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June 30, 2016
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Turmoil in Tusten

If you’ve been to a Town of Tusten board meeting recently, you know they have been rife with arguments and shouting matches.

The divide on the board is growing ever wider. These public conflicts are making town residents concerned, as was expressed during the public comment portion of the meeting. Trying to put the strife behind them, the board began the meeting with a presentation of the town audit by CPA Andrew Arias of Cooper Neimann.

Arias ran through the numbers of the town budget and informed the town board that they are in good shape. Councilman Ned Lang disagreed. In an earlier email, Lang stated that he spoke with Arias, who told him that “he is concerned about our appropriations, as we are going to spend… more than we are receiving from all income sources in 2013. At this burn rate, the town will be out of money in two or three years.” Lang brought this up during Arias’s presentation, but Arias assured him that the town budget is in good shape and that the deficiencies and irregularities that that the town incurred in 2011 have been taken care of.

In emails sent after the meeting, Lang insisted that Arias “said that if we didn’t reduce the appropriations (spending) in the coming years and did not increase the income (taxes), at the current burn rate the town will have no money in the General Fund cash reserves.” Councilman Tony Ritter, in an email, said, it “seems like Tusten received a very good bill of health last night regarding our current finances from our CPA,” and to Lang, “Of course whether you believe that fact to be true, and not a conspiracy, is another matter.”

Supervisor Carol Wingert made a motion for the board to adopt a consent agenda, which would move some items off the agenda that is read at the public meetings. Board members could bring the item back to a standalone resolution if they felt it needed further discussion. Lang objected to theis idea, saying all matters should be discussed publicly. No decision was made on the matter.

Toward the end of the meeting, councilwoman Eileen Falk made the motion to have a second attorney on standby, in the event of a conflict of interest between a board member and town attorney Jeffrey Clemente. “Nobody has been in my position of having Ned here and Jeff here,” she said, while pointing to the seats on either side of her. She continued, “Because of the conflict and dissension, it’s made it obvious that there are occasions that we definitely need another attorney.”

Lang took the issue further, saying that Clemente should not advise the town. He listed what he sees as the inadequacies of Clemente and made accusations against him. He said, “I have issues with Mr. Clemente… He has left this town in a very precarious position.” Ultimately, four voted in favor and Wingert against the hiring of a second attorney.

After the meeting, Wingert wrote in an email that Lang “cannot vote on the appointment of an alternate attorney as he would be voting on a person who would possibly represent the town in litigation with Ned Lang himself, since he has already filed a Notice of Claim against the town.” Lang replied, “Umm, am I missing something? Is there another person in the town of Tusten with the name of Ned Lang? There must be according to Carol Wingert. This Ned Lang has not yet sued the town of Tusten, elected officials, or employees of the town. I have put the town on notice….” In a long email, he ended with, “I will be involved in the selection and voting for the hiring of the alternative attorney whether you like it or not.”

During the public comment period, Tusten resident Bernie Creamer reminded the board members that they work for the taxpayers, and that the taxpayers supply their salaries. He said, “We don’t even get to the points that really count; it’s all about you guys up there and we listen to you arguing all the time; and you’re our employees, one must not forget that.”

Artist J. Morgan Puett said, “I’m just appalled by the bullying… I would like to stand up with Bernie and say this is ridiculous, and there shouldn’t be this counterproductive rhetoric by a town bully.” Some people in attendance cheered and clapped to Puett and Creamer’s comments. The next meeting will be on Tuesday, June 11 at 7:30 p.m.