Anya Tikka | Democrat
Council member Ned Lang, right, is at the center of the argument in the Town Council. Andrea Reynosa, Chair of TLDC and in charge of the Community Garden Project at the meeting.
Community garden controversies continue
Story by Anya Tikka
NARROWSBURG May 31, 2013 Heated exchanges took place at the May Tusten Town Board meeting between Councilman Ned Lang and former Councilmember Andrea Reynosa, who lost her seat to Lang last November.
At the heart of the matter is the location, and supply of water and soil for, the Community Garden, as well as the status of those who worked on it last summer.
Lang asserted the Community Garden is located on land privately owned by Reynosa at Skydog Farms. Reynosa now chairs the Tusten Local Development Council (TLDC) that runs the Community Garden. Lang charged that TLDC used interns last year who got paid, but proper forms were not reported to the IRS.
Lang stated, “TLDC is a part of the town council, and as such, has the same responsibilities and the same issues of conflict. Last year Reynosa… had kids working at the community garden at her farm. The town attorney (Jeffrey Clemente) said they weren’t independent contractors, and they weren’t town employees; they were independent paid volunteers. You can’t have paid volunteers, so I talked to the IRS and there’s a program to help defer any fine or penalties. We’re just finding out all this information.”
He also said, “I called them (IRS) because there’s laws [being] broken. IRS agrees with me, because if you’re paid you have to pay taxes. That’s the problem, things weren’t done right, and I found out about it… There’s conflict of interest, and we need to rectify it.”
Lang said he’s found out about a deal with IRS to avoid penalties and fees that the town has to sign.
The council debated the matter and it was referred to the next meeting while the town seeks to find an alternate attorney to Town Attorney Jeffrey Clemente, who has clashed with Lang.
The Community Garden was again the source of renewed controversy at the May meeting. An unidentified Community Garden representative stood up and asked for help in getting a donated load of compost to the garden.
Lang asked, “You’re asking the highway superintendent to use the town truck to take the compost to the Community Garden? This is a commercial enterprise. Public funds can’t be used on private property.”
The speaker replied, “I understand, but this is a small town. It’s for the TLDC.”
The discussion that followed involved all board members. Anthony Ritter asked Eileen Falk, “Eileen, you’ve been on this board for longer than anybody else, 25 years. Five minutes ago you asked for everyone to pitch in. This is a onetime situation where she wants to move soil. We’re making such a mountain out of this.”
Ritter then turned to Lang, saying, “You’re making interrogations about where the garden is. If this is a community garden, she’s asking for a favor, and I don’t have a problem with that.”
Lang stated, “It needs to stay on public property.”
Finally Falk interjected, “I’ll use my truck, for God’s sake!”
Supervisor Carol Ropke Wingert called for order several times during the meeting when Lang spoke over her, to which he replied, “I speak when I want to.”
Some members of the public seemed to have had enough, and vented their feelings during public comment session.
Bernie Creamer, a regular at the meetings, admonished the council, “You all work for us. We listen to you argue all the time. You’re like children.”
Morgan Puett, who owns a business in town, took it from there saying, “I’m just appalled at the bullying by one of our board members and the talking over you. I have to sit here and witness this and I would have to stand up with Bernie and say, ‘This is ridiculous.’ We voted for our board that’s actually wasting our tax dollars by suing itself by one of the members. It’s an embarrassment to this American small town. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
The room echoed with loud applause.
Lang responded, “That’s the law.”
To which Puett replied, “Sir, your behavior is counterproductive on every dialogue, for everything you have a counterpoint, that’s counterproductive.”
Lang made the point that everything should be transparent in government, and while everyone seemed to agree on that, many present at the meeting seemed to think Tusten is a small town with small town procedures and traditions where cooperation sometimes overrides bureaucracy.