Secrets Hurt

 

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

Out Of Control Long Beach Government

May 17, 2016

Out of control Long Beach town government

The last four months have given anyone who has sat through city council meetings a small example of what to expect in the future. Unless stopped these politically unsophisticated petty elitist bureaucrats will pass through council any proposal that forwards their own agendas.

One obvious indisputable example is their quest to gain control of the town government. They would like nothing more than to be able to conceal questionable practices regardless of future consequences. The following examples of this are only the tip of the iceberg:

1) Using taxpayer money to pay legal expenses for a personal lawsuit by Pete (Byvoets) and Jane (Neulieb). Full amount according to town attorney not completely recovered.

2) Censorship of Lukman (Harris, Welsh & Lukman) bills by town attorney to prevent residents from reviewing what town legal fees are for.

3) Ridiculous waste of tax dollars (over $200,000.00) on a postage stamp sized park, a pet project overseen by Pete Byvoets’ daughter (Kendra Bartlett) without any survey to determine value to the community.

4) Ramrodding through by Pat Cannon of a comprehensive planning contract without review. This will be used to get recommendations that if implemented will effect the town for years to come.

5) Appointing by town president positions in the building commission, bza, comprehensive planning and immediate zoning of known alliance members. This rigging of the long beach committees by the council can ultimately cost the taxpayers untold legal fees and put unwarranted restrictions on residents.

6) Rampant nepotism with family members, board members and spouses appointed to town positions. Alliance corporate officers in key positions with power to make critical decisions. Comprehensive planning – Kathleen Geraghty and Pat Cannon, Bza – John Wall & Mike Gorman, Apc – Mike Gorman & Pat Cannon, all former or active alliance corporate officers. Byvoets’ daughter Kendra to Park Board. John Wall’s daughter secretary of bza. Joe Jogmen & Lenore Jogmen, Larry Wall, John Wall & John (Wall’s) daughter. The LBVFD (Long Beach Volunteer Fire Department) although not affiliated with the town is the worst. Some long time town employees don’t make as much as these new comers.

7) Finally, the demands of the Chief of a volunteer fire department which owns no equipment but has secured a no bid contract to use taxpayer dollars to protect Long Beach. This Fire Chief has repeatedly stated at town meetings that he can’t properly fight fires because of the structure heights and houses built on dunes. Changing codes now will not change the simple fact the while a code change will affect a small number of new homes it will not effect the town as a whole. Incredible as this may sound his demand for upwards of 2 million dollars to provide him with a new fire station and a new truck won’t change a thing but the town council is considering funding this fiasco.

Steps that should be taken:

Contact state representatives;

Alert the state ethics board;

Alert the prosecuting authorities;

Inform residents through the media and mailings.

All should be made aware of a mismanagement of tax dollars without accountability that border on criminal. When it comes to residents not being able to secure information on how the town money is used something must be done and done soon before it’s too late.

 

Robert Boyce,

Long Beach

Lack of Transparency Becomes Transparent

The May 9th meeting of the Town Council was unremarkable except for the very end of the meeting. Bill DeFuniak, the Town Clerk, raised the same issue he had spoken about at previous meetings, that of paying invoices for attorney fees to Harris, Welsh & Lukman, the town attorney where the invoices contained no detail about what services were rendered to justify the charges. When Board President Peter Byvoets asked if he couldn’t pay it anyway and solicited a vote to approve payment. Mr. DeFuniak stated that he had become concerned and called the State Board of Accounts for advice. He spoke to Susan Gordon, the second in command at the Board, who told him, “If I paid a bill with no detail I was breaking the Law.” (It is apparent why Mr. DeFuniak felt it was important to retain his own lawyer to review actions requested by this board). Mr. DeFuniak then told the others he would not pay the bill even if they approved it, unless it complied with the law.

Interestingly enough, informed sources tell us that Harris, Welsh & Lukman do not provide bills like this to other municipal clients.

Some additional context will be helpful here. During the Fall election campaign, the party opposing the current party in power requested through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) the detailed charges of the town attorney for several months. The purpose of this request, it can now be said, was to determine whether Board Member Peter Byvoets (now Board President) had been conversing with the town attorney about new ordinances which he was not revealing publicly, sharing with sub-committee members, nor sharing with other town board members. In other words, whether he was secretly preparing a raft of new ordinances that he could spring on the public with little notice or opportunity to discuss them. (Note that such ordinances were in fact presented very soon after the new board was sworn in, too soon not to have been developed during the preceeding administration.)

At the time of the FOIA request Mr. Byvoets, through the town attorney, asserted attorney-client privilege and denied the request. Due to lack of time before the election, the refusal was not followed up in court. After the new board took over, I raised this issue again and expressed my skepticism over the applicability of the privilege to public charges. This time I said that if they did not turn over the billing statements upon a proper request, we would compel their production in court. Following that, the town attorney began to submit invoices with no detail. It was these vague invoices that Bill DeFuniak objected to paying.

