Council Candidates on Representing the Community

Stay tuned this week as we share answers to your burning questions from City Council candidates. Click "Keep me posted" below for an alert when we publish items related to the November 2012 election.

Stay tuned this week as we share answers to your burning questions from Albany City Council candidates. Click "Keep me posted" below for an alert when we publish items about the election. Don't forget to mark your calendar for two forums in October to help you meet the candidates. See our full Abany 2012 Election Guide here. Have more questions? Comment on individual candidate profiles to ask for more information.

As a member of the City Council, will you represent the views of the majority, those who elect you, or will you make decisions based on what you feel is the best for Albany, in your personal opinion, when you disagree with the majority position? Please answer in relation to the recent council decisions regarding AT&T and UC's village development project. 


I will continue to research each issue and listen to citizens before reaching a decision on a given vote.


This is an excellent, and somewhat complex question. One of my goals as a member of City Council will be to represent the actual views of the majority of Albany residents, not just the majority that shows up at City Council meetings, particularly on issues that affect the majority. In order to accomplish this, I will not only make myself available to residents, I will also outreach to community groups and residents at large. On issues that I have campaigned on, I will do my best to represent those positions. I also know from experience that working with groups requires compromise to be effective. With social justice issues that affect marginalized or disenfranchised people or groups of people, my goal is to represent those interests, which might be otherwise disregarded or abused by the majority. 

In the case of the UC Village Project, I think the size, scale and location of this project is going to have many significant impacts on Albany including local traffic, the character of our City, our local businesses and the environment. Therefore, I believe large-scale community input is the best way to proceed, as was put forth by the referendum. For more details on my position please see my website: http://spellwomanforalbany.com/uc-village-development-project.

The City Council recently upheld the Planning & Zoning Commission’s recommendation to deny AT&T’s cell tower application because they repeatedly requested approval for the same nonconforming site and refused to make a good faith investigation of conforming sites, proposed by community groups and the City. I agree with this decision. For more information on my position: http://spellwomanforalbany.org/cell-phone-towers.


It is important for City Council to solicit views from all of Albany, not just those who show up at Council meetings. As such, especially on large and contentious issues like the UC development and cell tower applications, it is imperative that Council engages the community.

I am an Albany progressive who has seen Albany develop through the 60's all the way to the present. I will balance all of my decisions with my overriding goal to keep Albany small and local. I like the town I grew up in. I am not trying to make it into something it is not.


I will vote in way that is best for Albany. That was my position when I was on the school board, and it is still my position. I am very comfortable with making audience members unhappy if I don’t think their ideas are in the best interest of the community. On the other hand, I am good listener and absorb new information quickly.

As for the UC Village development, I think P&Z (planning and zoning) and council did a good job. They were more than diligent in their efforts to keep the public informed. But it’s a free country. Albany residents have the right not to pay attention to what their local governments are doing. But that doesn’t give the same residents the right to insist that complex decisions get repeated simply because they were not paying attention the first time around.

The AT&T decision is a different matter. Our cell ordinance forces P&Z to deal with issues that are beyond their expertise. P&Z commissioners tend to be contractors and architects, not RF engineers and public health officials. On the AT&T decision, P&Z dropped the ball in a way that was just a prolonged embarrassment.


With regard to the AT&T cell tower decision, from what I understand, more could have been done by AT&T and the city to determine a cell tower location that would not be so problematic (not involve an already non-conforming building). I think the majority want AT&T to have good cell coverage, but pushing this non-conforming location was probably not in the best interests of anybody.

With regard to the UC Village project, I believe the majority of residents in Albany want this project and that the City Council made the correct decision to move forward with the various approvals (except for the misstep of the last-minute language changes to the EIR without public comment).


I tell my supporters that if I’m elected, they must expect me to sometimes make decisions they don’t agree with—otherwise I would not be doing my job.

