By Molly Congdon
CLIFTON PARK — For the most part, the Clifton Park town elections will not be contested on Nov. 3. The lone showdown will come as Jon Schopf and Robert Rybak vie for the position of town justice.
Rybak has been in office for the past 36 years. He was first elected in 1979.
“I’ve enjoyed serving the residents of the town and I want to continue to serve,” he said. “I have 36 years’ experience. During that time, I have handled more than 120,000 cases and have completed 500 hours of judicial education. I have been a licensed attorney since 1977 and I am admitted to the practice of law in all courts in New York state and the United States District for the Northern District. I have also served as an acting Schenectady City Court Judge and I am a member of the New York State and Saratoga County Magistrates Associations.”
He has presided with certain principles in mind. “When I first ran for town justice, I made four simple promises to the residents: Victims who have been harmed by a crime would have their damages reimbursed by the defendant; I would treat people who appeared before me with respect; I would protect the rights of all parties; and my court would be a model of efficiency and fairness,” Rybak said. “For the past 36 years, I have kept these promises, which I believe has made Clifton Park a better place to live, work and raise a family.”
He continued: “As a result of my record of judicial accomplishments and community involvement, I have been endorsed by the Democratic, Conservative and Independence parties. I have also secured enough signatures to be on the Green Party line as well.”
This year marks Schopf’s first time running for the position. “I’ve always wanted to be a judge and the opportunity came along, I grabbed it and I’m running with it,” Schopf said. “I have my own law firm over on Plank Road.”
He continued: “I think what distinguishes me the most from the incumbent is that I live in Clifton Park, I work in Clifton Park — I own my own business here — I’m available to the community all times during the day and all times during the night. He’s down in Albany during the day.”
If elected, Schopf knows where he would start. “I would like to take a close look at budgets in the town court and see if there’s any way we can continue to cut the tax load,” Schopf said. “Aside from the availability factor, I’m an attorney who has practiced law in a private practice, I’ve represented real people with real problems, I’ve appeared in 23 out of 63 counties in New York state and I’ve really been able to see how judges handle their courtrooms and how things are done. It’s kind of a unique perspective: Mmy opponent has all of his experience from behind the bench and I’ve got all of mine from the front of it and I think that’s an important factor to have when you take that next step and start judging people instead of representing them.”
Clear path to victory
For the rest of the positions on Election Day, each candidate is running unopposed.
Rick Kukuk is going for another term as highway superintendent, a position that he has held for the past 11 years. His department is responsible for the 182 miles of town roads, signs and roadway markings and cutting away trees and brush.
This upcoming term he wants to ensure that the path for the future of the Highway Department and town roads is set — to ensure “the continuity of the programs that I have in place,” he said. “Retirement is looming in my future, but I want to make sure I’ve put those in place for my predecessor to continue on.”
He has two main priorities: Making sure that the fleet of plow trucks is staying up to date and the systematic pavement maintenance is continued. “Just like trucks, all pavement gets older each year,” Kukuk said. “Streets deteriorate and so every highway superintendent has to have a pavement maintenance program, and we try to keep it up the best we can.”
Pat O’Donnell will once again be pursuing the role of town clerk. “I’ve been town clerk for 24 years and was deputy town clerk for two prior,” she said. “I love being town clerk, as it is a very happy place; we see people year after year, hear about families and help in any way we can. Often for a new resident, the clerk’s office is their first time to visit the Town Hall and get information about what a great place Clifton Park is and the variety of things we have to offer.”
Phil Barrett is running for town supervisor for the ninth time since 1999.
This is a rare election for him, only the second time he has run for the position unopposed.
“I love the job, I love working with people every day and fixing problems,” Barrett said. “Managing operational efficiencies is something that is boring to many people but I enjoy it; I enjoy the challenge of how do we deliver services more efficiently and at less cost to the taxpayer. Our focus from day one though today is how do we secure — the best we can — a secure future for the town of Clifton Park.”
The answer? “You do that by adding value to the community,” he said. “For a town our size, there is no more efficient organization or municipality that I know of in New York state and beyond,” Barrett said. “When you consider the total picture: the size of the town, the number of residents and the scope of responsibilities of town government and how we are able to deliver effective services at a very low cost to the taxpayer, . . . we are the standard and we are going to keep it that way.”
Another major initiative, which continues to be a main focus pushing forward, is environmental preservation. “Since 2000, we’ve preserved over 1,200 acres of open space. We have more than 13 miles of new trails and we continue to add in both areas because these are amenities that bring value to the community.”
Councilwoman Amy Standaert, is running for another term on the Town Board, on which she has served since June 2013. She describes the past two years as being “extremely busy and incredibly rewarding.”
“I was appointed and subsequently elected to the Town Board to fulfill the unexpired term of my predecessor,” she said. “Deciding to run again was an easy decision but under slightly different circumstances as I am now running for my own four-year term. As town councilwoman, I have been able to directly impact the exceptional quality of life available to Clifton Park residents. Working hard each and every day to ensure that our town operates with remarkable acumen and efficiency is gratifying because I witness the appreciation from residents time and time again.”
Like Barrett, she has some goals in mind for the future. “My goals are always to make decisions based on sound fiscal principles so as to continue to bring value to Clifton Park,” she said. “Making myself available and listening to the residents and businesses that take root and invest in our town is paramount in the decision-making process.”
James Whalen is also looking to continue to serve on the Town Board. He was first elected in 2011 and he is seeking his second four-year term.
“I’m very excited at the prospect of being able to serve the residents of the town of Clifton Park for another four years,” he said. “Deciding to run for another term was easy; I love Clifton Park and I love this job! My wife and I chose to live in Clifton Park because it is such a wonderful community. Serving on the Town Board allows me to help ensure that Clifton Park remains a safe, vibrant and cost-effective community in which to live, especially to raise a family. My wife and I have a 15-month-old daughter and a son on the way, so I feel a special responsibility to them to ensure that Clifton Park remains a great place to live and do business.”
He is focused on keeping the taxes in Clifton Park low and affordable for residents. “Over the next four years, my goal is to continue to work with my colleagues to sustain our success,” he said. “Specifically, that means to remain a low-taxed community, continue to create opportunities to grow the commercial base, particularly in the Exit 9 area, and maintain the outstanding quality of life that our residents enjoy. Whether by preserving open space, building new trails or maintaining the town’s infrastructure, the Town Board will continue to provide high-quality, cost effective services in an ethical and responsible manner.”