Wait, there’s more. When the Clerk told Mr. Byvoets that he would not pay the bill unless it was properly submitted, Mr. Byvoets said that they would vote on it and have a meeting on the issue “in executive session” (i.e. in secret).

A member of the audience then raised a point of order questioning the propriety of conducting such a meeting in secret, but Mr. Byvoets said that it was permissible, and Julie Paulson, the attorney from the Harris firm, said there were a list of exceptions to the rule, and without identifying one, said that executive session was permissible. When one of the board members started to ask a question, Paulson said she would talk to her “after the meeting”.

So, our Town Board is having a secret meeting to talk about their ability to keep their discussions about ordinances and other town business secret from us!

As in the previous article, “Secret Meetings Are Not Transparent“, this kind of thing has been a pattern of conduct with this group. There, despite the noticing of a meeting at the Town Center, sub-committee meeting Chairman Patrick Cannon adjourned a meeting with McKenna & Associates to a fellow Alliance member’s house to avoid public scrutiny.They do not really want want us to know what is really going on, and they do not really want to be transparent. They just want to appear as though they are being transparent.

Secret Meetings Are Not “Transparent”

On February 29, 2016, a meeting began at the Long Beach Town Center. The meeting had been posted on the Town’s website. The meeting was important. It was the first formal meeting which would be had between a governmental unit of the town government and McKenna & Associates, a company which would be selected to survey Long Beach residents regarding conditions in our town. This survey will serve as a basis for action by the Town Board which will affect all of us.

It is worth pointing out, at the outset, that one of the principal selling points of the Long Beach Party in the Autumn, 2015 Municipal Election, was the idea that somehow they would be more transparent than their opponents. One of their incumbent candidates had even been given a newly created “Miss Sunshine” award by the News Dispatch.

When the Chairman of the Comprehensive Plan Subcommittee of the Advisory Plan Commission (CPS-APC), Patrick Cannon, walked into the room at the Town Center he immediately saw that there was a court reporter and a videographer present. He expressed surprise that anyone knew of the meeting and then engaged in the following colloquy:

” MR. CANNON: I – – we were told by both attorneys’ office (sic) that this was not a meeting that was – – that we had to give notice to have anyone here. So, I guess, my first question is: how did you know there was a meeting?

MS. GERAGHTY: (Inaudible)

MR. CANNON: Huhm? Can you answer that question? (Then evidently addressing Kathleen Geraghty). I say we go over to your house.

MS. GERAGHTY: Sure.”

Cannon then remarked that this was the type of problem that he had to deal with in Long Beach and he, Geraghty, one other member of the CPS-APC, and the two representatives of McKenna & Associates then left the Town Center and adjourned the meeting of the CPS-APC to the private residence of Kathleen Geraghty.

Jim Dehner, leader of the opposition party, who showed up at the Town Center intending to watchdog the meeting for the public, was denied that opportunity by its being moved to a private residence and the CPS-APC got to have the secret meeting they desired.

Peter Byvoets, Town Board President, who is affiliated with the Long Beach Community Alliance, as are Cannon (who formerly led the organization), Geraghty, the other members of the CPS-APC, and virtually all office holders in town government and its various committees, then took the position that they did not know sub-committee meetings were subject to the Indiana Open Meetings Act, and had been advised by the Town Attorney that this was so.

Fortunately, Jim Dehner followed up and filed a complaint with the Public Access Counselor, who ruled on April 29, 2016, that subcommittee meetings were indeed covered and that the meeting was held in violation of Indiana Law. Perhaps the town ought to ask for a refund of the fees paid to the Town Attorney for the bogus advice, or perhaps the Alliance members who now make up town government should honor the pledges they made regarding transparency to the people in last Fall’s Election Campaign. There was no intent whatsoever here to be transparent, just the intention to appear as though they were being transparent. They were having the meeting in a public building but did not believe that anyone would know to be present because they were not aware that notice of the meeting had been mistakenly posted on the website.

Moreover, Pat Cannon was aware that this might be an issue. Why else would he consult with an attorney regarding the notice requirements BEFORE the meeting. Well, at least he and Geraghty wished the court reporter and the videographer a “fun night” when they adjourned the meeting to Geraghty’s house.

This meeting was important to our future. The CPS-APC was tasked with the responsibility “to develop a comprehensive plan for the development” of Long Beach. They were meeting for the first time with two representatives of McKenna & Associates, and would map out the process by which the Town will proceed. We need to know that everything was open and above board, like we have been promised it would be.

As the State of Indiana has determined, it was not. – ed

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LB-Town-HallWELCOME to Long Beach Views – The Way We See It!

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