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ON THE SCENE: Keene’s Bill Ferebee moving on

December 1, 2016
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Monday, Nov. 28, was Bill Ferebee's last day of work as the supervisor for the town of Keene and chairman of the Essex County Board of Supervisors.

Three days later, he took up his new duties as a community resource liaison for the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation. In his new position, he will assist municipalities, and private business seeking grants for water-related projects, and once approved, facilitate the process of receiving the funding and implementing the program.

He will work primarily out of an office in Warrensburg but spend a fair amount of time on the road as his region of responsibility goes from north from Albany to the Canadian border and west to Watertown.

Article Photos

Bill Ferebee, left, and town of Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

The need and challenges are familiar to Ferebee. Early in his role as town supervisor, the water system for the hamlets of Keene and Keene Valley had to be upgraded to meet state and federal standards. Thus, he knows the difficulty of seeking grants, receiving the money in a timely fashion, contracting the work, and demonstrating the appropriate use of the funds.

What's similar is helping people. To Ferebee, that's the core job of a supervisor. The difference is the scale of the region served and the focus on water-related projects rather than the diversity of issues that come up in on a town or county level.

"I've been the Keene supervisor for 11 years, 11 months, and 23 days, previously a town board member for four years, and served on the planning board for two years before that," said Ferebee. "That's what I've done, and my work of service will continue now for the state. I love the complete aggravation that people give me, and I love to be able to solve their problems on a daily basis. It's the thick of things that's kept me interested and involved. I enjoy the opportunity to try to help. I try to do the best I can.

"Key is the ability to end a story and start a new one. By that, I mean if I were to sit here this morning and our conversation didn't go well, that when I brought the next person in to talk with me, they would never know that my previous conversation didn't go well. I think that ability is key to being successful in public service. Listening well is important. You have to listen, comprehend, and hopefully come up with a solution. I have found when presented with a problem, the best approach is to ask people what they feel I should do, how they'd handle it. I believe you can have an opinion, but you can't be opinionated. You have to be able to listen to someone else as their way of addressing a problem may be different and may open your eyes to a different way of looking at something."

That ability to listen was never more needed than in the wake of the devastation of Keene by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. In their rush to re-open roads, some state officials shut out voices, such as by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and environmentalists. They were not willing to hear proposals to build larger bridges or protect the character of rivers as a means of enabling the community to better handle a future storm.

Less than a year later, Hurricane Sandy educated state officials that "once in a 500 year storms" could happen anytime. Of consequence, many bridges in Keene are now being raised and widened, and efforts in Johns Brook have been made to recreate some natural weirs that were destroyed by the Irene restoration work.

For Ferebee, a challenge was finding common ground between residents and county and state agencies on how best to rebuild and reopen the footbridge over the East Branch of the Ausable River, facilitate a retaining wall for Gulf Brook, address river restoration, and build a new firehouse at a time with great media attention and multiple visits by the governor and his staff.

Ferebee sees his biggest accomplishment since 2008 as keeping the town's budget, the general fund, increase to just $83,000 while maintaining services. That works out to keeping the general fund to an average of less that.05 percent per year. "We've gone from in 2008 using $250,000 in fund balance to balance the budget, down to $70,000. That's an accomplishment!" said Ferebee. "We've maintained the services everyone expects and added some. We've averaged over a million dollars per year in grants for the town of Keene. We just received a grant to put an addition on the Community Center to expand services for our Little Peaks program. Those things are done, in my opinion, by being out front and center, you can't do those things chained to a desk."

As to what his colleagues and constituents think about his work, "He's been a great supervisor," said Donna Reed, the tax collector for the town and Keene Central School. "I don't think I have ever called him when he hasn't either answered my question or called me right back. He's always made time for me to meet with him and been very supportive anytime I've gone in with tax questions, tax problems, or questions as a citizen. I think he did a lot for the down with getting us through Irene, which was very traumatic for everybody."

Town board member Jerry Smith, now in his second term, said, "Bill's very knowledgeable. He's taught me how to deal with the public, which is not so easy. He's a good man to work for and with. He's done a good job."

"I've only lived in Keene two years," said Ben Chamberlin. "Bill's always been warm and friendly. He reaches out and asks if I'm alright and if I have enough work. He's a great guy!"

"Bill's a good listener," said Keene Valley librarian Karen Glass. "He takes what people say seriously, and if you need someone to come down and see things as they are, he's there."

"We excited about his new job," said his wife, Sheila. "We're looking forward to it. He's sad about leaving the town; he's met a lot of good people, done a lot of good things. He loved being the supervisor. It's a 24-7 job, the phone rings all the time, but that's the way it is, and now he's ready to try something new."

Bill's done a good job," said former Keene Supervisor Tom Both. "It's not like running your own business. You have to pay attention to the town laws, work with the board, and be able to bring everybody together. In a small town, it's difficult because you have to do everything, it's not like a bigger town where you have staff and department heads to delegate projects. It's very much a full-time thing with very diverse issues to address. You never know what's going to happen, and there is no limit as to what time you will be called. At 10 o'clock at night, someone may call to ask if the dump is open tomorrow."

Ferebee's responsibilities were not just managing the town but serving as a member of the Essex County Board of Supervisors to address countywide issues, when for the last couple years has been serving as the chair.

"Bill has brought stability to the county board," said town of Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston, who will replace Ferebee as board board chairman. "He has continued governance without partisanship that (former town of Jay Supervisor) Randy Douglas brought to the board. I think that's important. We don't get into politics; we vote for what we think is right. Bill has kept a nice steady ship. What did I learn from Bill? How to corner the governor. That's the truth because that's how we got the money for the Whiteface highway. I wish Bill all the best. He'll be missed."



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