A “majority” is rarely clear. Short of an actual vote, the definite calculation the term “majority” implies is not possible. And there are further questions. For instance, do we assign more weight to those who are most directly impacted by a decision?

The voices of the people must be listened to. Council members have a responsibility to be available to the community. Council decisions must be informed by what they hear from the public, but balanced with what they learn from staff and their own reflection on an issue. What must be guarded against are decisions made from ideology rather than inquiry, or delay from unwillingness to make a difficult decision. 

In both the AT&T and UC Village proposals, the Council heard numerically more Albany residents in favor of the proposals than residents opposed to the proposals. In these cases, I would have voted with the majority, but I can imagine voting against the majority if I felt that the arguments presented by the majority were not factual, informed, or convincing.


It is difficult to know at any given time what the majority necessarily wants since we have no accurate way to gauge that opinion (sorry Patch polls are interesting but not necessarily very accurate). As one gets further engaged in volunteering in city government and working on the issues, one’s perspective can change. One may get ahead of his/her base and/or change his/her opinion. Ultimately, I think it comes down to the basic communication skill of approaching issues like AT&T or UC Village by first understanding all aspects, processing this by weighing out the issues, coming to conclusions on the best course of action and finally making your conclusions understandable.

Click "Keep me posted" below for an alert when we publish items about the election. Don't forget to mark your calendar for two forums in October to help you meet the candidates. See our full Abany 2012 Election Guide here.

