by Robert Lynch; Posted January 12, 2021; photo updated Jan. 13, 2021
Note: Calmer tempers; fewer fights as Enfield Board members organize yearly business just one night later. But pro-vaccination measure loses. Read details on the Latest News page.
With the holdout Councilperson alleging “political extortion” by his legislative colleagues, the Enfield Town Board Tuesday (Jan. 12th) appointed recently-resigned Councilperson Stephanie Redmond Supervisor at a contentious meeting marked by personal attacks, allegations of lawbreaking, and threats by at least two Board members—and perhaps, Redmond herself—to resign if they didn’t get their way.
“I feel like I have a gun to my head,” exclaimed Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer) in angrily, grudgingly voting to cast the third, required vote on a resignation-depleted Town Board to appoint Redmond Supervisor, a vote on which Redmond’s elevation required unanimity.
The Board, meanwhile, rejected Lynch’s motion to name former Supervisor Ann Rider to fill the Councilperson’s vacancy created only last Saturday with the resignation of Michael Miles, who’d left after only two months of service, Miles blaming those in Town Government for lacking “even basic social skills most of us learned in kindergarten.”
Sources had told Lynch before the meeting that Rider’s appointment stood as all but certain.
Lynch’s reluctant, yet calculated reversal on his promise to either abstain or vote no on any vote to appoint Redmond—a promise he repeated minutes before his affirmative vote—followed Councilperson Virginia Bryant’s and James Ricks’ threats to resign the Board unless Redmond was elevated. Mass resignation would have left Lynch as the Board’s only voting member and left Enfield unable to pay its bills or even hold meetings pending judicial or gubernatorial intervention.
The “toxic nature of… town governance,” chastised by Miles stood on full display Tuesday, as Board members, Acting Supervisor Redmond, and Town Clerk Ellen Woods repeatedly bickered and threw insinuations at one another for more than two hours. Before—and more heatedly, after—Redmond’s appointment, the newly-named Supervisor alleged Woods of criminal activity for her arguably disputable decision to assign a fire company expenditure for protective clothing to the General Fund rather than to the Fire Fund and then bill it to the taxpayers accordingly.
“What would you do if the Town Supervisor had repeatedly accused you of a crime?” Woods implored each member of the Board, Woods taking note of Redmond’s successive email accusations alleging that she’d altered the budget and seized control of the Town’s website.
“I’d contact a lawyer… the best lawyer in town,” answered Lynch. He said he hopes the Town has good libel insurance.
Since Town Supervisor Beth McGee resigned September 30th, Redmond has aggressively campaigned for permanent appointment by her fellow Board members. She resigned her four-year Councilperson’s position in December, just one year into its term, so as purportedly to make her promotion more acceptable under New York Law. Lynch said in December that Redmond’s resignation, followed by James Ricks’ appointment as her successor, marked “Acts One and Two” of a three-act play to elevate the aspiring lawmaker to the job she craved. Lynch acknowledged Tuesday that this final vote marked “Act Three.”
McGee, who attended Tuesday’s online meeting as one of 36 participants, eight of whom spoke under floor privileges, accused Lynch of attempting to obstruct Redmond’s appointment so as “to suit his personal interests,” McGee alleging, without substantiation, that Lynch seeks to oppose Redmond, McGee’s former Deputy, in November’s Supervisor election.
Sensing he’d been cornered by his colleagues, with no way out except either to betray his conscience or else “blow up the Town” by prompting mass resignations and a government “dead in the water,” Lynch heatedly said that he, too, like Miles, was tempted to resign in disgust, only then to “run like Hell for Supervisor.” But he said that’s not his way as it would disserve the Board’s constituents.
Tuesday’s fiery face-off came just one night before a predictably lengthy Town Board Organizational Meeting at which the Board will lay down town procedures for the year ahead. With tempers high, and partisan lines drawn, no one predicts an easy time of it Wednesday.
“If we have a crisis, my friends, it’s not that we lack a Supervisor. It’s that we lack a soul,” said Lynch at the meeting’s start, alluding to Miles’ pointed resignation statement he would later read into the record. “We’ve lost our good manners; our civility” Lynch added. “We act like little children who can’t play together in the sandbox. We embarrass ourselves. We embarrass our Town.”
And before the verbal fireworks began, in compliments Redmond would later accuse as misogynistic, Lynch called Redmond “a good and decent person” who might later, with time, “grow and mature.”
Then, in remarks which others would allege pointed directly to McGee, Lynch said, “If only our Acting Supervisor would lead on her own, and not listen so obediently to those whispers providing counsel from behind the curtain; to those ghosts of confrontation and chaos from our recent past; to those marching orders that made last year such a haunting nightmare for me and for this Town.”
