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Lang digs up dirt against Tusten Community Garden; Alleged ethics violations unearthed

Tusten Councilman Ned Lang and Town Attorney Jeffrey Clemente bump heads at the April 9 town board meeting in Narrowsburg, NY.
TRR photos by Isabel Braverman

By Isabel Braverman
April 11, 2013

Before the Tusten Town Board meeting on April 9, an email from Councilman Ned Lang had circulated, bringing up charges against the Tusten Heritage Community Garden and Big Eddy Farmstand project, a project run by Andrea Reynosa, Lang’s opponent in the November election.

During the meeting in the town hall, Reynosa read her report from the Tusten Local Development Corporation (TLDC), as usual, and once she finished Lang brought up the charges and explained them.

He said, “It came to light that the employees [of the garden] were paid as independent contractors and had no deductions taken from their pay, which is a huge violation of New York State and Federal Department of Labor law.”

In his email he stated, “In order for someone to qualify as an independent contractor there are very strict rules, such as the independent contractor has to set their own hours, behavioral control, financial control as well as many other aspects that separates employees from independent contractors.”

He also called into question the fact that Reynosa had moved work from the community garden behind the library to property on her farm as there was an issue with getting water to the garden. He said this raises issues of ethics, as Reynosa was on the town board and paid the employees for work on her property.

He said he has contacted the IRS out of Binghamton, and they are looking into it. “We want transparency,” Lang said. “We want to know exactly what happened and we want an audit.”

Supervisor Carol Ropke Wingert responded that before they started the garden they had contacted their accountants, Cooper, Neimann & Co., and found that it was fine to issue 1099s, for those who worked at the garden. She said, “We more than welcome an audit; we’ve got nothing to hide and we’ve always been about transparency and open government.”

Town attorney Jeffrey Clemente, who sits at the table with the board, chimed in and said that nothing wrong was done in regards to paying those who worked on the garden. “Everything that Mr. Lang said is fictitious,” he said. “He’s been trying to sell this nonsense all last year. It’s a community garden where a bunch of high school kids voluntarily assisted and were compensated based on vouchers that they put in; in no sense were they employees. And none of this had anything to do with the town.”

He went on to say about Lang, “This is just another one of his political moves in his quest to keep running for office rather than governing the town.”

Lang retorted, “Mr. Clemente, as usual, is wrong.”