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The Bullies’ Pulpit: Huntington’s Town Board

It’s a rainy summer day in Huntington.  Business travel has really beaten me up over the last few weeks so the constant showers provide a perfect excuse to stretch out on the couch and catch up on some much-needed loafing.

Nothing much on TV.  The Mets game doesn’t start until 4:10; the Yanks are rained out. So, I start to channel surf. I stumble upon Verizon’s channel 38, the public service station that’s been reserved for the Town of Huntington’s (TOH) community programs.

And suddenly . . . . . . . a circus in Town. For there, before my very eyes, is a political spectacle worthy of the performances usually reserved for actors in works by William Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams.  From the irrationality of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to Absurdist-style theatrical conventions including mime, gibberish, heightened rhetoric, codified language and feigned civility, the re-broadcast events of the Town Board’s August 2nd meeting held my undivided attention for nearly 90 minutes. Admittedly, to someone who’s in Town every day, this is old news.  But to those of us who must be out of Town frequently, the spectacle was appalling!

As resolution after resolution was introduced by various Board (bored?) members, routine traffic regulations, parade permits, and code changes found their way to approval. But when issues of local government finance, the running of Town government, and the awarding of a contract to a vendor with ties to a Town Board member arose, the business-as-mundane atmosphere turned into a scene reminiscent of a junior high school playground replete with taunters, bullies, by-standers, and a hallway monitor.

To wit, the recorded “exchange” between Councilman Mark Mayoka who challenged Supervisor Frank Petrone’s assessment of an independent auditor’s comments about Town Board finances, to the “discussions” between Mayoka, Petrone, and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson concerning several ancillary issues, were a study in crass bullying.  On the one side, Petrone and Cuthbertson repeatedly ganged up on Mayoka like teenage thugs in a back alley rumble. Gesturing vividly, repeatedly interrupting and attempting to belittle Mayoka’s observations, Petrone and Cuthbertson acted like their (and ONLY their) opinions held validity. They repeatedly stepped on Mayoka’s comments and interrupted his thoughts. And, as all of this was going on, Councilwomen Susan Berland and Glenda Jackson sat submissively on the sidelines; obviously following their political marching orders while simultaneously failing to represent the interests of those whom they are sworn to serve.

To be fair, some of Mayoka’s complaints were petty and unsubstantiated.  He asserted, for example, that there was no contingency plan should the Town lose its share of the State’s annual mortgage tax revenue. At the same time, he responded to Cuthbertson’s and Petrone’s taunts with his own series of interruptions, placing himself in the same political cauldron as his antagonists.

In viewing the August 2nd Town Board proceedings, I am reminded of Teddy Roosevelt’s description of what he called a bully pulpit.  To him, “bully” meant “protagonist” and he saw the U.S. presidency as a place that allowed him to politely speak out on matters of great national importance. Roosevelt famously used the word bully as an adjective meaning “superb” or “wonderful.” “Bully for you” became an expression with the same meaning as “Good for you” and took on very positive tones.

Some members of the current Huntington Town Board use their “bully” pulpit in an entirely inappropriate way. As evidenced by the video from the August 2nd meeting, they try to demean those with contrasting opinions and “bully” (as in schoolyard hooligan) them into submission.

Regardless of whose opinion is right or whose political position will prevail, the Town Board desperately needs to reintroduce civility to its proceedings. Acting like a bunch of spoiled brats does nothing to further the image of our community nor does it achieve our mutual objective to provide a safe, comfortable, secure and stable environment in which to raise our families.

What do you think?

Editor’s note:  Justin Thompson is VT’s investigative reporter and rarely writes op-ed pieces.

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17 comments to The Bullies’ Pulpit: Huntington’s Town Board

  • Molly

    I agree Justin. I used to go the meetings to try and stay abreast of what is happening in our town but became so depressed after witnessing the superior attitude of the Board members, the under handed deals and the feelings of futility that anything will ever change that I stopped attending. I can only hope that there will be some new “blood” voted in this fall but I almost want to kick myself for allowing a glimmer of hope that there are some honest politicians out there.

  • Marshall Field

    Very Good article. A little harsh on Mayoka but still a good look at the machinations of this town board. It’s not pretty. According to Mayoka who is an accountant by trade, Supervisor Petrone has stated the state has given the town a clean bill of health by recently auditing the town finances. Problem is according to Mark Mayoka the term recent means a long time ago in reality. Mark said it was back in 1996 when the town was last audited by the state.A lot has happened to Huntington in those 15 years and not for the good.

  • The whole thing is a joke but not funny when its the tax payers money being mishandled.Lets hope the next election will cause the board to become less one sided.

