First, there is an old trick in politics. If the facts aren't in your favor, try to assassinate your opponent's character. So, I am not surprised by multiple letters by President Sutz and her fan club trying to characterize me as ignorant or disingenuous because of my dismay on how the budget process was seemingly concluded on March 14 with board president Sutz voting "no."
The March 21 board meeting agenda was amended that night. Dr. Bierwirth's research indicated it was unlikely that $500,000 of state aid would be received so a $500,000 debt payment would not be made during the budget year. He prudently recommended "cleaning up" the budget by taking those amounts out (with no net effect on taxpayers). At the April 11 board meeting, it was clear the implications of the vote on March 21 were unclear to certain board members and members of the audience. Comments by trustees included (a) the only focus on March 21 was to make a "technical adjustment" to remove offsetting $500,000 line items, (b) in no way was it clear the whole budget was "opened up" for a revote, and (c) a third board member in a discussion also indicated uncertainty. At least one resident present at both meetings claimed he definitely had no idea that President Sutz changed her original "no" to a "yes" vote since there had been no effect on the Class I tax rate which she had opposed. Another resident asked if the second vote was even legally binding since there appeared to be so much confusion.
Only President Sutz claimed that everything was totally clear and that her "yes" vote meant she voted for the amended budget (technically it did since the actual resolution included the General Fund Appropriation amounts). But, other board members and the public appeared to learn this by reading her rebuttal letter. She claimed she could now vote "yes" because they saved the $500,000 for the principal payment, reducing the cost budget increase to 5.81 percent from 6.67 percent. A resident's immediate public reaction was, "It sounds like Enron accounting" since they also lost $500,000 of revenue and there was no effect on the tax rate.
President Sutz's letter refers to her 6 percent guideline, which I agree she discussed as a target at the beginning of the budget process. But, my experience in budget and forecast exercises for 17 years has been that original revenue and profit targets are too optimistic and not achieved in final budgets. President Sutz could have re-evaluated her position at the end of the process and good leadership would have attempted to reach consensus, rather than calling a vote when fellow trustees were not sure how each would vote.
The Taraskas perceive an open board, with residents not fearing to raise any topic, and having reasonable confidence of getting an appropriate response. I do agree with the Taraskas perception of board president Sutz "smiling" and saying, "Thank you" in responding to questions. Unfortunately, in too many cases, that is the only response the questioner receives. As for not fearing to speak out, since spring 2000, certain residents who have run for the board, supported candidates or spoken out at board meetings have been targets of nasty anonymous letters or phone calls (from unknown sources) to intimidate them. There has been no substantive response or information conveyed to the public with respect to nine letters I have written or my follow-up efforts. Why has President Sutz failed to file the legally required post-election year 2000 campaign expenditure statement in either Herricks or Albany? President Sutz's role in my unsuccessful efforts under the Freedom of Information Laws have also troubled me.
Ms. Filippi's asserts I contradict myself by asserting that board members shouldn't engage in cosmetic, unanimous voting, yet, I criticize President Sutz for voting "no" alone. Ms. Filippi must have missed the sentence I said, "My humble view is that when a trustee assumes the role of board president he or she also accepts broader responsibilities than to just 'represent her constituents' and needs to put politics aside and behave accordingly." I was holding President Sutz accountable to the same standard as when I was board vice president.
The prime objective of my letter was to jolt President Sutz into supporting the budget, which is in the best short or long-term interests of the district. Hopefully, she can redirect the energies of her "troops" to accomplish that goal.
As to Ms. Filippi's suggestion that I should consider running for one of the two seats available this year, Brooklyn Dodger baseball fans were known for the saying, "Wait until next year." So, Ms. Filippi, be careful what you wish for!