TUSTEN, NY — The day before the election, Monday, November 1, the members of the Tusten Town Board held a special meeting, adopting the town’s preliminary 2022 budget and introducing a …
TUSTEN, NY — The day before the election, Monday, November 1, the members of the Tusten Town Board held a special meeting, adopting the town’s preliminary 2022 budget and introducing a pair of local laws on cannabis. They also went into executive session to discuss a personnel issue.
The substance of that personnel issue involved a letter sent by zoning board of appeals (ZBA) chairman Nico Juarez to the registered voters of Tusten, written (as the letter states) “to share critical information about… town council candidate Yunhui ‘Vicki’ Olman and her husband Bob Olman” before the election.
The town board had begun discussions with Juarez for possible ethics concerns about the letter soon after it was sent out, as previously covered by the River Reporter, with supervisor Ben Johnson emailing him on Saturday, October 16. While the town scheduled a meeting with Juarez for Tuesday, October 26, that meeting did not ultimately occur, and has not since been rescheduled.
The Olmans sent the town an official letter of complaint on Monday, October 25, which claims that Juarez sent his letter in his official capacity as ZBA chairman in an attempt to influence the election and that the statements contained within it were “highly inflammatory, defamatory, and untrue.” It demanded that Juarez be removed from office for violations of the town’s ethics code, clauses of which prohibit officers in uniform from influencing any voter at an election and from using their positions to secure privileges for themselves.
When Juarez’s removal did not occur, Yunhui Olman appeared at the board’s November 1 meeting, asking for an explanation. “It’s just very disappointing to know the town didn’t do anything before the election,” she said. “I don’t think that’s fair.”
Johnson said he couldn’t speak in public about the specific case; as a personnel issue with pending litigation, the issue and the name of the person accused would be kept out of public forums. He did comment that the board was constrained by the requirements of the open meeting laws and by the right of the accused to legal representation, he said.
“Yes, it would be nice to have whatever issue we have to be resolved in a more timely manner, but sometimes we don’t have the luxury of that,” said Johnson.
Talking with the River Reporter, Juarez’s legal representation Peter Schuyler made the case that the town’s ethics code did not prohibit an individual in their private capacity from sending a letter discussing election matters, and that it would be blatantly unconstitutional if it did.
“You have to have a thick skin if you’re running for office,” said Schyler, adding that the courts generally offered a wider latitude to comments made within the context of an election.
Election Day saw Yunhui Olman lose the town council race to Jane Luchsinger by a wide margin. While the results have yet to be certified, preliminary results show Luchsinger with 329 votes and Olman with 115.
The Olmans appeared a week later at a Tuesday, November 9 board meeting, reading their official letter of complaint against Juarez into the record.
During that meeting, local resident Ned Lang added his voice to theirs. “I just want to put the town on notice that this man has put this town in a very rough position and should be removed from the zoning board as a chairman,” he said.
Lang added that he was concerned, as a friend of the Olmans, about being prejudiced against if he went before the zoning board of appeals, and that he was prepared to go to court if that occurred.
As of time of writing, Juarez has not been removed from the ZBA; according to Johnson, the issue is still an open investigation.
In the meantime, the Olmans filed a motion to amend their complaint against Juarez, seeking a temporary restraining order against him, requiring that he stay 100 yards away and prohibiting him from filming them and their guests.
Robert Olman stated in his affidavit that Juarez often walked to the end of Cackletown Road (where the Olmans’ primary property is located) for purposes of harassment, filming the property and those coming and going from it. Olman said as well that “Juarez has recently commenced a public campaign of harassment directed at me and my wife,” citing the letter Juarez sent out and statements attributed to him in an article published by the River Reporter.
The parties in the lawsuit held a conference on Friday, November 19, to discuss the motion.
According to Schuyler, Judge Stephan Schick, of the 3rd District of the New York Supreme Court, refused to let the Olmans amend the complaint, stating that it was without merit. Schick said that there was no defamation in the letter, and that it was within Juarez’ legal rights to stand on a public road while filming, according to Schuyler.
Schick set a hard deadline at that conference for the case to move forward, according to Schuyler, declaring that the parties in the lawsuit had to complete their processes of discovery within 90 days, after which they needed to be ready for trial.
Neither Robert nor Yunhui Olman agreed to a request to be interviewed in connection with this article.
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