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Clarkstown Taxpayers Group Question Town Board

Members of Clarkstown's Town Board were questioned about an article entitled the "House of Horrors" meeting which appeared in the Rockland County Times.


According to an article entitled 'House of Horrors' which appeared in the August 9, 2012 issue of the Rockland County Times we read that Town employee Ed Lettre, the executive director of the Rockland chapter of the Conservative Party, called a “secret meeting” involving major players from all five Rockland County political parties. The purpose was apparently to get all of his supporters on board with a plan to keep himself in power as head of the Conservative Party and in control of who is elected in the Town of Clarkstown regardless of whether they are Republicans or Democrats.

doesn't run a 'conservative' candidate of its own in Clarkstown's elections but appears to back those candidates on his election line that he can get elected by swinging the vote in their favor.  He is described by many as 'Clarkstown's Kingmaker'.

According to the Rockland County Times, those present at the secret meeting called by Lettre were Democratic liberals Clarkstown Councilwoman Stephanie Hauser, a member of the National Democratic Committee, and Clarkstown Councilwoman Shirley Lasker. Also present was Democratic Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack, Town attorney of Clarkstown Amy Mele and Clarkstown Town Clerk Justin Sweet.

County Legislator Frank Sparaco, who the Rockland County Times calls a "behind-the-scenes player in the Independence Party" and whose mother-in-law was recently sent to prison for associated with her leadership of the Party, attended the meeting as did Clarkstown Councilman Frank Borelli and chairwoman of the Rockland chapter of the Conservative Party Mary Loeffler.

From 2009 through 2010 Loeffler as a Town employee was apparently not at work and yet was still compensated.  A Resolution of March 2010 indicated that the Board was required to grant her additional "sick time" after the Clarkstown Taxpayers group revealed that she was in Florida yet was still being paid by the Town at taxpayers expense.

If the report by the Rockland County Times remains unanswered by those who attended Lettre's meeting then the public would be forced to conclude that the facts as presented by that newspaper are correct and the public would be forced to conclude that it is the Conservative Party of Ed Lettre to whom most members of the Clarkstown Town Board, including the Town Attorney, Amy Mele, and the Town Clerk, Justin Sweet appear to owe their allegiances.  

Accordingly, at the Clarkstown Town Board meeting of August 21, 2012 the Clarkstown Taxpayers requested that members of Clarkstown's Town Board respond to several questions about its concern over this report.  

: A series of community members spoke at Tuesday’s town board meeting and asked Clarkstown officials to explain the purpose of an early August so-called “secret meeting” that involved government leaders and members of several political parties. Town Supervisor Alex Gromack and other town board members made statements regarding an August 9th “Rockland County Times” article that depicted the meeting as involving numerous government officials, town employees and political leaders affiliated with the local Democratic, Republican, Conservative and Independence parties.

and the article concluded by saying: None of the officials responded with a specific reason for attending the meeting.

While we agree with Patch's observation that no specific reason was given for attendance by Clarkstown Town Board members at the meeting the Clarkstown Taxpayers Group feels that the questions asked and the responses given should be made available in their entirety for review by the public.

Accordingly we are providing a complete transcript of both the Clarkstown Taxpayers' remarks to the Town Board members and a complete transcript of each Board member's response in the order in which each response was given. In a spirit of fairness and openness we shall give no 'editorial opinion' about the responses to the questions we asked but will let the record speak for itself.

Ralph Sabatini
Member Clarkstown Taxpayers
Republican Candidate for Supervisor (2011)

My name is Ralph Sabatini - New City.

Ms. Hausner:  In an article entitled 'House of Horrors' the Rockland County Times states that you attended a meeting called by Town employee, Ed Lettre. It is alleged that at one point in the meeting, Town employee Ed Lettre asked you to recruit people to enroll in the Conservative Party and when you were not enthusiastic about that idea Ed Lettre told you to quote: "Just do it".  What was the purpose of your attendance at the meeting and is it true that Ed Lettre wanted you to recruit Democrats to join his Conservative Party?

