Schebesta honored by clerk's association

By Pauline Liu
Members of the Delaware County Clerks’ Association ended their final meeting of the year with an early retirement party for one of their own. Middletown Clerk Russell Schebesta has reached a milestone. He will be retiring, when his term runs out at the end of the year, wrapping up a distinguished career that has spanned 31 years. The celebratory luncheon took place at Hamden Town Hall last Thursday. Coincidentally, the association was founded 31 years ago. It began shortly after Schebesta first took office.

Of the 19 members representing each of the towns in the county, Schebesta is a stand out and not just because he’s the only male in the crowd. “He’s a crackerjack bookkeeper,” said Eleanor McKee, who’s a retired Andes Town Clerk. “He’s done a great service for the Delaware County Clerks’ Association and for his town,” said Diane Pickett, who’s the clerk in neighboring Roxbury.

Long tenure
He has served one of the longest tenures of any clerk in the county. Only one other clerk has him beat. His friend, Hamden Town Clerk Linda Shepard, has been on the job for 39 years. She’s running unopposed for another two-year term in November and she expects to stay in touch with Schebesta. “When I need help, I call him,” said Shepard. “Now I can email him, if I want to ask him a question. Russell came and installed the computer here and he showed me how to use it.”

Schebesta marveled over how things have changed over the years, since he took the job. By far, the greatest change took place when Middletown entered the computer age in 1985. He assisted the town in getting there, by reading the directions and installing the computer himself. “We didn’t get a computer until ’85, so for about five years everything was done manually,” he said.
He believes that computers have made the job easier. “A lot of the work of the town clerk requires drawing up public notices and resolutions,” he said. “A lot of those things are repetitive and you have to do it annually.”

Did he find computers challenging? “No, I picked it up pretty easily,” he said. He went on to install the first computers in the Harpersfield Municipal Hall and Hamden Town Hall a few years later.

Roots in 1978
Schebesta began his years of public service as the town bookkeeper and benefits administrator in 1978. He was appointed town clerk in December 1980 and elected to his first full term the following November. According to Schebesta, there was no planning board or any land use regulations in Middletown, when he came on the job. Nor were there any zoning or building permit requirements. Before the town hired its first building inspector, it was up to Schebesta to grant the town’s building permits. He issued his first one in 1982. Times have certainly changed.

Looking back, Schebesta recalls that the town offices and highway department both used to operate from the location where Middletown Town Hall stands. Many elected town officials, including the tax collector, assessors and justices used to work from home. He explained that he has attended more than 500 town meetings and in the 1980s he helped lead a successful effort to keep the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles satellite office in Margaretville. The passage of gay marriage law is another major change. Schebesta said he has not been asked to issue many same sex marriage certificates, but the process has gone smoothly.

Over the years, a number of duties were added to the clerk’s original job description. After the major flood which struck Middletown in 1996, he helped the town secure millions of dollars worth of state and federal grants to repair and update infrastructure. In 2008, Schebesta took on even more responsibilities, when his job was consolidated with the duties of the tax collector. “The service to the public is much better,” he said.

With so many years of dedication, why would he want to retire? “I enjoy the job,” he said. “It’s a good job and there’s a lot of satisfaction. That’s what I’ll miss, but it’s time. You get tired of doing it. I’ve worked with a lot of public officials over the years and I hope I’ve made a difference.”

In good hands
As for his successor, he has great confidence in her. “My deputy, Patty Kelly is running unopposed and has been with me for 15 years, so the town is in good hands,” he said.

Schebesta isn’t the only one in the family with a head for numbers. His wife, Betty DeSilva, retired in May as Margaretville’s treasurer. The couple resides in Dunraven and they look forward to enjoying their retirement together. “I want to play golf,” said Schebesta, who is an avid golfer. “I like hiking and walking with my wife.” As for working with numbers, He hasn’t totally given that up. “I did some municipal accounting for towns and I’m going to continue to do that,” he said. “It will keep me busy for a few days a week, but I’m looking forward to getting away from the 9-to-5 grind.”