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September 24, 2016
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Tusten: ‘This isn’t Jerry Springer’

NARROWSBURG, NY — Following the previous three meetings that were widely perceived as contentious, heated, and at which board members were shouting and arguing, Tusten councilman Tony Ritter drew up a resolution as a reminder of civil conduct. He presented the resolution at the recent Tusten Town Board meeting, held on April 8.

The anti-bullying resolution states, in part, “the Town of Tusten intends to promote the social and economic well-being of its residents, employees, and employers; and that well-being depends upon the existence of healthy and productive employees working in safe and abuse-free work environments.” It resolves to “promote workplace protection against bullying and abuse, whether initiated by coworkers, employers, customers, or visitors.”

Ritter said the resolution was precipitated by the last three meetings. He said that he did some online research and found that other town and school boards have similar resolutions and codes of conduct. “It’s our responsibility to be polite and to listen; we don’t have to agree all the time, this is democracy in action,” he said. “I don’t think people should yell, I don’t think people should insult. That was appalling, the behavior.”

Later in the meeting, Ritter said, “We have to be a gentlewoman and a gentleman and let people finish sentences and not go off the deep end. This isn’t the ‘Hunger Games’ and the ‘Jerry Springer Show’ here.” This was met with applause.

Councilman Ned Lang said he thinks the resolution is “ridiculous.” He said, “If you don’t like healthy discussion and you don’t like the American right of the First Amendment, that’s too bad. There is the option for Americans to discuss and give their opinions, whether you like their opinion or not. If you’re being talked over and you call that bullying, that’s just too bad.”

Lang also said that he thinks all emails exchanged between town board members using town emails should be made available to the public. He mentioned an email exchange earlier when Ritter brought up the resolution. In the email, Lang wrote, “I guess the question that first comes to mind is why do we need a resolution of this sort? Is it because I dare to speak out and ask questions that need to be asked and answered. If debates are in your opinion, bullying, than you really have no idea what America is all about!”

Councilwoman Jane Luchsinger said, “I am embarrassed that we have reached this level on this board, and that something like this has to be brought up and made into a resolution.”

Adding to the conversation, Supervisor Carol Wingert said, “When you have a difference of opinion and have a civil discussion about an issue, or even a healthy round of debate, that’s one thing, and that’s proper and that’s how governance should be handled. To yell, interrupt, talk over, lie to, swear at, and be downright disrespectful and rude to fellow board members, other elected officials, town employees and the general public with an ‘it’s my-way-or- the-highway attitude,’ is another matter altogether and is not to be tolerated. That kind of behavior is disgraceful and appalling.”

Ultimately, the resolution passed, with Lang dissenting. The next town meeting is May 13. A meeting to open the bids for the town solar panels will be on April 21.