Ms. Lasker: The Rockland County Times stated in its headline article of August 09, 2012 which displayed your photograph beside that of town employee, Ed Lettre 

(Ms. Lasker interrupted humorously saying "It was a very nice photograph")

and stated that you had a reputation as a "progressive," but you were among a multiparty group that Conservative Party boss Ed Lettre had called upon to help keep himself in power.

What this implies is that you were participating in a conspiracy to gather members into the Conservative Party, headed by Town employee, Ed Lettre in order to have the Conservative Party support your reelection. This action would be highly unethical and I would ask if you would like to respond to this interpretation of the Rockland Times Article i.e. that you have conspired to subvert the electoral process of the Town of Clarkstown.  Thank you.

Guy Gervasi
President Clarkstown Taxpayers

My name is Guy Gervasi from West Nyack.  I am President of the Clarkstown Taxpayers

I am a little confused.  Councilman Borelli, who is not here, I thought he was a registered Republican. Supervisor Gromack, Councilwomen Hausner and Lasker I thought you were all registered Democrats.  If this is so, my questions are:

Why would registered Republicans and Democrats go to a secret meeting called by an employee of the Town just to get help to retain his chairmanship of the Conservative Party?  He didn't ask you for help for the Republican party. He asked you for help to keep his seat in the Conservative Party.

The second question is if everything about this meeting was legitimate, why did it have to be held in secret?

While I would surely love to hear your answers to my questions, I would like the audience and the press to have my thoughts on why you attended this secret meeting.

It is obvious that you take orders from Mr. Lettre who has been given two jobs in Clarkstown with a total compensation of $180,000/yr.  In return for these jobs, you all get Lettre's Conservative Party endorsement and Party line come election time - an election line without which you would have difficulty winning the election. 

If anyone doubts this incestuous relationship, he needs to look no further than .  Ms. Coopersmith, who had been chair of the Independence Party, had a $125,000/yr job with the Clarkstown. She continually gave the Independence line to the incumbents come election time.   Then when she lost control of the (Independence) Party, the Town Board fired her because she was of no longer of use to them.

On top of all this political cronyism from the Town Board, we now find out that Mr.Ballard is no better.  Hiring Mr. Sparaco (Read the Journal News Editorial of August 22, 2012) - "I am the friend of the Rockland County taxpayer" - to be the "" at an annual salary of $75,000/yr!  I thought this was supposed to be a part time job.

Mr. Ballard, Mr. Sparaco and you guys on the Town Board must think that the Clarkstown people are all fools and maybe they are fools for voting for you. You should be all ashamed of yourselves, but I am sure that the emotion of shame was lost when you became career politicians.

This blatant example of cronyism in politics is the kind of underhanded dealings that is the main reason why are needed desperately in Clarkstown.  Supervisor Gromack, Councilpersons Borelli, Hausner and Lasker, Mr. Ballard and Legislator Sparaco I have to say that you guys truly disgust me by your backroom political shenanigans.

(Prolonged applause and cheering).

Mike Hirsch 
Founding Member Clarkstown Taxpayers

Alex: During last year's election campaign, when the issue of term limits was being discussed, you said on many occassions that "politics is a noble profession", and that you thought that if someone good and noble was in office that they should be allowed to continue their good and noble work on behalf of their constituents. 

You also said that term limits are in effect every time someone comes up for re-election. How can you reconcile your statement that politics is a noble profession, when according to Dylan Skriloff's piece in the Rockland County Times, you and most of the Town board met with multiple party leaders to ensure that Ed Lettre keeps control of the Conservative Party in return for which you will get that party's endorsement and he will keep a 170,000/yr job? 

My question to all of you, Shirley, Stephanie who is young, to George who got his seat because he was Ralph Mandia's pick, to you, Alex, is how can you define 'noble'.  I really would like to hear from all of you and I would like you to think about that. What does 'noble' mean to each of you. Shirely, you got into politics because you were angry about something. I think you have come a long way. On actions that would disenfranchise the voter, Stephanie, I would like to hear from you on that.  Thank you.