Ulan McKnight October 16, 2012 at 06:11 AM
Dover, I just can't seem to win with you. Will you agree that the house in question is causing a lot fewer issues? Will you agree that it has been cleaned up and for all intents and purposes is now a fully functioning (if not always perfectly behaving) member of the community? I do not claim credit for that. But I want to ask you, what more do you want? Just because I did not come and talk to you does not mean I did not talk with people who could actually help… and actually did help. My leadership "style" (love the quotes) is to get stuff done. I am far less interested in getting credit for it. I leave that to you. You can take the credit. And just to be nice, one day you might want to ask the child in question if she is OK. I am sure she would appreciate a kind word from a neighbor. http://www.torontosun.com/2012/10/16/emotions-high-at-amanda-todd-memorial
Caryl O'Keefe October 16, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Hi Margaret - sorry those leaflets under the doormat have been a problem to pick up. Anyone who's ever hand-delivered flyers would love to put them into mailboxes...but federal law, 18 U.S.C. 1725, says no. (it prohibits placing non-stamped materials into residential mailboxes used by USPS). Some mailboxes have a separate section for newpapers, flyers etc where it's ok for a non-USPS person to put nonstamped stuff. If you post a sign asking that no unsolicited materials be left on your property, that should prevent flyers. (Tho I have seen non-English-speaking/reading people who appeared to be delivering flyers for pay.) Placing signage declining unsolicited materials near the sidewalk is greatly appreciated if your front door is at the top of many stairs!
Sheri Spellwoman October 16, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Dover- I have never denied my participation on the Gill Tract, please see my response on Patch, (which was apparently too long and cut short but your answer is there): http://albany.patch.com/articles/council-candidates-on-the-gill-tract. I assure you I did not cut any locks, destroy property or leave refuse of any kind behind. I am not affiliated in any way with OTF. You repeating that statement does not make it true. I have no influence over their actions, nor do they have any influence over mine. What I have in common with OTF is a deep appreciation for this valuable and historic farmland in the heart of Albany, and I would like to see it preserved as farmland and open in some way to the community with a primary focus on public education. The UC has recently stated their intent to pursue some kind of public access and agroecological education there, and I look forward to participating in that process and doing what I can to hold them accountable to their word. (Continued…)
Sheri Spellwoman October 16, 2012 at 04:10 PM
(…Cont) The vision of an agroecological education center and urban farm on the Gill Tract has EVERYTHING to do with the Common Good, in my opinion. Please visit my website for more on this topic, (and other issues ☺): http://spellwomanforalbany.com/gill-tract-agricultural-fields Urban agriculture is a growing grassroots movement that has the potential to address issues of hunger, food security, climate change, sustainability, unemployment, obesity, nutrition and health. For Albany, this could become a unique destination that attracts visitors, educators, student groups, researchers and backyard gardeners from near and far. It would also be an incredibly beautiful, highly visible, addition to our City. I look forward to working with the City of Albany, the UC and all other interested members of the community to make this a reality.
Dover October 16, 2012 at 04:49 PM
"I am not affiliated in any way with OTF." http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/04/27/18712211.php
Dover October 16, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Sheri, I also believe that the law abiding citizens of Albany would want to know that you were one of the neighbors who took it upon themselves to vandalize the Tot Lot without ANY attempt to first broach the subject before the Albany Parks and Recreation Commission or the Albany City Council. And now you want us to believe that you are interested in working within the system? Please. Go sell disingenuous somewhere else. I am not buying. http://albany.patch.com/articles/neighbors-paint-and-plant-tot-lot-though-not-all-love-new-look (As a side note, candidates Nick Pilch and Ulan McKnight also supported this vandalism. Take note, Citizens of Albany.) Sheri, I really don't like the current color of your house so don't be surprised if I stop by next weekend with a few dozen friends to "improve" the facade. I'm sure you will have no problem with this, right? :-)
Robert Smith October 16, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Delete Robert Smith 10:12 am on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 I have already decided not to vote for the OTF candidates so no need to respond to me. Your lack of knowledge of basic things like: Key Route does not end at Solano AND Rollers and Strollers is not the name of the group, keep me from viewing you as a serious candidate. McKnight: "1,000 out of 18,000 people is not a very good ratio." I agree, but neither is it a good number to base a referendum on the Whole Foods Project.
Dover October 16, 2012 at 05:20 PM
