Slingerland looks back on tenure as mayor

JOHNSTOWN – After nearly eight years as the city’s mayor, Sarah Slingerland took time last week to reflect on her legacy.

The city’s first female mayor will leave office at the start of the year after serving two four-year terms. Vying for her job in the Nov. 5 general election will be Republican Scott Jeffers, Democrat Michael Julius and Conservative Helen Martin.

Slingerland, a Republican and former councilwoman first elected mayor in 2005, said she hopes her distinct management style has served the city well.

“I think I’m a consensus builder,” the mayor said. “I think I have good communications skills. Integrity is a huge piece of leadership.”

Slingerland, a 64-year-old retired school teacher, said her administration is leaving the city in “good shape.” She said Johnstown has a stabilized tax rate and many pieces of new equipment, and the city is cleaner than it has been in decades.

“I have accomplished almost all of my goals,” she said. “We’ve had tremendous commercial, industrial and housing growth.”

The city Fire Department recently reported a record number of housing starts. The Colonial City also has witnessed many new businesses on Route 30A during the last eight years, as well as industrial growth such as expansions of Fage USA’s yogurt factory at the Johnstown Industrial Park.

The mayor also said she thinks total assessed valuation in the city has increased.

Slingerland points to many quality-of-life improvements and celebrations during her administration. The Colonial Stroll during the winter holidays has improved each year, she said, and the city’s 250th anniversary celebration and parade in 2008 “engaged the community.”

“City government is unique,” Slingerland said. “We are the closest to the people. We need to respond and reflect their needs and wants.”

Her job has been considered part-time, and she makes $18,000 per year. But she admits to working some very long hours and taking her work home with her.

“I take a lot of pride in the work I do,” Slingerland said.

Slingerland said she’s most proud the city’s Comprehensive Plan and new Zoning Ordinance were approved with her involvement in her 10 years of service to the city.

“They are the foundation of city government,” she said.

During her administration, she also has helped with many environmental cleanups and readied much city land for redevelopment, while providing basic city services.

Asked to compare being mayor and being a teacher, she said there’s “a lot of commonality” between the positions. But she said the job of mayor is to be a “CEO of all departments,” and by its nature, the position is much more managerial than being a teacher. In a small community, she said, being mayor can be difficult, and she’s had to make many tough decisions.

One controversy that put the Slingerland administration in the spotlight during her tenure was the December 2011 resolution to sell land owned by both Johnstown and Gloversville to Fage so it could expand. Gov. Andrew Cuomo personally called the two cities’ mayors to intervene.

The city of Johnstown also couldn’t get a revenue-sharing deal done with the town of Mohawk to create a new business park on Route 30A – a proposal officials say could create hundreds of jobs.

Slingerland also was at the center of a 2010 dispute over funding with Gloversville that ended one of the Gloversville Transit System’s bus runs to Johnstown.

Slingerland said she’s always tried to remain a zealous advocate for her city’s more than 8,700 residents.

“I think one thing that’s understated in leadership is courage,” she said.

She is one of the few two-term mayors the city has had in its modern era, the last being former Mayor Donald Murphy in the 1980s. She said that after she had been mayor for four years, there were things she felt she still wanted to still try to accomplish. She said there’s an advantage to having consistency in government, and she thought she would tackle another four years.

Thanks to a re-election landslide in 2009 over independent candidate Stuart Myzal, she was given that opportunity.

Slingerland said a mayor is at an advantage when surrounded by good personnel.

“I’ve had extraordinary people to work with on the council,” she said.

Councilman-at-Large Bryan Marcucci said of the mayor: “I enjoyed very much working with her. She doesn’t always agree, but she never held a grudge.”

The mayor also gives much credit to her departments at City Hall. In particular, she singled out City Attorney Susan Palmer Johnson, whom she confers with most mornings. And there is City Treasurer Michael Gifford, who she said is “very skilled” in financial work.

Gifford, who has 17 years as treasurer, said city officials don’t always agree on fiscal matters. But he said he has worked well with Slingerland.

“Overall, Sarah has certainly done a good job,” he said. “Anyone who is willing to do this for two terms, my hat’s off to them. It’s been a good relationship.”

City Clerk Cathy VanAlstyne said, “I’ve enjoyed working with her. I think she’s very professional. She’s very open. She’s a good listener.”

Slingerland said she’s also has had a good working relationship with other municipalities in the area.

“There’s a lot more communication than people are aware,” Slingerland said. “We’ve always tried to be businesslike and professional.”

During the eight years, she has worked with community groups to try to celebrate the city’s past and work toward the future. She has had to deal with huge events, such the devastating April 24, 2008, fire that destroyed several businesses on West State Street.

She suspended former city Police Chief Greg Horning, who later retired with no explanation given to the public.

She recalls May 18, 2010, standing by the side of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer on North Perry Street for the dedication of a new $832,000 fire ladder truck that her administration secured.

“I think we are enjoying quality of life here,” she said. “It’s a safe community.”

Over the years, Slingerland said, her job as mayor has somewhat taken a toll on her family. Her husband, David, with whom she shares her Union Place home, often stays out of the limelight and almost never appears at public events. He couldn’t be reached for comment for this story.

“He’s always been hugely supportive,” Slingerland said of her husband.

She said David encouraged her to seek re-election, even when she didn’t initially think it was a good idea.

“It has a huge impact on your entire family,” Slingerland said of being mayor.

After Dec. 31, the Slingerland family will be out of the public eye. The mayor said she will basically disappear from politics, but she will travel and spend more time with her family, including her children, Molly in Delmar and Tucker in Glens Falls, and her four grandchildren.

Michael Anich can be reached at [email protected].

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