By Keith Shikowitz
Conflict and disagreement between people are inevitable. We will never agree with everyone all the time unless you are simply a “Yes man (or woman)”. Life would be very dull if everyone agreed all the time.
There are many ways to deal with these times of conflict and disagreement and as human beings sometimes it is not handled in the best way. We lose our cool and tempers flair. This is not the recommended way of dealing with situations like that but it is what happened in a meeting between Spring Valley Mayor Alan Simon and Spring Valley Village Trustee Eudson Tyson Francois on May 7, 2021.
The COVID pandemic has people wary of being close to people. Some people get totally apoplectic about it even if they are fully vaccinated and wearing a mask and others around them are wearing one too. Simon is one of those who because of the pandemic, would prefer that people not sit very close to him unless absolutely necessary. The aforementioned incident began when Simon felt that Francois was sitting to close to him in the meeting and he asked him to please move further away.
If it hadn’t been for COVID, it wouldn’t have been that much of an issue with Francois sitting that close to Simon.
“If not for COVID, his sitting within 3 feet. I guess I could have lived with that. There are times you have to tolerate that but at that point, he came and he pushed as close to me as he could and that was uncomfortable.” Simon stated.
In Francois’ opinion, this was personal not because of COVID.
“I walked into the meeting and there was over 8 people sitting down and there was nowhere to sit. I didn’t want to sit in the back. I wanted to sit around the table. If you’ve been to our board meeting, his chair is always on the right side. I sat adjacent to him within 4 feet, but behind him. He was talking and he turned around and said, “You can’t sit next to me. I don’t want you to sit next to me. I said, “Why not.” He said, “Because I don’t like you sitting next to me.” I said “Mayor, that’s not going to happen. I’m not going to move. You don’t authorize me to do anything in this village here.”
The question was posed, “He said he doesn’t like YOU sitting there or ANYBODY sitting that close?”
“He discriminated against me pretty much. He really did.” Francois replied.
He continued, “Guess what, the former Deputy Mayor the current trustee sits next to him during the meetings, so we’re always next to each other. He has his mask off all the time. I’m the one running after him telling him, it’s COVID wear your mask. Mayor, you have pre – existing conditions. But I sat next to him. The distance between me and this tripod is not sitting next to you. (the distance was less than 4 feet). It’s close enough. But I had no choice but to sit there. But I sat at a distance behind him. So that would mean no matter if he was speaking you can’t even see me but with peripheral vision. You would need to turn around.”
“Let me tell you. I don’t get into a disagreement with the Mayor. The Mayor is a bully. The Mayor is a Mayor who does not take the words respect, integrity, honor with regards to being sworn into oath as to what the responsibility of an elected official, a Mayor, no matter what the title is, he doesn’t take that into consideration.”
How does Simon respond to Francois calling him a bully?
“Absolute nonsense! The guy who is in charge has to be in charge. If the guy in charge is not in charge, then what you have is nothing incorporated. You cannot have nothing incorporated. You go in and you have a goal in terms of a meeting and in terms of what you are doing and you must meet that goal. If there is an interpretation of bullying, I am sorry. The bottom line is that somebody that is deferred from actually accomplishing what they want to because there are acts which have no sense, rhyme or reason and essentially are in bad taste.”
Simon feels one of these senseless acts is sitting too close to someone without a mask. (Simon was the one not wearing the mask because he prefers to talk without it on. He maintains social distancing) The other one was recording a meeting that doesn’t belong to be recorded so as to make it impossible to complete the task and perhaps benefit the village, deserves essentially to be turned down and not applauded.
“The fact that I didn’t applaud Francois and the fact that I refused to be essentially to be bothered by his determination but ask that he be removed is appropriate under the circumstances. In essence maybe the language was a little harsh, but it is a basic response to the usual poison that he wants to serve me. The one good thing I think it displays his inexperience in government. His inexperience in meeting with people and his inability to accomplish all that much. I think it clearly shows that if somebody is looking for somebody with a level of experience to handle this government, he isn’t the one!”
Francois insists that on this particular day, the day Simon disrespected him at the board meeting during the executive session and Simon called him all kinds of names.
“You didn’t hear that because I didn’t record that. I told him I should record you. If you go back and check on my Facebook Page you will see that I am asking the Mayor to respect me as an elected official. No, as a human being. To respect the staff members inside as human beings. To respect the residents as human beings. This is what he’s not doing.” Francois said.
Simon explained what the meeting was about and how the incident was started by Francois’ not moving when asked to and his recording the meeting.
“First, we had a meeting here in this room and it wasn’t a board meeting. It was a meeting with someone who wanted to buy property and in reference to buying the property wanted to talk about a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) program. They wanted to discuss that and tell us why they should receive it. When Mr. Francois came in, I never stop someone from coming in and joining a meeting if they’re a board member. Even though this is not a board decision as of yet.”
