance program for the Child Protection Unit of the Attorney General’s Office; chaired the Vermont Victims Compensation Commission; and served as the executive director of three nonprofit organizations. She was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in 1998. She served two terms.

After the left office, Jordan moved back home to Keene Valley and worked for the Land Trust Alliance. She served as a board member of the Neighborhood House and the High Peaks Education Foundation; directed the Keene Central School Community Education Program for three years and has experience with grant writing, property law and legal research.

If elected, Jordan said she hopes to make information about the court more accessible online; obtain grant funding to update the court’s technology — including the voicemail machine, which she said garbles messages; and streamline the court filing system.

Bill Harral, who is running as an independent on the Common Sense party line, moved to Keene Valley nine years ago.

Before moving to the area, he served for 28 years as the human resource director for the ARC of Cumberland and Perry Counties, a non-profit in Pennsylvania with a focus on serving people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

As HR director, Harral said he represented his employer at hundreds of hearings and legal proceedings related to workers compensation, misconduct claims and other employment-related issues.

After he moved to Keene Valley, he worked for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority as a lift operator at Whiteface Mountain for a short time, Rivermede Farm, at the High Peaks Resort and ultimately landed at McDonough’s Hardware.

At the candidate’s forum, asked how he would change the procedures of how town justice works, Harral said he “would not change anything until (he) thoroughly understood the job,” and underscored his desire to have “open communication between the town justice and people in the town.”