Berne board has used its power to divide the community

To the Editor:

I ran across an article from The Altamont Enterprise dated Jan 4, 2018, which for some reason I had saved. The headline read “Berne has cordial start to new year with first Republican super in several decades.”

The article mentions that Sean Lyons “relied several times on the cordial prompting of his deputy supervisor, [Karen] Schimmer, and the town clerk, Anita Clayton” and that the “applause was loud and long for both Democrats and Republicans” when the oath of office was administered. 

Contrast that with the opening of the board meeting on July 8 at the town park. Board member Mat Harris started off the “public discussion” with a cruel and ridiculous statement about censuring Joel Willsey for being anti-veteran. Was this really necessary when they had already censured him at a previous meeting? Was it forwarding the business of the town? Did it set an appropriate example for the leadership to make? Was it kind?

The answer is to all these questions is an emphatic no!

When the Democrats were in charge, they extended an olive branch to Sean to work together in a bi-partisan way. When the Republicans took office, they disparaged anyone who had served the town in any capacity if they happened to be of the other party. Rather than working for the common good, this board has used its power to divide the community.

This was far from the only problem with last week’s board meeting. For starters, to run a public meeting during the pandemic requires that basic safety concerns be met. When I arrived, I was asked to sign a sheet to be on the list to speak.

There was no hand sanitizer available despite common use of the pen and the microphone. When I questioned that, Dennis Palow went to his car to get some wipes, which I appreciated, but the board should have had it available without being prompted.

The seats for the audience were spaced apart, but the board members were closer together and only two of them, Bonnie and Joel, were wearing masks. No effort was made to control those who entered the pavilion without masks. During the meeting, several unmasked people were sitting at the same picnic table.

For folks who did not want to take the risk of coming in person to the meeting, they had been assured that they could participate by Zoom. However, the Zoom connection was terrible at both this meeting and the past one.

I don’t know why this should be as a local church had a service there and the zoom worked just fine. If the town board is going to continue to do its business at the town park, it needs to do a better job of providing for open access to the public and safe conditions for those who chose to be there in person.

At the meeting in late June, I asked how the audits were coming. Supervisor Lyons looked baffled. I then mentioned I was referring to the audits that they claimed must be done before appointing people to the Switzkill Farm Board and the Berne Conservation Board.

His only response was that it was the time for public comments, not questions. This past week, I asked him when would be the appropriate time for questions.

While the board may be legally not required to respond to questions, if the question relates to town business, shouldn’t it be answered? That has always been done in the past.

Wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the town to respond and perhaps alleviate some concerns that the public has? Wouldn’t it show respect for the community members who take the time to come to board meetings? 

We are living through one of the worst periods in recent history. This should be a time to come together, but this board would rather tear us apart.  How sad.

Susan Hawkes-Teeter


Editor’s note: Susan Hawkes-Teeter is a member of the Berne Conservation Board.

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