The June 13th meeting of the Long Beach Town Council was a contentious one, with charges and countercharges about the lack of transparency by local government being flung back and forth. At the conclusion of the meeting, Councilwoman Jane Starr Neulieb made the following comment:
“I want to make sure that everyone understands that open access to your government is very important to us, and if you look at the (town) website there is proof before your very eyes…every meeting minutes….We have gone to great lengths to assure that we have an open and transparent government here….” (Long Beach Town Council Meeting, 06/13/16 Min. 2:27:03-2:28:30)
So she says, but others say that the only time Mrs. Neulieb, Mr. Byvoets and the others care about governmental candor is when it suits their interests. Who is right? Let’s examine the facts.
May 16, 2016, Meeting of the Advisory Plan Commission (APC). (Present: Patrick Cannon, Chairman, Peter Byvoets, Mike Gorman, Maureen Healy, Richard Jercich, Robert LeMay.) At the beginning of the meeting Patrick Cannon saw to it that a rule was adopted which restricted the court reporter to recording video only the meeting itself. She was prohibited from recording video of anything occurring in the public meeting place before or after the meeting. There was no discussion and no dissent by the six members present. At the end of the meeting, well after the rule had already been adopted, Cannon attempted to explain that his real reason for the rule was concern that citizens present would have their rights violated by being eavesdropped upon. The veracity of this assertion can be ascertained by any concerned resident simply by watching the lengthy portion of the pre-meeting buzz which occurred that very day. One would have to shout to be recorded, and if one did that they would have waived any expectation of privacy. Does a board or commission even have the power to restrict the constitutional rights of citizens at times when the meeting itself is not in progress? It is submitted that the tardily stated “concern” expressed by Mr. Cannon was not the real reason for the proposal and adoption of this unconstitutional rule. The real reason was the discovery and relation to you, the public, of Mr. Cannon’s previous attempt to (See “Secret Meetings Are Not Transparent”) conceal the workings of your local government from you, the citizens of Long Beach. It is worth repeating at this point that Mr. Cannon has been an officer and very influential in the Long Beach Community Alliance, was a leader of the Long Beach Party which won the November Election, and is a former lawyer. He can hardly claim not to know the constitutional implications of his actions, nor to be ignorant of the policy of the State of Indiana promoting openness in government. Neither can be advanced by holding secret meetings or muzzling people trying to tell the public what their government is doing.
Possibly even more revealing and worse for the future of liberty and property rights in our town, is the way that this issue was handled by Town Board President Peter Byvoets at the same meeting at which Mrs. Neulieb was trying to convince us about how open and honest the board was being with us.
When asked by a resident whether the APC (of which he is a member) voted on the matter related above, Mr. Byvoets denied it and in fact said that “There was no such vote”). As has already been seen the Commission voted a formal rule to hamper the court reporter’s freedom, a meeting at which he was and admitted to be present. So why lie? Isn’t he afraid of being caught? Well, he didn’t actually lie, you see. He was asked about an ordinance and not a rule. So he no doubt felt he was free to deny it…, and I feel free to report it. This is something you as citizens should know. In addition to being a zealot associated with the Long Beach Alliance, Mr. Byvoets has apparently taken the same ethics course of which a certain former President was a star pupil (“It depends upon what the meaning of ‘is’ is.) If you do not ask him precisely the right question, he feels justified in deceiving you. He may well know the information you are trying to obtain, but unless you are precise, you will not get it. He will tell the literal truth, but not the whole truth. Do you want another example? Here is another from the same meeting. A statement was made that Mr. Byvoets was going to have the deputy town clerk arrested (she was following her boss’s order to attend the “executive session” scheduled for May 19th at the previous Town Meeting). Mr. Byvoets denied it. It then became apparent that although he did not literally threaten to arrest her, he did threaten to call the police (something which he does frequently). He was asked if he was calling them to give the deputy clerk a “good citizens award”, and he said she “was never going to be arrested”. Then why was he calling the police, and if this was so, why didn’t he reveal what really happened the first time he was asked? The reason, just like it is with his deception about the Cannon suppression of the 1st Amendment rights of the court reporter, is that he wished to leave an impression with the listener that was not true. This is our Town Board President, folks. Perhaps this is one reason some people have begun referring to him as “Sneaky Pete Byvoets”.