Joe Ciardullo from New City
Member Clarkstown Taxpayers

Mr. Gromack, you stated earlier that people will say it is black when you say it is white.  I know we have disagreements and we are looking forward to hearing your side of the story.

(Mr. Gromack interrupted saying "What story"?  Ciardullo replied: "I'm getting to that".)

Approval ratings of Congress are at an all time low. Voter apathy is close to an all-time high.  People are fed up with the behavior of elected officials.   Is it any  wonder why this is? Secret meetings in the middle of the night is not what the voters of Clarkstown voted for or deserve.

According to the Rockland County Times' article "House of Horrors" which was published on August 9th, an illegal Town Board meeting was held. The purpose of this meeting was to help out the Conservative party and Town employee, Ed Lettre, stay in power so that each of you could stand on the Conservative Party line.  This illegal meeting was held with absolutely no regard to the residents and voters of Clarkstown and if true can not be tolerated.  I call on all parties involved to resign immediately. If I am incorrect can you please explain the purpose of this meeting?

(Applause from the audience).

Town Board Members' Responses:

Supervisor Gromack:
You know I will talk a little bit about this notion about illegal meetings with other parties, and anyone who wants to, but I will speak for myself and in some sense I am speaking for all people that are in elective office.

First, I take strong objection to anyone stating that they are illegal meetings. These are certainly legal meetings. Parties are allowed to have meetings outside of public buildings.  You can have meetings inside public buildings - in fact you get permits.

But certainly I don't think anyone has to tell anybody about a meeting, whether it is a closed meeting or a meeting that is quote in your view "secret".  But it is certainly a legal meeting for elected officials, party leaders, to get together to talk strategy and not have that done in the open. That is done by every political party, by every candidate, every elected official across New York State and across this country.  

It is our constitutional right to have meetings just like it is your constitutional right as the former Disgusted (sic) Taxpayers to have meetings wherever you have them, in private.  We don't know what meetings you have. I don't really care what meetings you have. You have a political action committee or you had one.  It's certainly your right to have one and to do with it what you want.  

Certainly having meetings of a political nature outside of Town Hall - again, there have been conventions where they have had permits - but certainly outside of Town Hall is done by all individuals running for office, in office, party leaders from every party. So there is absolutely nothing illegal about it. It just shows your lack of knowledge of the laws of the State of New York and this nation when you are indeed allowed to have these meetings in private when you are having discussions about them.   

That is our constitutional right just like it is your constitutional right to have any types of meetings you want and I think that your remarks about Mr. Lettre border on slander and I certainly take strong objection to your connotations about those types of meetings and I think you would be naive and surprised if you only knew about the number of meetings that go on by political parties under their rights of the constitution in NY State and the Federal government, not only in Clarkstown, Rockland County, New York State.   But as I said throughout the country it is certainly an acceptable practice that allows you to express your right to exercise your time as far as organizing.

Certainly, as I said, any meetings that one would have - you might want to call them secret - but if strategy is discussed certainly we are not going to discuss in with you (referring to the Clarkstown Taxpayers Group). That would be ridiculous.   Just like when you have meetings and talk about things that you want to do of a political nature you don't discuss it with us. So I think that probably handles most of those questions. 

Again they are absolutely legal and proper.  Certainly, the minor parties, Conservative, Working Families, the Independence Party, they certainly can pick and choose individuals that they want to support and very often there are, you know, differences of opinions within those parties on who will ultimately chair those.  Those are inter (sic) party decisions and very often others can help and get involved and participate. So certainly it is everybody's right to do that.

Councilwoman Hausner:
Mr. Sabatini who started out - I do want to add to what Alex said in terms of as individuals we can attend any meeting we like. I do think the Rockland County Times article was a bit sensational and interesting because that certainly wasn't a recount of any meeting I attended.

I was not asked to recruit members of the Conservative Party.   No one ever told me "just do it".  Although that seems interesting but it never occurred nor do I plan on registering members and if I did it would not necessarily be a public discussion.

I think it is interesting that there seems to be a lot of conspiracy theory going on.  I don't know that any of us would attend secret meetings in the middle of the night - the very thought sounds a little preposterous. And so, you know, I think that before necessarily reacting to everything that you read in a newspaper maybe people should ask the people in question.  

