Code enforcement in Berne is so politicized as to have no integrity whatsoever

To the Editor:

Berne’s corrupt town board has co-opted the position of code enforcement officer for GOP political stunts. Last year, they appointed the belligerent, politically motivated former code enforcement officer who had refused to cooperate with the town board and quit (because the board held a Democrat majority at the time). He was not certified at the time.

There was no town board discussion in the decision to propose the appointment of this insubordinate, argumentative political operative who had previously held the position. The only board members who were aware that this totally unacceptable candidate would be voted on were Mr. [Deputy Supervisor Dennis] Palow and Mr. [Supervisor Sean] Lyons.

I was not made aware of this decision and Mr.[Councilman Mathew] Harris and Mrs. [Councilwoman Bonnie] Conklin were not sworn board members until the day Mr. [Chance] Townsend was appointed.  There were no discussions, no consideration of résumés, and no interviews.

This CEO was instrumental in the first politically motivated attack on Switzkill Farm in 2018. Residents were thrown out in the cold with no place to go as a result.

I advised all in this paper at the time that this was a political stunt orchestrated by Mr. [Highway Superintendent Randy] Bashwinger, Mr. Palow and Mr. Lyons. All three visited the facility with clipboards, taking notes more than a week before the eviction.

They failed to inform the Democratic board majority of their visit or their plans. More than a week later, the “violations” they identified were so egregious that the residents had to be evicted immediately, that day?

As I mentioned last week, Mr. Townsend was also deeply involved in the Berne GOP goal to manipulate membership of the planning board by publicly intimidating board member Emily Vincent and an alternate member who happened to be an intern at her farm.

Mr. Palow publicly (and falsely) accused Emily of being in violation of the code and refusing to pay a fee.  He suggested she should not be a board member. It was suggested repeatedly that she and her intern were “roommates” and it was further suggested that it was nepotism for both women to sit on the planning board because of the false domestic relationship Palow and Lyons had publicly portrayed.

The politically motivated CEO provided a packet of information to Mr. Palow during his public attack that relied on a misinterpretation of the situation, the code, and of Agriculture and Markets law. Whether this misinterpretation was deliberate or out of ignorance, it is totally unacceptable behavior that proves code enforcement in Berne has no integrity with this candidate in the position.

When this attempt to publicly humiliate and intimidate Emily failed to scare her off, they later illegally removed her from her voting membership and replaced her with a convicted felon with no planning board experience and made him chairman! Again, only two GOP board members were involved in this nefarious plan, which was later reversed in court.

In early 2020, Mr. Townsend again attacked Switzkill Farm, issuing a cease-and-desist order to his employer, the town of Berne. What gives him the authority to do that?

He also instructed the town that Switzkill Farm included a banquet hall and the area was not zoned for this. He instructed the town, in the same cease-and-desist order, that the zoning schedule of uses needed to be changed to accommodate the banquet hall.

Mr. Lyons put the discussion of this unnecessary change on the agenda. I made it clear in that discussion that a municipality’s property need not comply with the zoning schedule of uses. The attorney agreed with me.

But Mr. Townsend had referenced an email where a Department of State official had informed him that the town had to comply with the zoned schedule of uses. Coincidentally, Mr. Townsend could not remember this guy’s name.

I asked that the email be forwarded to the board and that never happened. This was either another politically motivated stunt or ignorance of very basic code-enforcement rules. Either way, code enforcement has no integrity with this politically motivated candidate in that position.

Recently, my neighbors were evicted without notice. As I understand, the eviction notice was not signed by Mr. Townsend, presumably because he was not certified at the time. The eviction notices were removed a couple days later after my neighbors had slept in their trucks periodically, starting them to keep warm.

The eviction notices were removed from the house a few days later. I asked my neighbor who removed them. He advised me it was Mr. Palow and Mr. Bashwinger. He was very appreciative that they did.

Think about that. Did the GOP chair and his sidekick remove an eviction notice for a guy who routinely posts their election signs for them? Code enforcement in Berne is so politicized as to have no integrity whatsoever with Mr. Bashwinger, Mr. Palow, and Mr. Lyons running the town from some dark room in an undisclosed location.

In my opinion, the best qualified person for the code enforcement officer, based on my knowledge of the situation, is Mr. James Bushnell. He has worked quietly and respectfully as building inspector while working to become a certified CEO and I have not yet seen significant evidence that he is politically motivated.

I think he has the right temperament for the job and appears to be competent to perform the duties. I am not confident that anyone can overcome the obstacles that this Dumpster fire of an administration presents.

But we have another qualified resident waiting in the wings, Mr. Tim Lippert. Anyone who interacts with this administration will clearly be subject to political retribution if they stray from the GOP political goals so I greatly appreciate that these two are willing to subject themselves to such a threat for the good of the town.

Joel Willsey

Berne Town Board

More Letters to the Editor

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.