Dan Hust | Democrat
MONTICELLO MAYOR GORDON Jenkins, right, tells landlord Ray Listig, left, that he's going to have the police escort him out of the meeting room if he doesn't take a seat. The tense scene Monday was witnessed by a large crowd, including LIstig's partner Susan Taylor and Village Trustee TC Hutchens.
On Monticello board, strife continues
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO April 25, 2008 Monticello’s village board meeting Monday got so heated a police officer ultimately had to stand watch over the packed room.
Though it was landlord Ray Lustig’s angry accusations against Village Manager John Barbarite that nearly got him thrown out by Mayor Gordon Jenkins, the crowd gasped when another landlord, Jozef Kowalczyk, read a letter claiming Barbarite called him a “g--d--n Polack.”
“He also said that he doesn’t want to see apartments for colored people or people with low income in the area that he resides in,” said Kowalczyk.
Barbarite sat quietly throughout the barrage, but Jenkins cut off Kowalczyk five minutes into the letter, saying, “I’m not going to sit here for 5-10 minutes of that.”
“He’s not degrading anyone,” replied resident Tom Rue, whose wife Carmen is a brand new trustee. “He’s entitled to speak.”
“This is not the time,” Jenkins shot back.
Lustig was similarly cut off while he read a letter accusing Barbarite of incompetence and willful disregard of village code and law.
“I’ve been tortured for nine months, and now’s my time [to speak],” protested an enraged Lustig, but Jenkins threatened to have him escorted out by a police officer if he didn’t obey the five-minute limit.
“I’m not going to tolerate that nonsense in this meeting,” said Jenkins, calling it “disruptive and disrespectful.”
Both Lustig and Kowalczyk own low-income apartment houses that have been cited by the village for alleged violations. Lustig’s property, 27 North Street, remains closed while he awaits an appeal of the court decision that affirmed the village’s position. Kowalczyk’s property, 39 High St., is still occupied, though he is fighting with the village to keep a certificate of occupancy.
Barbarite had dealt with both properties while he was deputy manager last year, prior to being fired by a 3-2 board vote in part due to an alleged racial slur.
That termination issue has dogged Barbarite since he was appointed village manager earlier this month in another 3-2 vote.
In an interview after Monday’s board meeting, Barbarite denied Kowalczyk and Lustig’s accusations, arguing that his former boss, now-resigned Village Manager Ray Nargizian, and others are coordinating an effort to get him fired once again.
“It’s all crap,” he remarked Wednesday, pointing out the diversity of his Cottage Street neighbors. “If I was a racist, I’d be living in another neighborhood.”
With no hard evidence to back up their statements, it’s turned into an obvious smear campaign, said Barbarite.
“It’s an easy charge to throw out and an impossible charge to defend,” he explained.
“We could stack the audience in our favor, too,” added Mayor Jenkins. “It’s easy to do that . . . but you don’t really want to go to that point.”
But judging by Monday’s meeting, the battle lines have already been drawn.
Tom Rue read a statement urging the board to work together but expressing disappointment and a lack of trust in the mayor. He also accused Barbarite of insulting him with “dehumanizing name-calling” a charge Barbarite later admitted to, saying he finally got fed up with Rue’s ongoing criticisms.
But Rue’s comments provoked resident Donald Thomas to speak, accusing Carmen Rue of turning on the mayor, with whom she ran on the “G-Man” line.
“You’re just running off at the mouth,” Thomas remarked. “I think you’re selfish. If it weren’t for this gentleman here [Jenkins], you wouldn’t be on this board… I don’t believe you are here to do the right thing for the people of the village.”
Timothy Gray, who was attending his first Monticello Village Board meeting, found fault with both sides.
“You all are disgraceful with your petty bickering and your political payback,” he commented to the room at large.
Urging trustees to seriously investigate any allegations of impropriety, he lamented that residents aren’t getting the services they deserve because village leaders and employees are caught up in dirty politics.
“Bury those hatchets,” he warned, “before someone uses them on you.”
But Jenkins put the blame squarely on others’ shoulders.
“We have sour grapes from the last election,” he told the crowd. “I keep saying this, and people don’t get it. If people will keep their comments to themselves and leave like the [former] mayor [Jim Barnicle] did, we will have a better Monticello.”
Gray attempted to respond, but Jenkins moved on to the next agenda item.
On Wednesday, the mayor explained why he had silenced speakers who were complaining about Barbarite and village policies noted by an audience that recalled his campaign promise of letting everyone speak their minds at village board meetings without the stopwatch Barnicle had famously employed.
“The meetings have gotten so out of hand,” Jenkins said. “I don’t like that five-minute rule, but everyone was playing the attack game. I would have been there all night.”
Besides, he added, “we all know the issues, so why should I sit there and let it go on?”
Saying he doesn’t shy away from controversial issues, Jenkins said he welcomes “positive attacks” but seeks to discourage personal “vindictive and nasty” quarrels.
“They should not come there to attack people,” he stated, promising he would limit such comments to two minutes if they persisted.
But he’s not so sure they will persist.
“Once all this settles,” he said of the elections and Barbarite’s reinstatement, “we’ll have a nice, clean meeting, I promise you.”