Political Tensions Escalate In Green Mountain Falls

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by Rick Langenberg:

 

Two GMF Trustees walk out of meeting in protest; mayor pleads for unity

 

The political feud in Green Mountain Falls continues, with little chance of a temporary truce; or for that matter, experiencing a local council meeting without any shouting matches.

Pending any miraculous 11th-hour accords, recall petitions asking for the removal of nearly all elected leaders in GMF will be distributed shortly. Mayor Lorrie Worthey, one of the few elected trustee, the recall group favors, last week publicly asked for the town to come together and even believes she should be placed on the ouster list if citizens aren’t happy with her job in serving them.

On the evening of Aug. 6, a volatile discussion on communications between the Concerned Citizens of GMF group and the trustees abruptly ended when two elected officials, Mac Pitrone and Ralph LoCascio, abruptly left the session in apparent disgust. Bitter words were exchanged between these trustees and the citizens. Meanwhile, other trustees were bothered by the confrontational tone of the discussion.

Mayor Pro Tem Jane Newberry, who attended one of the citizens’ open organizational meetings, noted that even if she “walked on water and parted the Red Sea,” the citizens pushing the recall wouldn’t be happy with her. “You are playing favorites,” added Trustee Margaret Peterson, in indicating the group was clearly in the mayor’s court. However, Worthey has adamantly denied any involvement in the recall group’s activities and hasn’t attended any of their public meetings

At issue last week were comments by Dick Lackmond, a former mayor and a key member of the concerned citizens committee. “You are not functioning as a group,” said Lackmond, when addressing the trustees. Moreover, he stated that the trustees aren’t representing the citizens and are badly failing in their role in overseeing the management of the town.

He described the current board as completely dysfunctional and asked that Trustee Howard Price be removed of his duties as the police department liaison due to a conflict of interest. He believes Price has an ax to grind with Police Chief Tim Bradley. Both Price and Pitrone have been critical of certain aspects of the marshal’s office and reportedly even sought to review the possibility of privatizing the police agency. This talk has outraged the citizens group and even the mayor, who view this plan as a public safety threat. But when Lackmond started asking for direct answers from the elected officials, he irked both LoCascio and Pitrone. They complained that this type of confrontation wasn’t part of the agenda and what the communications discussion was supposed to be about. “I am out of here,” said LoCascio.

He was shortly followed by Pitrone, who had a few choice words for certain members of the citizens group on his way out the council chambers. When both members departed from the council table, Lackmond asked them directly if they were quitting.

Worthey said she was disappointed with their actions and didn’t know if the discussion could continue with only four elected leaders present. “They set us up,” yelled a member of the citizens group during the discussion, featuring another standing-room-only crowd.

But both Newberry and Peterson insisted that the discussion continue, but asked for more civility and direction. They both sought to establish a work session with the citizens group to address their specific concerns.

Newberry, in an emotional tone, said she has tried to understand the group’s complaints and met with them at a public meeting. “It is too little, too late,” said Newberrry, who believes the group will try to oust her no matter what action she takes. Lackmond said if they wanted a work session, they needed to act fast because the group is proceeding with its recall effort.

Judith Wiedner, one of the group organizers, reviewed the recall process with the trustees. She said the group would be finalizing the petition wording and then would submit the document to the clerk’s office. According to her interpretation of the procedures, the clerk’s office only has several days to accept, deny or amend the group’s recall petition.

However, the group doesn’t want City Clerk Chris Frandina to handle any aspect of their recall effort and is asking that election judge Sue Meals be brought in to take her place as the town’s elected fficial for this situation due to a potential conflict of interest. But the group leaders didn’t elaborate. However, due to the fact that Frandina is appointed by the board, it’s unclear if this request can be accommodated. Trustee Tyler Stevens asked that the town’s attorney be consulted regarding the recall scenario.

Under the proposed guidelines, the group would have a certain time period to obtain signatures on the trustees they want to remove. “We can’t recall everyone,” said Wiedner. In a previous interview, she said the group would try to oust five out of seven of the current elected trustees. But Worthey suggested that maybe it’s better to ask for a recall of the entire board, including herself. “I am elected by you guys. If I am not doing a good job, I will gladly give up this seat,” said Worthey. The mayor also expressed much dismay over the current political situation in Green Mountain Falls. “This is very heartbreaking,” said Worthey, at the close of last week’s discussion. “We are so divided and so we are going to need some help. I want nothing more than the board to listen to the people.”

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Worthey stated that the political atmosphere wasn’t always this bad. When she was first elected to the position as GMF mayor in April 2012, Worthey reported much unity among the board. But the mayor maintains that when she started asking certain questions, she encountered much resistance.

Problems escalated when several trustees walked out of a meeting last fall, in protest of the video live streaming of their meetings without any discussion on how this should be handled. Then, the mayor was stripped of her duties in overseeing the marshal’s office and complaints surfaced about how she was handling FEMA grants and certain other matters, such as representing the city on the new town hall project.

Several of the current trustees, who oppose the mayor, have alleged that the mayor enjoys turning trustee meetings into circus-like displays, with clapping and cheers. In addition, they say they are tired of personal attacks through her social media posts, and those of her supporters. But Worthey has cited public transparency as a prime objective of her administration. And compared to her council critics, the mayor is much more visible at public functions.

During last week’s meeting, a few residents gave their opinions regarding the political friction. Summer resident Nancy Britton said many citizens were outraged over rumors concerning the board’s effort to get rid of the marshal’s office. “The communications on that was not very good,” said Britton. And as the owner of a home broken into, Britton expressed much support for maintaining the marshal’s office. “The town needs to be a town. We have always had a marshal.”