HOOSICK FALLS, N. Y. -- The last meeting of the Town Board prior to the upcoming Nov. 5 elections grew heated Tuesday night, with accusations of misconduct and intransparency directed at the board from members of the public.
The five-member board voted to end public comment abruptly, during an address from Hoosick Falls Board of Education member David Sutton, and before others in the community were given the opportunity to speak.
Confronting Town Supervisor Keith Cipperly about a recent 50/50 raffle held at a school football game, Sutton referenced Cipperly taking advantage of the role of ticket-seller by using it as an opportunity to campaign for reelection, despite being asked by Greg Laurin, president of the BOE, and longtime former raffle organizer Lester Goodermote, also the Republican legislator representing the Town of Hoosick, to not conduct political business on school property.
Sutton said his issue was not so much the campaigning, but rather subsequent accusations on the part of Cipperly which stated that members of the school board had "attempted to ban him from school property."
Cipperly attempted to silence Sutton, stating that the town meeting was not the appropriate place to talk about school-related business. After Sutton's refusal to stop speaking, the board quietly voted to end the public comment portion of the meeting, and then voted to go into executive session.
Sutton took his seat to applause from the audience and shouts directed at the board to "let people speak.
Failing to respond to previous questions asked of him by those in attendance, Cipperly moved public comments on with a repeated, "Thank you, next?"
Among the concerns brought before the board were the inavailability of meeting agendas and minutes, as well as working budgets and fund balances - all of which are public information.
Resident Jim Martinez asked Cipperly to explain an item from his campaign literature, which stated that under Cipperly's direction, the Town fund balance has increased since 2010, "from just over $151,000 to almost $1.2 million," and further stated that because of his efforts, necessary repairs to the town park, pool and skating rink are now being made "without borrowing money."
Martinez said, "My only question is, ‘how did it get to be so high?'"
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Cipperly said he felt that certain members of the community were in attendance with only political interests in mind, and didn't wish to engage with them.
Also reached by phone on Wednesday, Martinez, president of Hoosick Federal Credit Union, said, "anytime a balance goes up you either have an influx of cash, which was not the case here, or you are not spending."
Martinez suggested that a proposed property tax reduction of 1.51 percent for the 2014 fiscal year would be achieved only by budgeting funds which were then not spent, and cited multiple town roads as being in serious disrepair, as well as only minimal repairs being made to the tennis and basketball courts.
"When you say you're going to lower taxes it looks like a wonderful thing," said Martinez. "But really it's because they're not spending the money that they budgeted."
By phone on Wednesday, Cipperly responded by saying, "If you have money in the fund balance, why would you budget for [repairs] when you could just pay for it?" He also stated that in response to Sutton's remarks about what took place at recent local football games, he (Cipperly), had been volunteering his time collecting items for the local food pantry and never touched raffle funds. "What I was doing was ripping the tickets in half," said Cipperly. "I never collected any money."
Chris Stevens, a resident of Seward Street, stood up after the public comments portion of the meeting had already been closed and requested the board address his concerns with the disrepair on his street, and specifically a comment made by Cipperly over the phone to Stevens that "the roads with the most voters on them typically get fixed first."
Denying ever making that comment, Cipperly later followed up on his Facebook page Tuesday night, saying, "I don't believe I said that during our conversation, however, if I did it wouldn't matter anyway; the supervisor has no authority to choose which road will get paved first."
In another matter brought before the board, community member Dennis Casey suggested the meetings be recorded and made available to the public again.
Video recordings were at one time filmed by Charles Filkins, who The Banner previously reported in June had been asked to "take some time off."
Addressing concerns on Wednesday, Cipperly cited time constraints as a reason information isn't readily accessible. "Yes, New York State wants you to put all the minutes on the internet," said Cipperly. "My question is, ‘who has time to do that?' It's not a fight against the people, it's a fight against the state."
Cipperly also referenced revenue made by charging for copies of minutes, agendas and budgets as a source of town income. "It's not a lot but every little bit helps," he said, loosely estimating the income at about $50 per month.
As to why meetings are no longer filmed and made available to the public, the low number of viewings doesn't justify the cost of approximately $40 per session, according to Cipperly.
"It's very apparent that this is not an open and honest government," said Sutton. "I really think we're kind of battling for how people should be treated."
Cipperly's view: "Any individual who really cares will call you, they don't come in on the second Monday and try to stir things up at a public meeting."
Nov. 5 elections in the Town of Hoosick will be held from 6 a. m. to 9 p. m. at the Town Offices located at 80 Church St.
Sutton, a Republican, is running for a seat on the board on the Democratic party ticket, in what would be his first term if elected; alongside Michael Hickey.
Current board member Mark Surdam is running on the Hoosick First/Democratic party lines, against twice-elected incumbent Cipperly for the post of Town Supervisor. Cipperly is running with Republican Joyce Brewer.
William Shiland III, a Democrat, is running for a four-year position as highway superintendent, against former board member and current highway superintendent, Louis Schmigel an Independent; Schmigel was appointed with one year left in the position.
In uncontested races, Sue Stradinger is running for reelection as town clerk and Tom Restino will look for reelection as town justice.
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