  • The only answer

    We need term limits. Last time it came up. the Board got to vote no and give themselves the opportunity for lifetime jobs. Petrone and Cuthbertson are rude and arrogant. Cuthbertson’s private practice has relationships with many of the same businesses that get granted town business and downzones. This needs to stop. Mr. Thompson, a great idea would be to publish and update the campaign contributions for Susan and Glenda as we head deeper into the election. I think most readers would be very concerned when they can’t help but connect the dots.

  • Guilty Tatic

    The guilty usually get defensive and try to bully the interrogator. We all feel there’s much more under the covers here. I suspect when other town staff (Highway dept, etc.) retire, we will find out more about shady dealings.

  • Trisha

    When the time comes to vote, vote for the person who is after the integrity that is so lacking in BOTH parties. Vote for the person who has years invested in this town, who has passion for all the issues and knowledge of what really goes on. Vote for the person who cant be bought off and wants only to serve this town and make it a better place. Vote for Vivienne Wong. I know I will.

  • My Town Too

    Our school board members have to sign a document stating that they do not have any financial interests in any of the contracted services that are approved for the district. This is a requirement each year from the auditors. And if there is ever any question or hint of “impropriety”, they abstain from voting on the issue.

    I would think our town board members would also have a similar requirement? And if they do, and Cuthbertson (and perhaps others) do have connections, why and how are they getting away with it?

  • Anon

    The Behavior in question has been on display for all for sometime. I find it fairly ironic that these medium fish (Town Board) in a small pond (Town Politics) in their ever growing need to feed their ego’s put themselves on display on a local cable TV channel. They have now exposed themselves to the entire town. There is no way a rational person can look at Cuthbertson waving his arms and hands like a fool and think he has an ounce of integrity. And Frank with the finger pointing gestures looking like he is going to blow his top. What a sad bunch of people. In a real business, one must be composed show intelegence and tact. I guess it is their collective lack of those characteristics that make them so nervous about losing the up coming election. That and once the voting block is gone I think we are going to find some very interesting practices that have been going on in town hall.

  • John Vogt

    Mark Mayoka needs some help. We finally have someone on the ball and to see him get pelted by our other self-serving elected thugs is disheartening.

    I will have to tune into C38 to witness for myself some of this excitment.

  • Bully is right

    Every board meeting ANYtime ANYone has an opposing opinion or asks for information Petrone and Cuthbertsen behave with this nasty tone, hurling accusations, and changing the topic to how offended they are . The ONLY time they can even ACT as if they are civil is at one of thier many “photo ops” Maybe some of the questions or suggestions should be saved for “on camera ” at the next ribbon cutting ceremony. And spot on assessment re:Berland and Jackson, no doubt they are not permitted to participate in any honest exchange of information either. Hard to believe Besin isnt still in office –he fit right in with Petrone and Cuthbertsens tone.

  • I respectively disagree with you. My comment regarding the mortgage recording tax revenue was especially on point and relevant.In 2010, as per our Comprehensive Annual Financial Report the Town of Huntington Received over 9 million dollars in the form of “State Aid” from mortgage recording tax revenue. The loss of any state revenue will negatively impact our town finances.The most recent Federal Budget reduces State Aid. This will have a domino effect and will directly impact local governmnets across the country. It would not be responsible to ignore the fact that we as a town will lose at least some “State Aid” in the future. Accordingly, we should plan for such contingencies and be proactive. If you have any questions regarding my comments I am always available and would be happy to provide you with any clarification.

  • My Town Too

    Thank you Mark for your reply to my earlier e-mail regarding the land sold by the town to the state for $3 million.
    Here’s his reply to me:

    “********,
    I have been awaiting a response from the Town Attorney, John Leo, who has failed to provide me with the details of the transaction of the specific piece of property sold from the Town of Huntington to NYS as per the CAFR. My inquiry was later referred to another, ‘outside attorney’ and I am still awaiting a response. I apologize for the delay, however this has been the standard. As soon as I receive a response, I will certainly forward along to you as well.

    Thank You,

    Councilman Mark Mayoka”

    Par for the course, they are still stonewalling Mr. Mayoka, keeping information from him that should be easily available to him as an elected official, if not public info at the very least!

  • Marshall Field

    Supervisor Petrone uses his powers sometimes abusively. Stonewalling on information that should be public is part of his modus operandi and has been for 18 years.

  • Why not "foil"?

    Why does an “outside attorney” have this information and not the town attorney? And how does an “outside attorney” get this work assigned if the information is not available to the town attorney? Who is the “outside attorney”? Was this “outside attorney” previously employed by the town? And as I understand, dont we employ plenty of attorneys in the town, if so why does the town need “outside attorneys” so often anyway?

  • My Town Too

    Mayoka didn’t say John Leo didn’t have the information, he just hasn’t gotten a reply from him. I’d say Leo had something to do with the land transaction and is now keeping his hands off the info by passing the request off to someone with “clean” hands. As usual, this move just adds to the “stink”.

  • RIDDLA

    yes, he did say it!!

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