Additionally, I do have to take a little offense at Mr. Hirsch's comment that I might not necessarily know what 'noble' means being that I am young because I don't think that being young has anything to do with either why I went into politics or that I do believe, just like the Supervisor mentioned, that politics is a noble and government service is a noble profession.  I think there are a lot of people, I think there are a lot of people in this room that might the general public to think that it is not.

But I think coming here every day and dealing with the issues we do, I think all of us are in it because I think we believe that there is a good in public service and public service is good in helping our community become one of the top places to live in our country, that is a noble thing.  And so I just wanted to direct that, and I don't really understand how we are disenfranchising voters.  Voters are being disenfranchised in Florida, Vermont and other places around this country being asked to show multiple forms of ID as they go into a polling place.  We are not asking for that here in Rockland County. We are not disenfranchising voters.

Councilwoman Lasker:
I would like to speak about the article in the County Times as well.  I object to the fact that it is by an anonymous source.  Whoever that source was I think the paper should name that person.  Were they at the meeting?  Weren't they at the meeting?.   

I myself was not physically at the meeting.  I was actually in Connecticut at a 70th surprise birthday party and I listened in by phone for a short while.  I was asked by Mr Lettre who said he had some things he wanted to talk to us about and I listened in by phone. There was nothing illegal about the meeting.  It didn't happen at midnight.  I am not embarrassed by the fact that I was listening in by phone. 

And I mean that's all I have to say about that.  But if the paper would like to write things I think they should be accurate and I think their sources should be named.  There seems to me there was a motive behind this anonymous source and I would like to know what that motive is.

Supervisor Gromack:
Mr. Hirsh, 'noble', certainly, you know, my definition of 'noble' and others can be different.  When I say that for me this is a noble profession I got into it certainly at a young age.  I won't talk long but for me it was a way for me to give back to my community. 

I certainly am proud of the service that I and this Town Board has provided to the Town of Clarkstown. I am proud of the service I gave when I was a member of the Rockland County Legislature and 14 years in the NY State assembly.  And I look around at some of the things that we have accomplished in this Town, last 3 years budgets of zero, zero, one point six.  Four or five years of a triple A bond rating. 

Our revitalization plans have been achieved in most of our hamlet centers, certainly our open space acquisitions, the efficiency on how we run government not by our words but by Standard and Poors.  Certainly the protection that our police officers under the guidance of Chief Sullivan gives - the Town Board supports -  makes us a quality community and as I said it is certainly the remarks by Money Magazine about being a quality community speak for themselves. They are not our words, they are words of outside independent sources.

So when I say that politics in government is certainly a noble service, it's one that certainly is not meant for everybody but for those that certainly want to give back to the community and make a difference I certainly think individuals on this Town Board have done so and as I said when I used the term 'noble' it's a profession that I love and work at every day putting in a lot of hours and I do it because it is something that is a calling for me and God willing if the people want me to continue in this position I will continue to do it.

Councilman Hoehmann: 
I just want to echo some of the sentiments about the noble aspects of public service. 

Mr. Hirsch, you know I'm an executive in a not-for-profit.  I have spent most of my adult life working in the not-for-profit field. I am proud of the business decisions that I have been able to bring and that perspective to Town government.  I do want to talk about civility because I am quite concerned that there is an attempt and effort of more 'gotcha' questions and more of an atmosphere of distrust and character assassination that frankly is dangerously lurking out in the public.  

I think that it is your right to question but it is not your right to make up things and ascribe motives.   I think that judge us based on our decisions.  Judge us based on the fact that we are now ranked as the 37th best place to live in the country.  And part of that is based on the fiscal management that this Town Board has exhibited in the long and flat tax increases. Well before a tax cap was implemented we were under the tax cut, you know, when other municipalities weren't.  

Judge us based on that.   If you want to ascribe motives that aren't there or if you want to look at trying to question peoples' motives or cast aspersions on people's character I don't think that's a place to be done in public.  Thank you.

