The residents of Berne deserve better

To the Editor:

The Berne Town Supervisor is misleading residents again with his Aug. 13 letter [“Mr. Willsey’s feelings are not facts no matter how much of a tantrum he throws”]. The supervisor’s letter is an irate, inaccurate tirade designed to distract readers from the documented facts in my letter last week.

He says I have a problem with facts? The supervisor is more interested in publicly declaring me immoral than addressing the facts. 

The deputy supervisor’s numerous motions to go into executive session on April 29, 2020 (meeting video on town website) to discuss “personal” matters or “personnel” matters are simply inconsistent with the law according to the Committee on Open Government. That is a fact. 

It should also be noted that the ridiculous public censure of me, which took place at a meeting I could not attend, was not a result of the executive session of April 29. The supervisor is not telling the truth in last week’s letter. The video contains no such discussion and I witnessed no such discussion. Town litigation to remove me from office was the subject of the “executive session.” These are all facts. 

The “executive session” motion was illegitimate as it was based on a deliberate misrepresentation of what was discussed. I was threatened by the GOP-backed town board with litigation to have me removed from office.

It appears Mr. [Councilman Mathew] Harris wants former board members [Karen] Schimmer and [Daen] Jordan charged with some bogus crime as well. That is litigation — not a “personnel matter.” These motions need to be specific and this motion was not — that is a fact. The minutes will not reflect what was actually discussed and I think that is intentional.

The town attorney advised the deputy supervisor at 1:27:44 on the April 29 meeting video that going into executive session to discuss “personal” matters was allowable under OML (Open Meetings Law) and later “corrected” the motion to say “personnel” matters (1:28:08).

The town attorney’s opinion is not consistent with the Committee on Open Government opinion and is inconsistent with the committee’s easily accessible, published guidance that I cited in my letter  [“I suspect something sinister is going on”](see last week’s Enterprise). These people are professionals — lawyers who specialize in the interpretation of Open Meetings Law. They do not agree with the town attorney on this. That is a fact.

The town attorney’s counseling to the deputy supervisor at 1:27:44 on the April 29 meeting video was simply wrong. That is a fact. This resulted in an illegitimate executive session. That is a fact.

The Town Employee Handbook does not apply to independently elected representatives like me. That is a fact.

The very subject of the “investigation” was my alleged violation of that handbook. That is a fact.

It was just one of many bogus investigations. Also, a fact. 

Based on a hypothetical situation I provide; the town attorney makes the claim (at 1:26:24) that discussion of town disciplinary action against an elected representative is a lawful justification for a secret executive session. But he makes no attempt to correct the actual motion.  It cites “personnel matters” instead (at 1:29:12). 

I also made it clear to him before this motion, in my direct response to his claim (at 1:27:08) on the video that citing “personnel matters” was inappropriate. I said:  “….elected officials, as I understand, are not personnel, so if you would like to go into executive session to harass or intimidate an elected official, you should say that before going into an executive session.”

These are all facts. The minutes will be incorrect citing an illegitimate motion.

I suggest that the town supervisor post the April 29 video of the inappropriate threats, declarations of guilt, and harassment on the town website now. It was an illegitimate “executive session” so it need not remain secret.

It is a fact that the bogus “report” documenting the bogus “investigation” of my alleged “violation” of a town policy that does not apply to me did not recommend town litigation (to have me removed from office). I was repeatedly threatened with that in “executive session.”

This report did not determine I was guilty of anything either — that is a fact.

The attorney was not on board with any of the GOP litigation plans that evolved over the long “executive session.” All that talk was just designed to intimidate me. He put the brakes on their litigation plans.

The bogus report did not recommend litigation or even arbitration. Non-binding mediation was the actual recommendation of the town attorney based on his interpretation of the bogus report. And the report is full of demonstrable inaccuracies he would have no way of knowing about. 

I think residents should demand that all executive sessions and budget workshops be recorded by the records officer moving forward. I have been almost routinely harassed in executive sessions about subjects totally unrelated to the subject cited to justify the session.

The deputy supervisor needs to explain to residents why he, then a newcomer, advised me to move away in the first executive session we attended. I have been routinely called a liar in executive sessions, asked when I was going to quit the board, etc.

He read a lengthy, scathing prepared statement attacking board members Schimmer and Jordan in an open budget workshop to publicly diminish their credibility and refused to provide a copy for the record. 

The GOP wants no record of their unscrupulous actions. This corrupt behavior combined with harassment, threats, and taunts contribute to the destructive dysfunction of our town government significantly. 

The residents of Berne deserve better. They deserve objective, carefully considered discussion and acceptable decorum in meetings by their representatives and documented facts in their writings. The people also deserve an accurate record of the actions of their representatives. 

 I strive to provide these elements while being constantly threatened and harassed and while also under continuous investigations, false reports to the police and illegitimate threats of litigation to have me removed from office. All facts.  

Joel Willsey

Berne Town Board

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