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Sparks fly at Tusten meeting; penalties for zoning violations discussed

By Fritz Mayer
December 12, 2012

“We have a conflict of interest now. Mr. Clemente is prosecuting me in two different courts. I’m going to be on the board. I would ask the board to either get alternative counsel, or I guess we have to write letters and talk to the state bar and others to see what’s right and wrong, because I certainly can’t go and talk to him about different issues… where I might find myself in trouble.”

That was Ned Lang speaking at the town meeting on December 10. Lang is set to become a member of the Tusten Town Board at the reorganization meeting on January 2, 2013. The remarks refer to the ongoing legal battle between Lang and the town attorney Jeffrey Clemente over a pro-gas drilling sign.

During a raucous and sometimes tense meeting, the board discussed updating the scheduled of penalties for zoning violations.

At one point Lang said, “Mr. Clemente wants to hit me with a $92,000 fine for a sign that was on one of my apartment houses that was two square foot bigger than the law allows; this is a problem.”

Clemente countered that this was “a lie,” and he added, “Ned and his father are angry because they didn’t get special treatment. They were long-standing friends of mine before they decided to do an over-sized sign, and I chose to enforce the law rather than deal under the table with friends.”

Lang accused Clemente and the board of selective enforcement and said there are many signs in town that violate the town code.

Clemente responded that a selective enforcement charge is a “weak defense of a person who is guilty.”

One proposed change to the schedule of penalties was that each day a violation continued to exist would be considered a separate violation. That was changed to retain the existing language, which said that violations would be added weekly.

The board approved minor changes to the penalties, but kept the provision that stipulates that a first violation is punishable by a fine of $50 to $500, and up to six months in jail. The provision about jail time has existed in the code since at least 2001, and according to code enforcement officer Gary Amerbach, is similar to other town codes in Sullivan County.

Lang called for Amerbach and Clemente to be fired.

In other developments, the board passed a road use agreement law, as Clemente and councilperson Tony Ritter stressed that the law would only impact very large projects, such as large housing developments. Lang and council member Norman Meyer opposed the law.