Simon listed people who were at the meeting along with the applicant who were the Village Assessor and some attorneys representing the board. “Generally speaking, I talk and I remove my mask, so, generally speaking I don’t like to sit within 6 ft of another person. Even though I have been fully vaccinated and the CDC hadn’t announced their policy. I know that Francois has not been inoculated. I’m really a little bit upset that he wanted to sit closer.”
Simon’s next action was to ask him to please sit any place else. “Then I noticed he was recording it. These meetings are business meetings and they are not designed to be recorded. This is where we talk business and there is no conclusion that is reached until I have my meeting with my staff and they advise me.”
This was not an executive session of you and the trustees. This was a request by an applicant for something that you were talking about and the trustees were welcome to attend. As such this was not a formal executive board meeting. It was just an informal meeting to get information for Simon to present to the Trustees later on.
“Any trustee is welcome. I advise them many times if I have a meeting scheduled as to what is going on so they know how the Village functions. That’s essentially what took place. I noticed first of all, when I asked him to move away, he didn’t want to move away and asserted his right as a member of the board that he could sit wherever he wants. Second, I told him he couldn’t record and he said he could record whatever he wants.”
According to Simon, that’s not the terms of entering into or hanging around here. “He kept on explaining to me how important he was and I kept on explaining to him that these are things that he has to follow. That’s where the meeting essentially went awry. Quite frankly he became very difficult to the point where I had to ask the police to remove him.”
Simon has had some issues in the past that led to some disciplinary action by the Review Panel and the NYS Court of Appeals.
Francois was very quick to vehemently point this out. “Let’s not forget the Mayor is a Mayor who was disbarred from being a judge and/or an attorney.”
Simon does not deny the disbarment and did not make excuses for it. He did explain what happened from his point of view and his feelings of and disagreement with the court’s decision. “I don’t believe I have ever treated anybody unfairly. I understand that both the Review Panel and the Court of Appeals who just reads the record, made that determination and that was based primarily on the allegations. I don’t believe the fact pattern was ever really examined. But I do believe that as a judge I had the absolute right to insist that my people work in a certain way and that they actually perform their duties. I think that in doing so, I promote the justice system.”
“I believe that I did it (promoted the justice system). They didn’t. They acted. And in essence at the time they acted, I was kind of ready pretty much after serving 12 years here to move on. I was never happy with it, but I am prepared to live with the responsibility of doing what I do. I still have that responsibility because I am very enthusiastic about doing my job and making sure it works. That’s really where I’m coming from.”
Francois says Simon’s done this to him since being elected in 2017 and every year since to the present. He also feels this is happening because as he puts it, is not a ‘Yes man’ and that Simon is not fit for office.
“If I decided to vote along and was a yes man, to the Mayor, he would have no problems with me. He would promote me to kingdom come. Unfortunately, I’m not a yes man. I never will be. However, I did say from the very beginning that Mayor Alan Simon is not fit. He’s never been fit and he will never be fit to serve.”
Just like in the Constitution, the President has the power to hire and fire federal officials. When it comes to hiring Village employees the Mayor has that power as part of his job.
“Francois doesn’t like the people I hire. He doesn’t like the people I bring in to be interviewed. Quite frankly, I control filling vacancies. I control hiring people in many instances. That’s part of my powers as being mayor and in terms of personnel issues, there are primarily mine.” Simon said sternly.
“He attacks me. If I had been voting alongside. He once told me all the people he wants to hire for over $100,000. If I had been okay with that, do you think we would have been here. NO! One day during a meeting he got up and got me a bottle of Gatorade. Everybody in there was shocked. I almost fainted. He thought he could use me, but he can’t.
Francois had a problem with one particular hire that Simon made. “We can go back from the very beginning with Tony Mallia, from Simon appointing him and the money that he gave him without board approval. He has done a lot of things without board approval. Not to even mention, the word disrespect comes with the territory always.”
“I’m a trustee and anything to do with that village is my responsibility. HE is my responsibility because I have to check and balance him and all my colleagues do the same. He has disrespected my other trustees. He’s cursed them out. The mayor one time was so fed up that he even told a man that he was going to call the police and have him arrested.” Francois accused Simon.
Francois added, “He said that to them during a board meeting and then following that board meeting he specifically said he was going to have their checks taken away from them. He tried to do that but I stopped him.”
Simon retorted, “He repeats these allegations none of which is appropriate. Including by the way he actually voted against me signing checks. Generally, I don’t sign checks here. They’re done by the Treasurer. In the absence of the Treasurer and the Deputy Treasurer, I am the signatory, or a signatory. He even opposed that. There’s been years where he’s opposed anything I wanted to do. He either voted against it or abstained and he really personifies anti – government.”