As stated previously, it is the official policy of the State of Indiana that local government be open and transparent with its citizens. Secrets can hurt. An example of this is what just happened to Aaron Tomsheck. Aaron Tomsheck was appointed Building Commissioner by the previous administration. He replaced the previous building commissioner, who was terminated after being accused of “pushing” Peter Byvoets (Byvoets again!). Aaron did well in his first several months as interim building commissioner, so much so that his position was made permanent and full time before the expiration of the previous administration’s term. He received sterling employee evaluations. The trouble started for him as soon as the new administration began in January. His job description was changed. An alliance member was detailed to follow him around and hector him, making novel and irritating requests for time consuming and irrelevant information and forms, Councilwoman Neulieb parked herself in his office and refused to leave. (This must have been in pursuance of her stated goal of providing “open access” to our government) A number of other things were done to “encourage” Aaron to quit and it was common knowlege that the new Town Board wanted another Alliance member, a local contractor, as building commissioner.
Tomsheck kept trying to do his job. Upon checking with the State of Indiana he was advised that the ordinance establishing the building commission was invalid because it had not been approved by the State, which he had been informed was a requirement. Aaron advised the Building Commission of this in their regularly scheduled meeting on May 13, 2016. At the next regularly scheduled meeting on June 10, 2016. Peter Byvoets was also present at both meetings. (Naturally!) At this meeting Aaron presented to the Commission a letter he had received from John A. Hawkins, Chairman of the State’s Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission. Mr. Hawkins essentially corroborated what Aaron had already related, the upshot being that many of our building ordinances, including that establishing the commission, were or might be invalid.
Instead of rewarding Aaron Tomsheck for his diligence, our Town Board scheduled a “special” meeting for June 17th at 3:00 p.m. The meeting was scheduled with minimum notice to the public and at a time when there were many competing events scheduled that would help hold public participation down. At this meeting, Aaron Tomsheck was summarily fired. No reason was given, no discussion was had, and in fact it was forbidden by Peter Byvoets. So was public comment. Aaron was replaced by the alliance member and local contractor they wanted all along so that he could be in charge of building permits. The video of this “meeting” has been posted on (www.accesslaportecounty.org , Long Beach Town Council Special Meeting, June 17, 2016.) It is only about 5 minutes long and you are invited to view it and satisfy yourselves upon what kind of people we elected to run our town.
One final note. The Title of this article is “Secrets Hurt”. It may already seem obvious what secrets and falsehoods are being perpetrated on we, the residents of Long Beach, but there is one more thing to consider. Aaron Tomsheck was fired with no reason given and no discussion. He said himself that he had never been given a reason for his sudden dismissal. Byvoets handed him a letter which of course had to be prepared in advance of the meeting. How then was our “open” Town Board able to arrive at such a quick decision? If you are a responsible public official wouldn’t you want to be sure that you were doing the right thing? Wouldn’t you want to ask the people moving for the dismissal (LeMay and Neulieb) why this man should be fired? Wouldn’t you want to discuss the qualifications of his successor with Jane Neulieb, who proposed him? How do these people communicate with one another, by osmosis? Where do they get together to discuss things, some alliance member’s home? You know it had to be in secret before the meeting. Why do you draft letters unless you already know the results? Was it at their secret “executive session” where they threatened the deputy clerk with the police? Is this how Mrs. Neulieb contends that she and the others have “gone to great lengths to assure that we have an open and transparent government here”?
Byvoets, Neulieb and the others also continue to refuse to provide us with information about why our attorney fees are exploding. All they permit us are truncated, heavily redacted billing statements and insufficient explanations about why this is so.
Peter Byvoets was asked about whether they were having secret meetings with the town attorney at a town board meeting and denied ever being at a secret meeting…oh wait, he denied ever being at a “serial” meeting and you know how he is…. Maybe we will have to ask him again. There is no doubt that secrets do indeed hurt, especially if you are Aaron Tomsheck….ed