The King of DiamondsMichael N. Hull

Who is in control of local government in Clarkstown? It can’t be the members of the Town Board who show up to sit ‘poker-faced’ mute at Board meetings and then vote like a Soviet Politburo.

Poker Kings (2)The state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth; for kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God himself are called gods – King James I of England, ‘Works’ (1609)

By

Michael N. Hull

In the June 10, 2013 issue of the Journal News Hema Easley reported that Clarkstown will begin work on three community centers, spending more than $2.8 million to upgrade the facilities.


Ed Lettre
, the town’s public works administrator and leader of the minority Conservative Party was quoted as saying that without the upgrades the community centers “pose a health and safety risk for users and could expose the town to liability. Some of the work was essential repairs to buildings that were getting old. Bottom line, these are all properties in the Town of Clarkstown – they have to be maintained and repaired. We have to do everything to protect the integrity of our assets.”

Writing in New City Patch Robin Traum pointed out that the contract and contingency costs total $2,811,940 but the board authorized issuing bonds for $2,815,000 to pay for the work. The project cost more than quadrupled from the initial estimate of $621,000 presented to the town town board in April 2012.

Lettre is the person who sat before the Town Workshop over one year ago and tried to sell the $621,000 estimate to a skeptical Board. I got the feeling back then that a sense of desperation had crept into his poorly presented proposal. Lettre gave the impression he was in a panic that Councilmen Hoehmann and Borelli were calling his bluff.

While Lettre opined, pleaded, cajoled, begged and, God knows, even prayed that the Board would give him the money, I remarked that Lettre’s performance reminded me of Lewis Black, who appears on Jon Stewart’s ‘The Daily Show. Black commented:

“I took economics, and I’d explain it to ya, but I flunked that course. Not my fault. They taught it at 8 o’clock in the morning. And there is absolutely nothing you can learn out of one bloodshot eye.”

One bloodshot eye? The Town Board members must each have two bloodshot eyes after Lettre’s latest proposal which was approved last month without so much as even a single eyelid being batted or, Heaven forbid, a single question having been asked.

In 2012 Lettre, who controls the Conservative Party election line that will be given to Gromack, Hausner and Hoehmann for the coming election in 2013, was told to come back to an open public workshop with a better proposal. That is what many who sat in on the meeting as interested observers heard. But then 2012 was not an election year. Things are different now and there are election lines to be sought. Who knows what Lettre might do with his Conservative Party cross-endorsements if the Town Board was to question him anywhere else but behind closed doors.

And so the Town Board, with three of its members seeking Lettre’s imprimatur and perhaps his personal blessing as they run for office in less than five months, provided no opportunity for public input at a Town Board meeting as promised. Instead they hid Lettre’s ‘fiscality‘ by deliberating for a year beneath a veil of secrecy to emerge briefly cicada-like into the daylight and approve a $2.8 Million expenditure be added to the taxpayers’ present debt load which now stands at $100 million.

That is money that you the taxpayers will have to cough up with future raises in your taxes and depreciation of your home values. 

This is quite a remarkable turn of events in this poker game because in response to Lettre’s original bet of $621,000 Councilman Hoehmann called his bluff expressing concern about this gamble given what would happen once all of the fees came in.  Hoehmann placed a winning hand on the table saying:

”This could be a $900,000 price tag for these community centers. I think we need to look at an overall plan that makes sense.”

Now Hoehmann has apparently thrown his hand in when Lettre followed on the next deal by raising the ante to over twice Hoehmann’s ‘doomsday’ $900,000 figure.

At the same meeting Councilman Borelli asked for a firm cost. “I’m asking for the bottom line cost, the inclusive cost for all these repairs,” he said. Now when presented with a bill of $2.8 million in an election year, and with no opportunity for public input, the ‘overall plan’ apparently “makes sense” to the Town Board’s poker players and the amount Lettre came up with has been unanimously and abruptly approved and all hands cashed in.

Tom Nimick, a New City resident, who has pointed out on numerous occasions that the Town Board repeatedly violates the intent and practice of the Open Meetings Lawscommented at the Board’s May 2013 meeting that in April 2012 Lettre was told by them to come back with more precise estimates and to incorporate other items that the Board Members wanted considered. Given that there was no subsequent open Town Board meeting and since the Board saw fit to approve this massive expenditure and to run up more debt to pay for it, he pointed out that it was obvious there must have been deliberations behind closed doors despite taxpayers’ interest in learning more about this project before any approvals were given to spend their funds.

Yet when Mr. Nimick publicly challenged the Board as to why it did not conduct the open meeting that was promised and why it held an inappropriate vote of approval without open deliberations, he was “ignored by some Board members while others spoke of “private consultations” with Mr. Lettre.

Private consultations?  Mr. Nimick observed: “This is terrible governance and extreme lack of transparency”. Mr. Borelli indicated that Mr. Lettre had addressed his concerns directly and privately. According to the Open Meetings Law, the deliberations of the Town Board are to be open and visible to the public. Private individual meetings or communications with members of the Town Board so as to avoid open deliberations flouts the intent of the Open Meetings Law. Further, Mr. Gromack’s recent statement made to a citizen’s inquiry that there were three open meetings is inaccurate and, since it was made specifically in response to a question about open meetings, dishonest.

Mr. Borelli’s public concern about Town expenditures in the past two years has only risen to the level of asking why Councilwoman Lasker should be paid $10,000 more than him for her work on the Town Board. He casually mentioned in the same breath that the Town’s bonded debt was approaching $100 million and that this was a “concern” to him at which point he tossed his cards on the table.

The question that this Town Board’s behavior raises is: To whom is Mr. Lettre responsible?   Is he accountable to the members of the Town Board as elected representatives of ‘we the people’?

It appears that he is not. On the contrary, the Town Board appears beholden to him especially in this election year when he has the power to supply the Conservative Party’s election line to three of the Town Board members.

Is this the reason that they do not wish to question him in an open public meeting of the Town Board and hold him accountable to explain how this estimate for the expenditure of taxpayers’ funds quadrupled in 12 months?

It is no secret that Lettre, a Town Employee being paid just over $170,000 per year, is referred to openly as Clarkstown’s Kingmaker” with others denying the truth of that moniker to claim that he is actually Clarkstown’s “King”It is speculated that because he controls the Conservative party he controls the Town Board and its members do his bidding or lose his party line and with it their re-election hopes and the $40,000 of annual compensation that goes along with a Town Board seat.

Recall that when Lettre called a ‘House of Horrors’ meeting, reportedly to keep himself in power as leader of the Conservative party, every member of the Town Board attended including the Town Attorney and the Superintendent of Highways, Wayne Ballard. Councilwoman Lasker couldn’t be there but because she “appreciated Mr. Lettre’s support” she “listened in by phone”.  Lettre’s efforts proved successful and he defeated a Jewish challenger for his party’s leadership by holding the Conservative Party convention on Yom Kippur.

The fact that Lettre seems to be able to get the Board to approve a two million dollar expenditure without an open public Town Board meeting would suggest that his new moniker might be Clarkstown’s “King of Diamonds” in whose court genuflecting officials bow to the exercise of his divine right in order to retain their seat on His Majesty’s council.

Somehow I suspect that Mr. Nimick and other members of the public are unwilling to accept this Board’s behavior in granting anyone ‘divine rights’ to control the purse strings of their rapidly vanishing diamonds.

Michael N. Hull is a retired senior citizen who writes opinion pieces on theology, philosophy and local political issues. He is presently a Director of Clarkstown Residents Opposing Patronage (CROP) with Tom Nimick and Ralph Sabatini and is President of the Residents Association of Bardonia.