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Barbarite denies racial, political slurs

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — March 4, 2008 — According to Sullivan County Department of Family Services Housing Inspector Vincent Meyer, former Monticello Deputy Manager John Barbarite let one too many vulgarities slip out.
And one of them apparently played a role in his termination last week.
Responding to a FOIL request filed by the Democrat, yesterday Village Attorney Danielle Jose released a transcript of the taped deposition she took on February 6 from Meyer, who was accompanied by County Assistant Attorney Tom Cawley.
Barbarite got a copy about the same time yesterday and, after reading it, called it “completely untrue.”
Jose began her interview of Meyer by confirming that the village board had authorized an investigation of the matter, and Meyer had subsequently been subpoenaed.
Meyer told Jose that he had been working with Barbarite and Village Building Inspector Sue Flora over the past year, inspecting buildings that Monticello officials wanted closed or vacated.
Sometime in late summer or early fall, he recalled, he was having lunch with Flora and Barbarite when a discussion ensued about closing buildings without securing them.
“I made… the point that people were moving back into these closed buildings and using candles instead of, you know, because they had no electricity, it was shut off, and that something should be done to secure those buildings,” Meyer is quoted as stating.
“And Mr. Barbarite said, No. 1, he did not have any obligation to secure those buildings, and No. 2, that he hoped there would be a fire and that someone would die, and that would prove his point,” Meyer said.
“And my response was, ‘John, you really don’t want somebody to die in a fire,’” Meyer continued. “And he said to me, ‘Oh, you’re just a f------ liberal.’”
The alleged racial slur, however, came at a different time.
“We had just finished an inspection [on Cottage Street], and Mr. Barbarite and I were in front of the building,” Meyer recalled, adding that Flora was there too, but may have been too far away to hear their conversation.
A car occupied by Hispanics drove by, he said, and the passengers intensely eyed the officials because “they were employed by the owner of that building.
“After they went by,” said Meyer, “Mr. Barbarite said, ‘This really used to be a nice street until the Spics took over.’”
Meyer responded that his own mother is Spanish, to which he said Barbarite replied, “Oh, you don’t look it.”
“And at that point, I just got in my car and left,” Meyer concluded.
Barbarite does not recall it that way, and he said Flora doesn’t either. (Flora could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon, but Jose tentatively recalled Flora not only corroborating Meyer’s story but actually bringing it to village leaders’ attention.)
To prove his innocence, Barbarite said, “I’m willing to submit to lie-detector tests.”
He claimed Meyer is lying because he got “caught up” in the political intrigue surrounding the case.
“We probably shut down buildings that he did inspections of, certifying them as safe,” said Barbarite.
But Barbarite’s aim remains squarely on his own boss, Village Manager Ray Nargizian, who he feels is retaliating for Barbarite’s aggressive code enforcement, including buildings owned by Nargizian.
Nargizian, who had yet to see the transcript as of yesterday, declined to comment, except to say that “the village has turned a corner. We’re going in the right direction.”
But both Mayor Jim Barnicle and Trustee Victor Marinello confirmed that Barbarite’s departure was, in part, connected to the alleged racial slur. They joined with Trustee Brian VanDermark last Monday in a 3-2 vote to fire Barbarite.
“I think this alone is damning evidence,” said Barnicle, refusing to delineate the other issues that contributed to Barbarite’s termination. “We hope those who are offended will be comforted by our swift action to do the right thing.”
“I definitely feel this was the appropriate thing to do,” added Marinello. “Every resident must be treated with respect.”
Though he felt Barbarite had done a good job in a year as deputy village manager, Marinello said he had no reason to doubt Meyer, feeling the housing inspector would not have allowed himself to be tape-recorded if the allegations were not true.
“I don’t make decisions on a whim,” Marinello continued. “… These kinds of things are unacceptable. I don’t see any other recourse than what we did.”
Barnicle agreed, stating that Barbarite’s alleged actions should not be construed as a reflection of other village employees’ thoughts or behaviors.
VanDermark could not be reached for comment.
Trustee Scott Schoonmaker, who joined with fellow Trustee Gordon Jenkins in voting against Barbarite’s termination, had not yet seen the transcript yesterday afternoon.
“You have it before I have it,” he said to the Democrat. “This is what creates all the animosity in the village… Everyone knows our business but us!”
Jenkins also hadn’t seen the transcript yesterday afternoon, but he recalled having a conversation with Jose about it the prior week.
“I told Danielle that everything they’re going by is hearsay,” he said. “It’s easy to just accuse someone of something… People accuse [others] in this village all the time of racism and this and that.”
Jenkins, who is running against Barnicle for the mayoral seat in this March 18’s village elections, said he’s known Barbarite for a long time.
“I know he’s not a racist,” Jenkins, who is black, remarked. “… I think it’s just taking dirty shots at people.
“You can destroy a person by saying he’s a racist,” he continued. “But you really have to have some really good grounds.”
The issue is likely to be revisited at the next board meeting, where village leaders have indicated more answers may be forthcoming.
The issue may also head to court, as both Barbarite and Nargizian said they have retained lawyers in anticipation of litigation.

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