Plain and simple — I was fired for political views

To the Editor:
All my life, I’ve known bullies — those who put others down, to make themselves feel bigger, or better, who knows. It’s wrong, and it’s unfair. I have spent most of my adult life fighting to do what is right, and what is kind.

We are all humans, just trying to put food on the table, and support our families. Some have it easier than others, some work harder at it than others, but we’re all just people. No one deserves to be bullied, or discriminated against, or harassed, or made to feel excluded, especially in their own place of work.

It has taken me too long to write this letter, but my experience needs to be shared, so others can know the truth. I need others to know, so they will believe me when I say I want to fight to make sure that no one else is ever treated the way I was.

I co-founded a food pantry – A Hug from the Hilltowns – maybe you’ve heard of us? I am a wife, a mom, a daughter, and a sister. I am a deacon at my church, a Democrat, and until recently, the town of Berne deputy town clerk.

My name is Jean Guarino, and this year I have made the decision to run as a candidate for town clerk.  

For that, I was fired.

While my story is much longer than I’m sure The Enterprise will publish, the information contained in here is all true.

In late 2019, I was approached by the current town clerk to become the town’s deputy clerk. I was unsure; I was already the town’s youth director and was hesitant to become the third deputy in just as many years, after the first two had resigned.

I also didn’t like the political game — especially when it came to the climate of Berne’s politics. Our family moved here in early March of 2017 after my husband received a promotion and relocated us from Long Island. It was right in the middle of the last election; one I’m sure everyone remembers being as cut-throat as recent presidential campaigns. I politely declined.

Over the next two months, I was asked again, a few times. The town clerk was not sure how much longer she wanted to stay in office and was looking for her replacement.

The proposition was to run for one more term and resign after nine months; to stay on as deputy, as I would assume the role of town clerk. This would give me, and the town, a year’s experience with each other before having to run in the interim election.

It was promising enough, and I enjoyed the people in the office with whom I’d had dealings in my role as youth director. I was looking for work, and enjoyed the people in the town, so I accepted.

I was sworn to the position in February, taking the same oath other elected officials take, to put the townspeople’s needs above my own. I was the youth director. I was the deputy clerk. I was in. The board, the supervisor, people spoke to me with respect, they wanted to give me more opportunities. People liked me. Things were good — and I was a Democrat.

I enjoyed my job, processing through everything I was taught. I loved meeting new (to me) people in the town and enjoyed being able to help solve whatever problem they may have had. I pushed to learn more of how the town worked, and all the steps of the process.

I truly loved what I did. Everything was good, until the clerk announced she wasn’t running again.

I learned this news from The Enterprise [“Berne clerk won’t seek re-election, criticizes treatment by Dems,” Feb. 17, 2021]. A little disheartening that I had to learn secondhand.

Plus, the plan fell through, it happens, but now — to keep my job that I loved so dear, I would have to run for office. Under the clerk’s advice, I reached out to the Democratic party for its endorsement. I did this because I am a Democrat.

The way I live my life, the way I raise my children — to be kind, to be human, to be equal no matter what, and to be the bigger person. It only made sense for me. I believe in Democratic values. I don’t believe in Republican values.

This did not stop me from maintaining professional and amicable relationships at work with opposite party members. In my mind, we were all there for the townspeople, and to build a better Berne.

After I received the Democratic endorsement, my world was rocked. Instantly, responsibilities began to be taken away from me. Keys to offices that I had for almost a year were taken away one by one. Receipt books and logs I needed to perform my job were locked away. I was even told I wasn’t allowed to open the mail anymore.

After all my access was removed, I was reduced to simple data entry, creating a digital copy of the tax roll, entering the few thousand lots in Berne onto a spreadsheet, and formulating a revival of the quarterly newsletter. Two tasks no one would want to do — so they were assigned to me.

Then, conversations began taking place in locked offices. Doors were closed in my face as I walked through the office. Whispers and rumors abounded.

Ever feel like you’re the butt of a joke that everyone else is in on? Yup, that was me. I was accused of “leaking” public information; I was reprimanded for sharing office “secrets.” I’m not sure what secrets can take place in a public office, but either way — I didn’t share them.

The tension was building. It was emotional abuse. Deliberate, hurtful, mistreatment by those few who coveted and abused their power. I dreaded going to work each day, reduced to answering the phone and taking messages, since I wasn’t allowed to perform any other duties.

Then, I was fired.

Officially — I was simply told that I was un-appointed as the deputy clerk. Verbally, I was told I could learn things that were going on in the office that could hurt people, and that [their] “main priority is to keep the town safe.”

I still don’t know what that means by the way — we’re a public office. What about the goings-on of a town is to be kept from the townspeople?

And — who was I a danger to? Is it because I was representing the opposing party? The same party, which I was advised by the clerk, to contact? Oh, and I was also let go from being the youth director. All of a sudden, I was out.

Plain and simple — I was fired for political views. I am now the third Democrat, and the third woman, to be fired by the current leadership: [planning board member] Emily Vincent, [dog control officer] Cheryl Baitsholts, and now me.

Each of us, Democratic women, abruptly removed from our positions without just cause, and replaced by men. The pattern seems too obvious to even be true, yet it very much is.

The way each of these terminations was carried out is inexcusable. No one — not even those who have done this — deserve to be treated like this. Yes, we are adults, and the world can be unfair, but there is no reason we should be deliberately treating each other like this.

We romanticize Mayberry — we want to be this quaint, sweet town, where we all know each other, we’re all friendly, and we all help each other. Our kids play together, and we watch out for each other. A true community. We are not Mayberry — but we can be.

I have seen firsthand those who help others, and unfortunately, they are lost, lost below the thick, visible crust of political feuds and the ugly way we treat each other. It has to stop.

I vow to change the system, change the culture, so no one is treated like this again, but I can’t do it alone. The good news is I’m not alone. I’ve seen so much good in this community across political, economic, and town lines.

People from all walks of life, previously at odds, become friends. I’ve seen a different kind of community push through the cracks and into the sunlight.

The great news is there is more of us wanting to do good than there are those looking to stop it. It would be one of the greatest privileges of my life to serve this community, and usher in a new era of kindness, and maybe even a few Hugs.

Jean Guarino


Editor’s note: See related story.

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.