A face for frustration in Forestville

FORESTVILLE – Gary Belote has known this quaint village all of his life. From 1956 to June 1, 1985, his father, Gerald, ran the streets and water department with a large dose of pride. During his teen-age years, Belote himself was a part-time laborer.

Last September, Belote retired from his years as a construction worker with the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Union Local 7 in Buffalo. His work ethic and abilities enabled him to work on projects in Aruba, Puerto Rico and North Dakota while he was living in the town of Hanover and the village of Fredonia.

But today, as a retiree, he is back home where he wants to be – and remain as it is.

Belote is one of the main drivers of a petition – filled with 200 signatures – calling for current Mayor Linda Aures to resign. In presenting the signatures to the board on Sept. 10, he criticized “poor decisions.”

“You are not looking out for the welfare of this village,” he stated at that meeting.

But the current administration has a major mess on its hands, much of it inherited. Consider what has happened in the village over the last four years:

Its former attorney, Michael Bolender, was paid more than $220,000 to handle village business and a water project. The new attorney, brought on board in the spring, will receive no more than $15,000 this year – or about $40,000 less annually than what Bolender took from the village.

Tax rates were increased by the village nearly 50 percent, due in part to generous pay raises totaling nearly 12 percent during that time.

Its former village clerk was incompetent when it came to handling the water funds and the billing, according to a state comptroller’s report. Even before the report was made public, then clerk Marcia Peterson resigned. Now, despite not knowing how to balance a portion of the village’s checkbook, Peterson is showing up at meetings criticizing current board actions. That’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

But Belote does not want to revisit the past. Instead, he would rather discuss the present and the uncertain future. “There’s a group of people who are against what’s going on,” he said in an interview at his home on Main Street. “The main thing I’m against is the dissolution.”

And when it comes to dissolution, it is not being crammed down residents’ throats like the tax hikes, exorbitant lawyer fees and inaccurate record keeping. Aures has a committee of residents – some for, but many against – who are studying the issue.

That is, without question, open government.

Belote also would like to see laborer John Carpenter back on the job with the village. Carpenter, who had a disagreement with the current board, is no longer employed. “I think if another mayor would come in … I think he could get his job back,” he said, noting many other petition signers also have sympathy for the former worker.

“I feel bad for underdogs,” Belote said.

Historically, Forestville is an underdog. It is a small community of less than 700 residents, with a number of problems, that is facing an identity crisis. The view from this corner would be to dissolve the village. Those who have a connection to the past, like Belote, do not want to go down that road.

“I don’t want to see the village run by a bigger entity,” he said. “If I didn’t love where I am, I wouldn’t be here.”

Special salute

A familiar face is working her final day at the OBSERVER.

For more than 41 years, Joyce Klawon has worked in the newspaper business – a majority of it as classified advertising manager here. After today, she is retiring and relocating to Indiana to be closer to family and grandchildren.

Besides working in Dunkirk, Klawon held the classified ad manager position in Jamestown at The Post-Journal and was publisher of the Westfield Republican.

Working with thousands of customers over the years, Klawon has crafted hundreds of thousands of line ads during her career. On Wednesday, the staff held a luncheon in her honor.

We wish Klawon and her husband, Mick, the best in their relocation.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.