He then explained that you have to have at least two or more people available to sign it. Their payroll checks just have to have one signature and are signed by the Treasurer or the Deputy Treasurer, generally the Treasurer. “Some days the Treasurer is out for whatever reason and the Deputy Treasurer may not be available. Under those circumstances, I come in and sign those documents because it’s inappropriate for government or anybody else for that matter not to pay people promptly.”
What type of allegations, you say personal attacks, personal criticism, what was Francois exactly saying that was critical of you?
“He doesn’t want me to have the power to sign checks!” Simon declared.
Francois says there’s so many things wrong with Simon being in this seat and what he’s doing. He calls Simon’s administration a dictatorship that he’s running and says it’s ridiculous. “He suffocated the clerk in terms of treating her like she was a slave. She’s a black woman, but the way he spoke to her. I stood up to him at that board meeting and said to him, you can not address someone like that. It’s just the way that he does these things. Remember this is a track history. We’re not talking about a man who just did this for the first time.”
The big question for Francois is why does he think Simon is doing this to him? Could it be because Francois is running against him for Mayor?
The one thing the two me agree on is that their feud has nothing to do with the fact that Francois is running against him.
“He’s running again but let me state this clearly, this has nothing to do with the fact that I am running against him. It has to do more with his character number one, he’s insane. He gets out of control. In addition, I must say this. He’s doing this because I am not a yes man that votes yes to him. That’s why these things happen.”
Simon’s take on this is, “Let me put it this way, Absolutely not. I tried to reach out on many occasions. I always introduce him. I always give him a fair opportunity to speak I certainly allowed and he was the only other board member there, him to make free comments. I have always introduced him when we were outside and never limited anything he could say or do.
“Well I started off by telling you this is his behavior. This is how he is. He forgot to take his medication. I have no idea. He’s been like this. He really needs help mentally, I believe. But from a discrimination standpoint as a black man, let me just say this. He also called the other trustee to come into the meeting, of course he’s of Jewish descent, but he stood with me to say, “No. I’m not going into that meeting because I did not like the way you addressed him. That to me says that we have a brotherhood in the village. We work very closely together no matter who you are or where you are from. That particular man does not work with us. He does not work. He yells at them. He curses them out, all of them. But with me in particular, it’s like an M80 or a Blockbuster. He treats me, unconditionally, without any provocation treats me so unfair, not regarding me as a human being.” Francois explained.
“I’m here to let you all know THAT is why I must run and represent the people of the Village of Spring Valley and my people sitting on the board. I want to represent them. We have a great working relationship but this man, I have asked that Alan Simon remove himself from his seat effective immediately because his behaviors are inappropriate as they pertain to, he transfers his words to women, degrading them. The way he does that to black people such as myself. The way he does that even to my colleagues from the Jewish community is still unacceptable.”
In answer to Francois’ accusation on discriminatory actions, Simon responded, “The picture that was drawn is that I was biased. I was not biased. It’s very hard to defend yourself in terms of a bias incident. I have worked with the Haitian community pretty much all my political life. I have helped, before I was Mayor, most of the or a good many of the churches here to find their property and get the zoning approvals they needed to be able to formulate the churches. I’ve helped them purchase the churches by representing them. I’ve worked for a long time to essentially include and benefit the churches in this community, the Haitian churches. I feel very close to the Haitian community and I think a neutral search of the records would find that in handling matters with anybody, I was totally and completely fair.”
On the issues with his treatment of the staff, “With my staff I’m very demanding. In terms of performance and levels of performance because I believe those people in government have an obligation to serve and to do that with both hands at all times! Essentially, that’s what I’ve done. It may not have been the marketing thing to do but it’s what I’ve done!” Simon exclaimed.
Francois has made allegations that Simon never really liked him and was mistreating him and that everything that is going on with him is a personal issue.
Simon admitted that at some point he guesses it is. He explained this in the following way, “I have taken a lot of issues with him from the time was elected. Prior to that we had a relatively neutral relationship. I had represented his family in the legal sense in some matters before I became a judge. In fact the year I was elected a judge, I represented his family in terms of matters. After that I cooperated with him. He had a public relations business. I always cooperated with him if he asked me to appear someplace to help somebody.”
If the relationship was so good for so long, what created the rift between the two?
Many of the times in here, he personally attacks me and he criticizes me personally completely unfairly and makes allegations at things against either me or people I know that they have no basis in truth or in fact. He is an extremist and in essence, why? I have no idea. He may have taken a bit from his closeness to Demeza where all ridiculous things are said and done.
He added that he never had a negative relationship with Francois until he was elected to office and then essentially tried to extort.
