Private concerns or public disputes?

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 1/18/22

TUSTEN, NY — An ethics complaint filed against Nico Juarez, former chair of Tusten’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA), was dismissed at a  December 29, 2021 meeting of the Tusten Town …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Private concerns or public disputes?

Posted

TUSTEN, NY — An ethics complaint filed against Nico Juarez, former chair of Tusten’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA), was dismissed at a  December 29, 2021 meeting of the Tusten Town Board.

The complaint had been filed by town board candidate Yunhui “Vicki” Olman and her husband Robert, alleging that Juarez had violated Tusten’s code of ethics by sending registered voters a letter critical of Vicki Olman’s candidacy. By introducing himself in the letter as the chair of the ZBA and as the town’s animal control officer, alleged the complaint, “Juarez used his official positions… to put his finger on the scales for the stated purpose of influencing the upcoming election.”

The town board determined in its resolution that, while it was ill advised for Juarez to refer to his municipal positions in the letter, he had not violated the town’s code of ethics in so doing. It recommended that the incoming board review the code to avoid such situations in the future, clarifying the code’s language so that employees could speak freely while ensuring that they didn’t appear to speak for the town.

“This determination is limited solely to the question of whether or not a violation of the Town of Tusten Code of Ethics occured,” the resolution concluded, stating that it did not constitute precedent for the ongoing legal proceedings between Juarez and the Olmans.

The case appeared to be closed there. It was reopened a week later at the town’s January 4 reorganizational meeting, when the board declined to reappoint Juarez as ZBA chair for 2022 and appointed instead former chair Neal Latkowski.

“It seems evident that it was engineered as a direct retaliation for the election mailer I sent out,” says Juarez, alleging that he was removed as chair owing to the Olmans’ influence.

What occurred was not a removal of Juarez as chair, says supervisor Ben Johnson. While ZBA members are appointed to five-year terms, the chair is chosen on a year-by-year basis and serves at the pleasure of the board. Latkowski expressed an interest in re-joining the ZBA prior to the reorganizational meeting, Johnson says, and the town board chose to appoint him instead of Juarez as the chair.

And according to Robert Olman, he has never met with Johnson in a non-professional setting, and has received no preferential treatment from him.

Robert Olman did contact Johnson after filing the complaint against Juarez, Olman says, saying that it would be “nice” if the board could make a determination on the complaint (which concerned his wife’s electoral candidacy) prior to the election, and Johnson told him that the board would do so.

But this communication was only the normal communication between a constituent and an elected official, says Olman, and ultimately the board did not make a determination until nearly two months after election day.

“We’re moving on, we accept it,” says Olman. “What are you going to do?”

Johnson as well says that he has never met with the Olmans in a private setting, or any setting outside of official town business.

A particular venue that has been alleged to host such unofficial meetings is Annie’s Ruff Cut, a Cochecton bar and grill. Peter Schuyler, Juarez’s attorney, included in a response to the Olmans’ complaint an allegation that Johnson and Robert Olman had met at the Ruff Cut, “upon information and belief.”

“That is fabricated, from where I do not know,” says Johnson. In a December 14 board meeting at which the allegation was discussed, Schuyler stated that his information derived from hearsay statements, and that if the statement was false, he would apologize for making it.

“I would accept your apology right now… I’m telling you, it’s false,” said Johnson.

“If you’re saying that was not true, I apologize for writing that,” said Schuyler.

According to Juarez, the information he has suggests that there are regular lunch meetings at the Ruff Cut which town officials attend, and that both Johnson and Robert Olman have appeared at those meetings, but that the information does not indicate whether the two were ever there at the same time. Such meetings would raise concerns about transparency and abuse of governmental power, says Juarez, particularly if the details of his dispute with the Olmans were therein discussed: “The issue is not lunch, the issue is political influence.”

“I am not aware of any meetings with town officials at the Ruff Cut or any other venue regarding this case,” says Johnson.

The legal dispute between Juarez and the Olmans has continued past the close of the trespassing trial, with the Olmans filing a civil suit and Juarez filing a countersuit. That lawsuit is currently in the discovery period. That dispute revolves around Juarez’s allegation that the Olmans removed a beaver dam in 2018 that caused a 14-acre protected wetlands to be drained.

In Johnson’s view, that dispute is a personal matter that need not involve the town—the wetlands are not within the town’s regulatory sphere, he says, and the culverts on the driveway that were the site of the beaver dam belong to the Olmans, not to the town.

“Nico and the Olmans don’t like each other… that’s their business,” says Johnson. “They’re trying to make it the town’s business.”

For more information on this dispute, see the articles below:

The beavers of Cackletown Road

When is speech protected?

Due process on Cackletown Road

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here