Newfane residents upset over 'anonymous letter'

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NEWFANE >> Several residents spoke up on Tuesday about their disappointment and frustration with a recent "anonymous" letter that was sent by the Town Clerk to several homes in town.

Town Clerk Gloria Cristelli felt prompted to write a letter after the Select Board's final bond vote hearing on Aug. 1, in which she advocated for voter approval for funding the project. The bond vote was seeking $950,000 for a new office building, but voters rejected the measure, 286 to 226. After it was discovered that none of the Select Board members received this letter and Cristelli confessed that she wrote the letter that was simply signed, "concerned citizens of Newfane," several townspeople spoke up about how they felt the action was a conflict of interest.

"It makes me very nervous to think we have someone in town in one of our offices that would do such a thing as this and try to make it look like it was all of you (the Select Board) because a lot of the town voters have probably not been to a meeting since and assume you guys are the people who had written this letter," said Polly Casanova, a resident of Newfane.

The Select Board found out about the letter three weeks ago and noted there were several inaccuracies. The mailing included charts about the details of all three options the town faced, whether to keep the current town offices and fixe issues over time, sell the building and construct a new one, or renovate the current town offices. The letter stated that the Select Board anonymously decided that a new building is in the best interest of the town, but Hatcher confirmed that that was not said by the board.

Cristelli said she wrote the letter because she felt residents didn't have enough information after the Select Board's final vote hearing on Aug. 1. She also stated that she did this as a"private citizen" not a town official, though she did do it in the town offices. Select Board Chairman Todd Lawley questioned her decision.

"There's quite a few people concerned at the fact that if she did it as a private citizen why did she do it here?" Lawley said at Tuesday's meeting. "Because you as private citizens and me as private citizens can't come in here and do what you want to do."

Select Board member Carol Hatcher noted on Tuesday that town officials are not supposed to do personal work after hours in the office. Another meeting attendee and Newfane local, Carl Lindgren proposed an "ethics question," asking if the town has a standard ethics agreement with employees of the town.

"Some people I spoke with feel like those ethics have been violated a bit," Lindgren said.

Hatcher noted that there is a "conflict of interest policy." Further, Hatcher said she spoke with Secretary of State Jim Condos within the last week and found that this matter is in a "grey area" and in moving forward, the town needs to create an ethics policy that will apply to all elected officials,

At the beginning of the meeting some residents felt rather disgruntled by the matter and unsure of what they should do as citizens. Lauri Miner of Newfane said she felt the Town Clerk's office has be "polarized" and "politicized" over the last several years. She further questioned the appropriate action of Cristelli having a re-vote petition on her desk.

Another resident, Cris White, said she recently walked into the office and was asked to sign the petition, but said she would not sign it because she felt there was ample time for people to get information.

Hatcher said she felt it is "improper and perhaps even unethical to be caucusing people in your place of work at the town office."

Other concerns brought up by citizens were the feelings of a repetitive cycle of voting and revoting.

"So is this every time sometime something gets turned down, we're going to just keep voting until people get their way?" asked a resident. "Because as a voting citizen, I feel like it becomes a waste of my time to go out and vote when it doesn't go someone's way and it becomes a re-vote."

Select Board Member Marion Dowling told the woman she was not the first person to bring up that point and that the board is "listening very carefully," to these comments. Gary Delius, Select Board member chimed in, noting the legal process.

"We can't deny citizens rights to act out under state law whatever process they fell is appropriate, it's not against the law and it's their right to continue," Delius said in regards to holding a re-vote. He added that the process is "frustrating, but that's what democracy is all about."

Lindgren questioned the cost of a re-vote and suggested that by disclosing that amount, perhaps it would discourage people from more "frivolous re-voting," Doris Knetchel of the Planning Commission said their was a primary vote, so there was no extra cost and if there is a re-vote for this matter, the same action will be taken for the November election.

However Lawley concurred that he did not agree with the entire way the board went about the process and felt the bond should not have been including in it at all.

"I said from the beginning this whole thing was done wrong," Lawley said.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275


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