According to Simon the extortion was in the form of demanding Simon give him $25,000 for his inauguration. “I paid for my own. I thought it was in bad taste to take Village money to pay for an inauguration although I understand that Demeza did so. I wasn’t going to take any money for it and I wasn’t going to allow anyone else. It’s not a proper village expense.”
The $25,000 Francois asked for was for his personal inauguration celebration, not for an official Village inauguration ceremony. Simon reported.
Another problem Simon has with Francois is that according to Simon, he doesn’t like to follow the direction and order or follow the agenda. “He always claims that as a member of the board he can speak out and do anything he want at any time.”
“This is a violation of a thing called Roberts Rules of Order (RRO) and that’s what we follow generally speaking. I tend to follow it most of the time. He does not and he believes he can say anything he wants at any time he wants under any circumstances. I cannot keep him quiet nor I can’t get him to comply with RRO. That makes running a meeting exceedingly difficult. That’s part of what I have to do as mayor.
“Simon said to me, if you cannot move your chair, you will have to leave the meeting or we’ll have to stop the meeting. Eventually someone asked me to come sit next to them and I did. So Alvin in there said, Mayor, he moved why don’t you just start the meeting? He continued. I said, mayor, I just want to let you know, you don’t govern me. There’s a check and balance system that we oversee what you do. And anything you do it’s my business and everybody else’s business.”
Listening to the audio clip Francois had sent out, some of the language Simon used, short of being racial, used some language that generally people would take offense to regardless of anything else. “Why did you get to that point where you just started spewing out words, statements like that?”
Simon feels he’s made life difficult in terms of doing your everyday job. “Maybe I got a little bit carried away. I think it was designed purposely to provoke me. There is no reason to go into these meetings with a recording device. What it does is make these meetings almost meaningless. There is absolutely no level of respect for my time. No respect for the Village’s time and no respect by him for the Village’s interests. All he was there for was to provoke me and not do anything in terms of the basic issues that faced the Village in that regard at all.”
Francois says he didn’t start recording until, he started cursing and that’s when he said he was going to record Simon. “He said if you want to stay in this meeting, you have to stop the recording and put the phone outside. I said, that’s not happening Mayor and that’s when he said he’s going to call the police and have me handcuffed and arrested. I said that is not happening today.”
Francois said the police sure did come and that they came to calm things down. “Definitely not to calm me down because I was not out of control like he was with his mouth. Nevertheless, this is to be expected.”
“There was a commitment at that meeting for the apartment units to spend $50,000 per unit to upgrade them. When you times that by 220 you get $11,000,000. For us to achieve getting $11,000,000 for building in the area is really a very, very good thing. My building fee is somewhere around 10%. When I say ‘my’ I mean the Village’s. I have to look at myself as the Village because every government should be run like a business to a certain degree. We have to work to earn money just like everybody else. We have to be able to provide services. Government essentially is the ability to provide services.” Simon said.
“This type of disruption Francois caused, costs the people money. It costs people quality of life. It costs people a lot because he wants to seem important. I think it’s inappropriate and out of hand.”
Simon says that Francois can certainly call him every name under the sun he wants to call him but not necessarily in a meeting where the Village has a number of issues at stake.
“And in terms of it, it’s fair comment. If that’s what he wants to do. But he doesn’t really want to do that. He wants to disrupt and make himself like he is actually performing some sort of duty here. Which I think he is really not.” He added.
Rehashing the reason for this incident and one that further explains why he feels the way he does about anybody sitting close to him, Simon stated, “I was the one not wearing the mask. I didn’t want him sitting close to me. He was wearing a mask. I didn’t want him sitting, I generally sit and like the first thing I said to you, as long as you’re not within six feet I’m okay. Everybody at that time created or had their own policy. I sit here generally not wearing the mask, I have it around my neck. That’s how I keep myself safe. I want you to know I am 78 years old and I have to be very careful. That’s one of the things I do to keep myself safe. I keep my distance.
Simon has no idea why he pushed so close sitting as close to him as he did. “Let’s put it this way, I asked him to please move away and sit anywhere else in the room, just move a little bit away and he refused and indicated he can sit wherever he wants to.”
In conclusion Simon believed it was justified at the time based upon the seating arrangement, his recording and all of that. “His ability to understand the propriety of these meetings is somewhat lacking. He ability to be under the regular format is very lacking. In after thought I probably should not have used some of the language I did. In any event I did use it. I’m not telling you I didn’t. I will watch what I say and do in the future. Everyday is truly a learning experience.
“We’re only human and somedays we lose our cool and somedays more than others. The bottom line here is and the most important thing here is to run the affairs logically and sensibly of the Village of Spring Valley and that I commit that I will put 100% of my effort into everyday.”