On September 7, 2016, a meeting concerning the proposed Capital Improvement Tax (“CIT” also known as the “CCD” Tax) was held in the Long Beach School Gymnasium. After a brief problem with the air conditioning and microphone, the moderator, Steve McKinney, an official with the Indiana Department of Local Finance opened the meeting.
A number of witnesses for the remonstrators were then presented, and several letters from other remonstrators were read into the record by William DeFuniak, the Town Clerk. After this had been done, the supporters of the tax had an opportunity to present their side. This took the same form, with several speakers and several letters being read into the record. Among the speakers were Patrick J. Cannon, current Chairman of the APC, Doria LeMay, wife of Robert LeMay, a member of the Town Board, Jane Neulieb, a member of the Town Board, David Albers, Fire Chief, Kendra Bartlett, daughter of Town Board President Peter Byvoets, and former chairman of the Park Board, Peter Byvoets, Town Board President, and others.
The upshot of the remonstrators’ objections centered upon two major issues: (1) That the tax will be misused to pay bills other than capital improvements (not directly, but indirectly, by paying for things not forbidden but which are otherwise being paid out of the general fund, shuffling around money, robbing Peter (Byvoets) to pay (Julie) Paulson, the Town Attorney. In short, these residents do not believe their politicians do what they promise to do, or the reasons why they say they want the reimposition of the tax. (2) That there are questions about whether our volunteer fire department needs new equipment and whether or not there is a more cost effective and efficient way of dealing with the problem of fire in Long Beach.
The arguments of the supporters of the tax were more varied, but may be listed in general as follows: (1) The remonstrators are mean -spirited and are acting in bad faith. (2) There are some evil rich people who have vowed to bankrupt the Town by creating huge legal bills. (3) The legal bills are not our fault. We haven’t sued anyone. (4) We need the money to pay our legal bills (yes, you read it right!); and (5) Poor me! Let’s take the general problem first, and then deal with the supporters’ arguments seriatim.
Residents are concerned that if the money is going to be used for the fire department, that all reasonable options, such as leasing the services of other fire departments, like Michigan City, have not been explored. We are not going to explore it now either, but those concerned should be on notice that we will when the issue is ripe. This is too expensive and important a proposition for all residents to be considered a “sacred cow” or to be glossed over and passed without close scrutiny.
The reason for the scrutiny on this and all other issues was stated succinctly by Bill DeFuniak, the Town Clerk, at the September 12, 2016 Meeting of the Town Council, as he was defending himself from the board members who were criticizing him for reading residents’ letters into the record. Mr. DeFuniak attempted to explain that although he supported the tax himself he had to read the letters into the record at the September 7th Meeting because Mr. McKinney would not accept them or make them part of the record unless he did so. The board seemed to believe that the opinions of the residents who could not take off from work to be there personally should not be heard, and Peter Byvoets even suggested that the Clerk should forward letters that he received directly to Byvoets and the other board members. When asked why the residents didn’t want their communications sent to him or the other board members, Byvoets was told bluntly that it was because the residents did not trust him.
There is a credibility deficit in our town government since the change of administrations in January, and it is different from anything else we have ever experienced. It grows from month to month because it is obvious to those who look closely that our Town Board talks about transparency but practices opacity. There are a number of examples of this, far too many to bore the reader with here, except for a few of the more blatant ones.
Last Fall, the opposition was attempting to discover the secret ordinances that it suspected Peter Byvoets had been drafting with the help of the Town Attorney and at our expense, but were unable to do so. Attorney bills were withheld under a bogus claim of privilege, sub-committee members were not forthcoming, officials staged distractions, and Byvoets was evasive. As soon as he became Town Board President, however, there were the new ordinances, as though they had sprung fully grown from the head of Zeus. Mr. Byvoets spent at least 30 minutes during the February meeting regaling the residents with tales of all the ways he had been transparent. He just could not understand how the opposition did not know about these new ordinances. Those who had tried to discover his work product were mystified as well, since they were certain that they had looked at all the sources that he was now talking about and found nothing. New positions in town government were another issue. When at the February meeting it was observed that all the board positions then appointed save one were filled by members of the Long Beach Community Alliance, that fact was not denied. Instead, Mr. Byvoets expressed mystification that people did not come forward and volunteer. He then admitted that the slots were not advertized, that the public was not advised what was open or what talents were desired and that this was his responsibility. He did not state further how members of the public who were not members of the Long Beach Party or the Alliance would know what was open and what slots the new administration needed to fill. Pat Cannon and other Alliance members did not deny that all but one of the slots then available had been filled by alliance members, but instead asked how the questioner could possibly know that. You can look it up.