Councilwoman Lasker:
I don't think it serves anyone's best interests to paint everybody with the same brush.  You know, I have spent my life in public service - thirty years as a special education teacher - I didn't do it for the money - I did it because I wanted to make a difference.  And when I came to my first Town Board meeting here to speak as a citizen, because I was angry about the expansion of the Palisades Mall, I did it because I believed in an issue.

I have been in public service as a councilwoman for twelve years now and was lucky enough to get elected for another four and the reason I did it is still the same as when I first started and that is to make a positive difference to the residents of this Town that I love - that my children live in - my grandchildren live in - and that I care about so much.  And if people do not want to believe that I can't change that.  I know that I can put my head on the pillow at night and sleep very well because I have never done anything that I am ashamed of.  Thank you.

             

This article was written by Clarkstown Taxpayer member, Michael N. Hull, on behalf of the Clarkstown Taxpayers.

Picture courtesy of SophieBrain.wordpress.com

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Brenda M August 27, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Lester Harris - If you had attended the meeting with Carlucci you would have heard that if we were not struggling we would have no objection to any taxes within reason. http://newcity.patch.com/articles/rockland-seniors-concerns-taxes-county-deficit In the 40 or so years I have lived here I could have sent my kids to a private school, paid for their education as I had to do for their college and I would have been better off today. I'm not a pathetic beggar just an average person. My family income was well below $100,000 per year for all of those years. Now I am on social security, some savings and a small pension and I am getting a $5,000 school tax bill every year. If I can't pay it the sympathy I will get is to be put out of my home! By the way I am a charitable person and despite the fact I am not at all well off I do send a check to both the local ambulance, fire and to my church. I also do charity work and know some seniors who are visited by the meals-on-wheels programs. We have a problem in this County and I am getting an education on these blogs when I read about jobs being handed out to political wannabees. I can't believe what I read about that guy Sparaco getting a job I could have done for a third of what they gave him. I voted for Wayne Ballard many times but never again. And now that I know who this guy Ed Lettre is I am telling every senior that I know we have to get this fixed.
Mike Hirsch August 27, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Thank you Brenda. The only way we will be able to take our town government back is by doing exactly what you are doing. Informing people (especially the seniors because they vote) about the hijacking of our political process by the political bosses. We will only be as strong as those who join us.
Jeanine Vecchiarelli August 27, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Excuse me for asking, but does NO ONE beside myself have a problem with Master Gromack's snarky response to those who questioned that secret meeting? True, he has no right to know what business is conducted within and among private groups. But he and all of those present at that secret meeting are PUBLIC OFFICIALS who were ELECTED TO REPRESENT THEIR CONSTITUENTS. What on EARTH could they have been discussing that called for that level of secrecy from the voting public? What happened to the transparency that was promised THIS time around? Maybe their actions weren't illegal. But they certainly smacked of impropriety. These officials were strategizing to keep their positions? I have the BEST strategy for them: honor your promises to your constituents; be truly transparent; spend our money as though it is coming out of YOUR bank accounts; don't pander to us when you need our votes and then talk down to us as though we are insignificant little peasants after you win re-election. Then maybe you won't have to strategize with all your cohorts across all the other party lines in order to keep your jobs.
Watchdog August 27, 2012 at 09:49 PM
LESTER, you must be living in a different County. Even Gromack knows that Seniors are having trouble meeting the high taxes His solution is not to lower taxes and cut expenses (Town just hired a $75,000 PART TIME Customer Service Representative politically connected of course) GROMACKS SOLUTION is to have Seniors take in a BOARDER. Where have you been Lester?We have people on Social Security who get meager COL increases each year and Do you know where that goes Kester?....to pay for increase in taxes as a result of cops and others who will get up to a six figure pension. Wake up please. Remember 2 years ago Vanderhoef said everything was fine with the County and the almost bankrupt Nursing Home was turning a PROFIT. Now we have a 30% tax increase on top of other taxes....more than 15. TIMES THE CAP PROPOSED BY CUOMO. Wake up, Lester.
Brenda M August 27, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Farewell, Lester, it was good while it lasted!

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