By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer
The last time Fort Ann Village had an election, only four of its 484 residents voted. It was uncontested. The turnout is likely to be a lot higher on March 21.
Incumbent Mayor Denis Langlois and Trustee Ed Sharrow face challengers Russell Blair for mayor and Grumbellies Eatery owner Jeff Hamblin for trustee.
Fort Ann has a three-person board — the mayor and two trustees — so control of the government is possibly at stake.
Mr. Hamblin and Mr. Blair — who briefly served as mayor previously — say they’ve been implored to run by citizens unhappy with the Village’s direction.
Mr. Blair says, “They want somebody that’s visible to them, that involves them in the community and takes into consideration their interest and what needs to be done.”
Mayor Langlois and Mr. Sharrow say they’ve done a good job.
The Mayor said he has kept taxes down, and fixed issues as they occur with the Village’s limited resources.
“We have a lot of low income people, a lot of retired people. And I made a promise to the previous mayor that I would work my buns off to keep taxes as low as possible,” Mayor Langlois said.
Trustee Mr. Sharrow touts his years of service to the community, including nearly 64 years in emergency services. “I have the abilities to walk with, work with, and listen to people,” he said.
Mr. Blair served as Mayor “six or seven years ago.” He said he left after just six months because of a promotion at his college job and because “it was crazy,” referring to the Village board.
One example, he said, was the trustees rebuffing efforts of the Catholic Church to hold a park rosary rally. “They don’t need the village’s permission…It’s the people’s park,” maintains Mr. Blair.
He said he holds a doctorate in nursing practice and is now retired, and is an adjunct professor at Franklin University.
Besides operating Grumbellies, Mr. Hamblin said he produces concerts in the park and runs the Fourth of July parade.
“That’s why everybody thought I was already the mayor,” Mr. Hamblin jokes, “because I do everything that the mayor should be doing.”
The pair say the village needs better infrastructure, safety and community outreach — like creating committees.
Mr. Blair said young families seek safer ways to get their kids to school. He says their requests for “children at play signs” were denied without explanation.
They allege that village sewer systems are faulty and need investment.
Another major issue, they say, is drivers who avoid intersections cutting through residential side streets.
Mr. Hamblin said, “We want to make Back Street one way. And I’ve already talked to everybody up and down Back Street…they want that.”
Mr. Hamblin is referring to Catherine Street, which he says drivers use to avoid the traffic light at Route 4 and Route 149. The street leads directly to the school.
Mr. Sharrow calls the idea of making the street one-way “absolutely asinine.”
Mayor Langlois likewise rejects the idea. He said if fire and rescue squads “got a backup in traffic, they can use Back Street all they want to go to where they have to go.”
Mayor Langlois said of infrastructure, “we work on that all the time. We tried to find monies from grants. We didn’t want to build a brand new sewer plant.”
“We’d like to put in sewer lines and a new water lines, but the money doesn’t come like people think,” he said.
Mr. Blair and Mr. Hamblin said they’ve already been in touch with grant writers, who they say will help find money for improvements.
Mayor Langlois said the reality is difficult. “‘I hear there’s a grant for this,’” he quotes critics. “Good luck. Buffalo might get it, New York City might get it. We’re not gonna get it. We try. We try.”
Fort Ann issue: Can Jeff Hamblin serve?
Fort Ann Mayor Denis Langlois and trustee Ed Sharrow quickly call into question trustee candidate (and Grumbellies Eatery owner) Jeff Hamblin’s eligibility to run.
“Jeff Hamblin does not live in our area. And to be on the board, you’re supposed to live in the village, not own property,” says Mayor Langlois.
He said Mr. Hamblin has been living in Glens Falls and that state law dictates he must live in the village for six months prior to the election.
Mr. Hamblin says he is eligible — and will be on the ballot. “My driver’s license is Fort Ann. The Department of Elections have already been notified. I have my election card for Fort Ann, and I live here in Fort Ann,” he said.
“The bylaws say that I had to be a registered voter for Fort Ann within 10 days of my election, and by my swear-in I had to be a resident of the village,” he said.
Mr. Hamblin said he is renovating the house he bought in the village last June. In the meantime, if elected, he said he will live in the village in either a home owned by Mr. Blair, or an apartment offered up by a resident.
“The village people want me here so bad, they’re willing to give me free places to live,” Mr. Hamblin joked.
He adds, “I don’t own anything anywhere else. I own a house next door [to Grumbellies]….My wife and her son own a house in Glens Falls. That was never mine. That was always hers before we ever married. I’ve been married 27 years.” — Zander Frost
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