A number of other things have occurred since then: The secret meeting where they decided to fire Aaron Tomsheck; getting photos of the deputy clerk’s house and presenting them at a meeting to intimidate her; continuing to withhold attorney fee charges from the people and even from the clerk who must pay them, despite decisions from state agencies that they ought to be released to the public, and The LBCA being granted special dispensation by the BZA for four special meetings without charge. Significantly, properly submitted attorney bills do not contain confidential information subject to attorney-client privilege, but do contain information about what the attorney did in the way of services, who they talked to, the general subject matter, etc. This Town Board does not want us to have that. Why? Some residents believe it is because despite the State of Indiana’s policy of open government, this board does not trust us with having enough integrity or intelligence to understand or deal with problems affecting our town. Odd that, since we have done so for nearly 100 years. Nevertheless they do not trust us. They prefer to operate in secret and to impose their decisions upon us. We do not need to know. They know what is best for us. If you have any doubt about this, watch the videos of the various meetings, particularly Town Board meetings. Watch how virtually every matter is disposed of with no discussion and no dissenting votes. How do you think they arrived at their decision?
At the September 7th CIT meeting. The first speaker for the proponents of the tax was Patrick J. Cannon. Mr. Cannon advocated strongly for the tax and assailed the remonstrators as dishonest spoilsports who lost the election and could not deal with it. He stated that he secured a petition with 204 signatures on it supporting the tax, and each signature represented a conversation of approximately 10 minutes to obtain it. (9-7-16Meeting. Time 1.29.40-1.35) According to Mr. Cannon most residents in the survey which was done want improvements.
A closer look at Pat Cannon is appropriate at this point. He is a vigorous advocate for his point of view. It is he who was instrumental in founding the Long Beach Community Alliance, (“LBCA”) and according to him he remained an officer in it at least until August, 2015. He founded and led the Long Beach Party. It is he who secured the election of his slate by propagating the “big lie”; that is, the falsehood that the beach front property owners wanted to close the beach to everyone else. He was successful, apparently convincing a majority of voters that there was something to this canard, though even a casual inspection of the allegation reveals both its falsity and its inherent impossibility. Underlying the “big lie” is the darker shadow of class envy and prejudice which is what was really being pedaled. Though Mr. Cannon holds only the chairmanship of the APC Committee, there are many who believe he is still in control of events and operates the levers of power to some degree in the current Long Beach Government, the LBCA and the Long Beach Party, especially since he is a member of a large extended family, most of whom are also involved in town government. He is one of the reasons that there is a trust deficit in local government, and in any event he has missed the point about why people do not favor the tax. Many, if not most residents, favor improvements. What they do not favor is this town government, which has already given them ample reason to distrust it being responsible for deciding how the money raised will be spent. (For several examples of Pat Cannon’s attempts at secrecy, see: “Secret Meetings Are Not Transparent” and the first several paragraphs of “Secrets Hurt”)
Fire Chief David Albers also made a statement, much of which was devoted to his contention that a resident of the Town, whose “identity I will protect until my dying day” told him that the resident was going to bankrupt the Town with legal fees. (9-7-16 Meeting. Time: 2.11)
Kendra Bartlet read her husband Jeffrey’s letter into the record (see: “It’s A Family Affair”) then gave a somewhat rambling statement of her own. Though most of us know it, she did not reveal her connection to Peter Byvoets (daughter). Ms. Bartlett argued that there was some interest in securing an even greater tax increase than the 3% requested and said that for those residents criticizing the amounts of the legal fees “you are not fooling anyone.” She repeated what has now become a mantra with this administration. “The extraordinary legal fees we are sustaining are not our fault because we are not Plaintiffs. We have filed no lawsuits.” The extraordinary legal expenses, she argues, are the fault of rapacious beach front owners, some of whom have confided in Ms. Bartlett that they intend to bankrupt the town. (9-7-16 Meeting. Time 2.23-2.26)
Her father stated essentially the same thing. (Beginning at 9-7-16 Meeting. Time: 2.41) As usual Peter Byvoets was mystified by why people are disgruntled, especially by the huge attorney fees for which he continues to refuse the full billing statements. After all, he maintains, we are suing no one. He went on to deny that the money would be used to pay attorney fees (See also 9-12-16 Meeting. Time: 1.45 et seq) and argued that local government under his administration is transparent. He maintained that no one had ever been denied budget information. (9-7-16 Meeting. Time: 1.47)
Then there was the inevitable Jane Starr Neulieb who, among other things, read a letter into the record from a California lawyer/activist who lives here part-time and always sees to it that her opinion is heard. Councilwoman Neulieb went on for awhile, eventually coming out with a gaff. As defined in politics a gaff is a statement which is accidentally true. She said,
“I’ve seen people with the ‘Os’ (objectors) on their shirts who are plaintiffs and who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep (the Town) in court so we have to pay these legal bills for their selfish concerns and they don’t even want us to raise the money so we can pay our lawyers. Do they want us to default?” (9-7-16 Meeting. Time: 1.48.30)
Put aside for a moment the obvious question of why Jane Neulieb would know how much money private citizens are paying their attorneys for the singular purpose of damaging a town they love, and ask yourself if any of you still think our representatives are telling us the truth about what they need this money for? Here a council member is inadvertently (and if you know Jane you know it is inadvertent) telling you what their true intention is, while the rest of them dance and obfuscate. You see, Mr. Byvoets and Mr. Cannon, this is why we do not trust you and it is the real reason why so many are against the CCD Tax.