"Just because I did not come and talk to you does not mean I did not talk with people who could actually help… and actually did help." So your interest in the community IS selective, as I suspected. Thank you for the confirmation. I admit I am surprised you are willing to admit to such considering that you claim that you wish to represent the entire community. How is that possible when you are only willing to speak to some of us? Also, you may wish to contact the Albany Police and inform them that you have provided assistance with the problem. That way they won't have to keep paying visits to the residents of 1058 Cornell, as they have done a multitude of times since the standoff. The domestic issues continue, the blaring music at all hours continues, the teenage drinking and drug use continues, the visits at all hours of the day and night from people who spend a mere five minutes inside the home continue. (I think we both know what that indicates, don't we?) This is not to mention the incident two weekends ago that involved the entire household out in the front yard with their hands in the air while the police searched and questioned them. Also, the trash that was dumped on the front "lawn" has merely been moved to the back yard so that now only two neighboring families have to deal with it on a daily basis. I suppose this is also progress in your mind. Keep up the good work, Ulan! The citizens of Cornell Avenue thank you for your efforts.
Karl October 16, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Dover, we at American Crossroads appreciate your using our strategy of negative campainging at the local level. Personal attacks are the new normal and we are the proud leaders of the movement to scare caring people from running for public office.
Dover October 16, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Karl, exactly which "caring people" have been scared from running for public office?
Steven Steve October 16, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Seems there are 3 camps here with regard to issues and voting (e.g., marijuana dispensary). 1) Ignore Albany voters (Peggy Thomsen, Nick Pilch, and Michael Barnes), 2) Acknowledge Albany voters, but remain mired with no progress (Tod Abbott, and Peter Maas), and 3) Acknowledge Albany voters and do as they have requested (Sheri Spellwoman and Ulan McKnight). For the purposes of this evaluation, I will combine groups 1 & 2 for the simple reason that when I cast a vote (as I believe most of us do) I expect it to be BOTH acknowledged AND followed. The idea that 'candidates' in these groups have yet to do research, or are simply going to ignore the empirical evidence that such a facility is both a benefit to the community as a whole and a benefit to the neighborhood surrounding the dispensary is in, has been in, and has remained constant for some ten years now. Such willing ignorance smacks of either incompetency or an ulterior motive/agenda or both. Further, for some 'candidates' the vote requires further 'interpretation' of what the voters intended. Again, we were clear and that was SEVEN years ago we voted for this! I, myself, will vote for a leader...and not a politician who walks the pandering tight rope.
Nick Pilch October 16, 2012 at 06:55 PM
>(As a side note, candidates Nick Pilch and Ulan McKnight also supported this vandalism. Take note, Citizens of Albany.) - Dover Not true. I supported the spirit of community and spontaneity, but not the action itself.
Dover October 16, 2012 at 07:07 PM
"Not true. I supported the spirit of community and spontaneity, but not the action itself." Really? Because this is what you said at the time, Nick. "I think the spirit of community and spontaneity is great in this instance," Pilch said. "You got together and you just got something done.... and really improved the area." http://albany.patch.com/articles/neighbors-paint-and-plant-tot-lot-though-not-all-love-new-look How does "really improved the area" NOT qualify as support for the action? And what words would you have used if you really did support the action?
Kenneth October 16, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Ulan, what happened between 7:10 pm on Sunday when it was possible to figure out what a majority want for the waterefront and 10:56 pm on Monday when 1,000 out of 18,000 is not a very good ratio. Participation in Voices to Vision was in the neighborhood of 1000, not the "couple thousand" you suggest. Perhaps it is the revealing "(although I do agree with the findings)." People do tend to hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest. They also want to claim a mandate for their own biases.
Nick Pilch October 16, 2012 at 08:13 PM
You have a picked out one quotation out of an entire meeting. It does not take into context everything I said. However, just above in the article is written: '"On its merit, it's quite a nice thing," said Commissioner Gary Class. "But it does set a precedent. We do need to have regulations about public parks." Commissioner Nick Pilch continued on this idea, saying it is important to make sure everyone has a chance to weigh in and that, in the future, the required public notification must be done by authorities before changes happen.'
Kenneth October 16, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Nick.the one thing that bothers me about your candidacy is your willingness to pander to all segments of the community. You support the spirit of OTF but not the actions. What does that even mean? You support the UC Development, but filed suit to throw out the EIR which would set it back years. You have told respected members of the community that you do not want their support and then turn around and ask for it. You need to decide what you really believe and then let the voters decide.
Dover October 16, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Sorry, Nick, but "really improved the area" still equals support for the action and I do not see what the length of the meeting has to do with your approval, unless you really can flip flop on a dime, as has been suggested by others. And why would anyone take your feeble admonishment of "in the future, the required public notification must be done by authorities before changes happen" to heart when you did nothing to hold the vandals responsible for what they had done? This was no different than vandalizing the Bart columns or a school wall or even Albany City Hall. Even a slap on the wrist may have had an impact but you didn't even see fit to administer one of those. Instead, you PRAISED the vandals.