By refusing to offer a second, the Board’s remaining two-person plurality, comprised of Bryant and Ricks, beat back Lynch’s motion to postpone discussion of Redmond’s appointment to the Board’s February meeting—or even to the following night.
After Bryant’s objection halted the Rider appointment as Councilperson, Bryant said she might consider filling the Councilperson vacancy in February, though her choice of Rider remains far from certain. The objection startled Lynch, who’d been assured by sources that Bryant would actually write Rider’s appointment Resolution Tuesday. The reason for Bryant’s change of heart could not immediately be explained.
With Redmond and Woods most heatedly at odds, Lynch asked both whether they’d seek to settle their differences, perhaps through mediation, as a possible condition to his offering a third required vote. Each made gestures toward that end, but no promises.
Meanwhile Lynch and Redmond traded exchanges, Redmond insinuating Lynch’s(this) website had slandered her, and Lynch faulting Redmond (along with McGee) for their questionable Facebook postings involving an employee at the Kuma Charmer’s night club who’d contracted the coronavirus, humor Redmond brushed off as “tongue in cheek.”
“This is 2021, the 21st Century,” shouted Lynch. “You don’t joke about blacks. You don’t joke about gays. You don’t joke about the disabled… or the mentally disabled. And you don’t joke about COVID-19 just because the person who got it worked in a Burlesque house.”
Other than the ceremonial bragging rights of incumbency, the chief benefit Redmond gains from Tuesday’s vote is her ability to appoint a $10,000 per year deputy; a privilege denied her as Acting Supervisor. Questioned directly by Lynch, Redmond denied she’d appoint ex-Supervisor McGee to that post. The new Supervisor seemed surprised, even amused, that she’d consider McGee, or even that the ex-Supervisor might want the job.
Responded Lynch to the prospect of McGee’s return: “That’s the word on the street,” he quipped.
Words that Fell Upon Deaf Ears
The following are the words I spoke Tuesday night, January 12th to my colleagues on the Enfield Town Board urging they delay action on the appointment of Stephanie Redmond as Enfield Town Supervisor. My advice was not followed by those present. The words speak for themselves.
My colleagues; my friends:
Can somebody tell me where I can get a good night’s sleep?
Twice this past week, I’ve been rocked by events that seemed out of control. First, last Wednesday, an angry mob stormed the Capitol. Then, much closer to home, I opened my email Saturday morning to learn that Michael Miles had resigned our Town Board. I haven’t rested well since.
As I’ve written of Michael:
“He was a gentleman and a statesman who has now twice served our Town Board well. I found him as a voice of moderation and reason. If five like him served on this Board, our problems would be much fewer.”
Michael departed leaving us with little doubt as to why he resigned, and his reasons punch to the core of the crisis that afflicts our Town.
Tonight we meet to consider elevating a recently-resigned Councilperson, our Deputy Supervisor, our Acting Supervisor, to permanent Supervisor for the remainder of this year.
If we have a crisis, my friends, it’s not that we lack a Supervisor. It’s that we lack a soul; we’ve lost our good manners; our civility. We act like little children who can’t play together in the sandbox. We embarrass ourselves. We embarrass our Town.
And trust me, a Supervisor’s appointment tonight will only create more turmoil. As a member of our team recently cautioned me, “People don’t quit because of the company they work for. They quit because of the management.” Or as some might more crudely say, “The fish rots from the head.”
Tonight I will move we postpone further discussion on a Supervisor’s appointment until our February 10th meeting. But I will also support the return of a seasoned veteran in Town Government to fill Michael Miles’ seat on our Town Board. We need her maturity. We welcome her common sense. We need grownups.
Don’t’ get me wrong: I see our Acting Supervisor as a good and decent person. Maybe she can grow and mature. Maybe she can someday lead us permanently. Maybe the voters—maybe even I— will one day accord her our support. But not tonight.
If only our Acting Supervisor would lead on her own, and not listen so obediently to those whispers providing counsel from behind the curtain; to those ghosts of confrontation and chaos from our recent past; to those marching orders that made last year such a haunting nightmare for me and for this Town.
People smartly say it takes two to start a fight. But, by contrast, it takes only one to end it—by standing down. If our Deputy could only take that first step in holding out the olive branch, of seeking to come to terms with her colleague, rather than always pushing her button, it would elevate that Deputy greatly in my mind. It would likely earn her my vote; maybe in a month; maybe later.
We needn’t end every Town Board meeting like the Jerry Springer Show, with a fight. Let’s come together. Let’s heal. Michael Miles would want us to.