There are several other things. The Council still will not give up unredacted attorney bills, and they keep making this inane argument about not being responsible because they are not suing anyone and some unidentified evil beach owners are trying to bankrupt the town. If you were an evil beach owner would you share with the fire chief and Peter Byvoets’ daughter how you were going to hurt them? If the Town put a stop order on your repair or construction of a sea wall to protect your property from the lake, would you let the lake take your house, or would you fight? In law, it is not necessarily who is the plaintiff that is important, it is who is responsible for the situation being sued over. If the town, using the club of government sets up a situation where a citizen must sue or be injured, who is responsible for the litigation? In the suits being talked about, the town is in each instance a defendant, but in each instance the town or the LBCA or both are at least partially responsible for the litigation. Sometimes the town or its leaders are wholly responsible.
If you need further examples of the duplicity and hypocrisy of the town leadership, consider this. Bill DeFuniak was unfairly attacked by the Council at the meeting on September 12th. (See the video of the meeting generally after Time 1.45) The reason he was attacked was his reading of the letters of residents at the 9-7-16 meeting. Keep in mind that Bill supported the reimposition of the tax. The reason he read the letters was so that those residents who could not be at the meeting because of conflicts could have their objections and the reasons therefore heard. The state official said that he would not accept the letters nor make them part of the record unless they were read into the record. So, because he is a serious public servant, despite the fact that he was on the opposite side of the issue, he read the letters into the record. He then read them the letter that he intended to send downstate. For this he was attacked by members of the council even though at least one of his attackers, Jane Neulieb, also read letters into the record. I wonder if they can spell hypocrisy?
Actually, they have been treating Bill poorly for awhile. They refused to continue to pay his lawyer (which he felt he needed because they were requiring him to pay bills that he did not believe were appropriately submitted), and his every action is questioned at almost every meeting. Despite that and the constant criticism, at the last meeting Mr. Byvoets told Bill he wanted him to turn over all communications that the Clerk sent to any resident. He stated, “Any information that leaves this building…we should know about it….” He also said, “I can’t think of anybody who has supported the Clerk/Treasurer more than I have. I have done everything in my power to make the Clerk/Treasurer’s Office and your job as easy as possible.” (9-12-16 Meeting. Time: 2.05) Is he in another universe?
He does intend to stay the course, however:
“I can guarantee you that no matter what the situation is we are going ahead with our plans. We believe that we are right and we were elected to do, and we will continue on that path…. (9-12-16. Time: 2.00)
Jane Neulieb followed up:
“I would just like to say that our democracy is built upon people who are elected doing the appointing. It would not be responsible for us to appoint people who would not further the agenda that we put out at election time.and for you (DeFuniak) to send a letter saying that was something wrong is very disingenuous….” (9-12-16 Meeting. Time: 2.08)
So, this is where we find ourselves folks. We are being presided over by a local government that we elected based upon a lie, a government run either by people who are hungry for power and want to establish a Daley family in Long Beach; mindless, controlling bureaucrats who have never been introduced to the truth, or fools and activist zealots. What to do?
It will be years before we can get rid of these people, but there are some things that we can do in the interim:
First, familiarize yourself with all of those on the town board, the BZA (except John Kocher), and the various other committees and boards. Make sure you never vote for any of them in future elections.
Second, stop feeding the beast. If you are contributing to the Long Beach Community Alliance, STOP IT! They are part of the problem! They are Pat Cannon’s pet and are run by flinty-eyed power seekers and peopled by zealots and activists in the influential positions. None make good public servants.
Third, call or write Bill Defuniak and tell him you appreciate him standing up for the rest of us.
Fourth, send in a comment or an article of your own and keep visiting our blog.
Peace out folks!
Note To Readers: After this was posted I was advised that the tax was approved by the State. Any bets on how long it will take Town Government to raise the rate?