Alan Riffer October 16, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Ulan, Dinner with Albany was a lot of fun for the participants, even the ones without open fire. It was probably good for the restaurants. Merchants, I don't think so. I talked to the owners of two who said that business was nonexistent on a beautiful Saturday. Each said that the one saving grace is that it is only once every two years. While you have more reatil experience than I do, everything you say on Patch about local business is contradicted by Albany merchants.
Ulan McKnight October 16, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Now our kids are vandals. Hmmm... Our children were playing in the park that had be spray painted with all manner of vile language. We patiently waited for Albany to clean it up. They didn't. A couple of 9 and 10 year-old asked me and another parent why they couldn't just paint over the graffiti. I asked them to wait another week. That week came and went and a number of kids wanted to take spray paint to get ride of the words. Instead, a group of parents, who's children actually play in the park, organized a community beautification project. More than 20 kids participated. To this day these children still pass the park and point to their work with pride. And true to form, Albany promised to paint over the artwork and have done nothing about it for years. I guess to some, having vile words is preferable to child art.  As a side note: It was because of Albany's reaction to these events that I started to get involved in local politics. Lemons and lemonade.
Nick Pilch October 17, 2012 at 05:13 AM
Dover, I'm beginning to believe that all your questions for me on this matter are rhetorical. However, one more thing to set the record straight. The commission and I did give the neighbors a slap on the wrist and told them to not do that again. I disagree that it's inconsistent to say that some of the changes are positive, while not supporting the neighbors acting on their own without consulting the city. Their intentions to make the place better for the kids was good, but the method was wrong.
Dover October 17, 2012 at 03:38 PM
"The commission and I did give the neighbors a slap on the wrist and told them to not do that again." A slap on the wrist is a punishment, albeit a very mild form of punishment. In what way were the vandals punished?
Mark Pagers October 17, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Tatter Tots, Ben Dover, Dept of Misinfo, tolstoy et al, who are you? I admit it is fun observing as you harass the candidates and each other but I can't give credence to your arguments because you post under pseudonyms. Apologies in advance if your identities are already well known - I'm new to Albany and patch.
Mark Pagers October 17, 2012 at 09:14 PM
PS Or are you, in fact, the candidates themselves using pseudonyms to spear your opponents? Maybe we could work this all out by cross referencing the arguments.(Clearly Dover is not a McKnight pseudonym ! )
Mark Pagers October 17, 2012 at 09:35 PM
PS Or am I, in fact, a fictional character merely here to inflame and distract from the matter in hand? You see how copnfusing this all gets when you can't see who's talking? Moderator?
Dover October 17, 2012 at 10:00 PM
1. Dover is not a pseudonym at all, it is my given name, and there is no Ben involved as I am female. However, your attempt at humor is duly noted. 2. Asking questions of the candidates and expecting answers from the candidates is not "harassment" though I can see how the less capable, eloquent and above board candidates might view it as such. Any candidate incapable of handling questions posed by potential constituents on Patch really has no business running for public office. If this is too much for him or her to take, the first City Council meeting is likely to drive him or her straight to a 51/50 hold. Also, any candidate unwilling to answer questions posed here is announcing loud and clear that he is not suitable council member material. Better we know this now than after we are stuck with an incompetent incapable of living in reality. 3. You are not new. Why pretend?
Mark Pagers October 17, 2012 at 10:59 PM
Dover - I agree with your (2). Its not the style or content of the questions, its the pseudonyms. You make some great points and I enjoy the delivery - why not stand behind them in name? OK, OK so it appears this may not apply specifically to you but the single name moniker is confusing to those not acquainted. How about you others?
Dover October 18, 2012 at 12:07 AM
You ARE acquainted and it's only confusing if you choose that route. As always, you are free to ignore any and all comments as you see fit. (But Ulan, Nick and the others would be wise to answer the questions presented here.)
Karl October 18, 2012 at 02:41 AM
Dover, can I assume that you won't be voting for Ms. Thomsen based on her 1 sentence answers to most of the questions and not participating in the Patch comments section? Maybe she doesn't have access to the internet. Looks like the Patch has less than 50 people who use the comment section so I think that Ms. Spellwoman, Mr. Abbott and Mr. McKnight, whom I've seen regularly engaging people in conversation on the street, are doing better communicating that way than engaging with you on here. You clearly have already made up your mind and are only wasting their time with ridiculous accusations and nasty comments. Just be honest about what your agenda is.
Karl October 18, 2012 at 03:09 AM
And... I only mention the 3 candidates I've seen. I don't know how much the others are pounding the pavement. Mr. Maass would probably hop off his bike to talk if I waved him down.
Dover October 18, 2012 at 03:29 AM
"Just be honest about what your agenda is." Oh, sweet irony of life. ;-}


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