Phone call recorded, suit threatened
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Just as Trustee Scott Schoonmaker was asking for a vote to fire Village Manager John Barbarite at the December 1 Monticello Village Board meeting, Barbarite handed something to Trustees Carmen Rue and Victor Marinello.
It turned out to be an incomplete transcript of a village hall phone conversation Rue had with Marinello on November 18.
The transcript only includes selected bits of the call, including mention of a conversation between Rue and former Village Manager Ray Nargizian, some profanity, and an accusation that Barbarite is putting pressure on Code Enforcement Officer Sue Flora not to testify in lawsuits against the village.
Rue’s husband, Tom, sent out a press release on Carmen’s behalf last week, alleging that Barbarite was attempting to intimidate the two trustees.
Barbarite subsequently denied trying to blackmail the trustees and said he had planned to bring it up in executive session.
“We wanted to find out her reaction,” he explained.
The press release, however, states that “neither party to the telephone conversation knew they were being tape-recorded.”
“We did not tape her,” replied Barbarite. “We don’t know how it got on the phone. We don’t tape phone calls.”
The village manager speculated that the voicemail system was activated because the village hall was closed at that time.
He said an employee subsequently found the message on her voicemail and told him about it. He listened, made his own recording of the conversation, and attempted to filter out the static by running it through a program on his home computer.
Barbarite said he wasn’t able to clear up enough interference to hear one of the speakers, though he believes it was Marinello, who frequently deals with board paperwork inside the village hall in the evening.
Rue’s comments, however, were clear enough to be transcribed, and according to Barbarite, they may indicate “collusion” with former Manager Ray Nargizian and attorneys for plaintiffs currently suing the village.
“I don’t know if it’s incriminating or not,” he said, though he is considering having a professional firm filter out Marinello’s comments “if push comes to shove.”
But why suddenly present it to the two trustees just before a vote on his employment?
“We were going to give it to them in executive session prior to the meeting,” Barbarite claimed, blaming the situation on Rue, whom he alleged boycotted two previously scheduled executive sessions. (Those sessions were never held due to the lack of a quorum.)
During the December 1 meeting, Schoonmaker continued to oppose an executive session to talk about the Barbarite vote. Since it appeared that an executive session was not going to happen, Barbarite said he decided to give Marinello and Rue the transcript then and there.
After a protracted argument, however, the board ultimately did go into executive session. But by then, Rue and Marinello had the transcript.
Rue remained furious in an e-mail interview last week.
“Barbarite’s explanation of the voicemail magically activating itself when an outgoing call was made from the trustees’ private office is ridiculous and obviously bogus,” Rue said. “It also doesn’t justify the way he used the recording.”
She’s notified law enforcement authorities and is considering legal action for invasion of privacy and coercion.
“Not only did Barbarite listen in on a private conversation, on which he had no right to intrude, he transcribed it to advance his personal interests,” she said. “He knowingly, intentionally, and in my opinion unlawfully, used it to prevent elected representatives his bosses from voting the way our individual consciences tell us is right.”
But what of Barbarite’s suspicion that Rue is working with Nargizian to unseat village administration?
Nargizian declined to comment, but Rue was incensed.
“Barbarite is paranoid. If I talk to someone on John’s list of enemies, fantasies come into his mind and he starts making slanderous accusations. He should be more careful,” she remarked. “I represent 7,000 people and the corporate interests of the village. I am always willing to listen to complaints that people have.”
She also denied boycotting any special meetings.
“No special meetings were legally called,” Rue claimed, explaining she was notified of both meetings via e-mail by Barbarite. “I can’t speak for Victor or Scott, but I knew these attempts were illegal because only board members can call a special meeting. Barbarite is just an employee.
“... Also, Barbarite’s notices gave no clue what he wanted to discuss. Now it is clear that he just wanted to try to embarrass and blackmail us,” she added.
Rue is demanding Barbarite resign.
“There is nothing bad or incriminating on Barbarite’s transcript of our conversation. But he successfully used it to throw the meeting into confusion and delay the board from firing him,” she said. “... I call on him to surrender all of the illegally made audio recordings of private telephone conversations that are in his possession starting with this one over to the New York State Police. He should also resign immediately. Or the board should fire him even if it’s for these actions alone.”
She feels the same way about Barbarite’s chief defender, Mayor Gordon Jenkins.
“He is an embarrassment to himself and to all of Sullivan County,” she said. “He should resign.”
Marinello focused on Barbarite, agreeing with Rue the transcript is being used as a threat.
“It was literally thrown at us,” he remarked yesterday.
He also considers the taping illegal, noting that he made an outgoing call to Rue, not vice-versa (and for village business, he added).
“I think it’s outrageous,” he said of the situation. “... I just find it very disturbing.”
He vowed to determine how the taping happened and stop it in the future.
“I’m not going to tolerate that,” he stated. “The village board is not going to be held hostage to John Barbarite or other individuals. ... It’s not good government.”