SARANAC LAKE - Town of Harrietstown officials have largely sat back and said nothing in the last few weeks as town supervisor candidate Tom Catillaz and his backers have hammered the current town leaders on a range of issues.
Their silence ended Thursday night.
Town board members -including Catillaz's opponent, Councilman Bob Bevilacqua - pushed back hard against Catillaz and his supporters, accusing the former village mayor of running a campaign of misinformation and half-truths in an attempt to win over voters.
"Tom Catillaz has not done his homework," said Councilman Ron Keough. "He's asked no questions; he has no information. The unfortunate part for the residents of the town of Harrietstown is he's putting out either misinformation or lack of information that doesn't give an accurate depiction of what this town board has done."
Nothing was said about the race for supervisor during the board's regular Thursday night meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes. After the meeting, however, the Enterprise asked the board about a letter it was sent earlier in the day via email by village Trustee Paul Van Cott on the village's plan to annex Trudeau Institute. Van Cott, who copied the letter to the local news media, chided the board for refusing to meet with the village to discuss the issue.
"I ask that you speak for yourselves and not rely on your attorney to speak for you," he wrote. "I am hopeful that instead of just saying 'No' and 'Talk to my attorney,' the town board will say 'Yes' to constructive dialogue about the future of Trudeau Institute in our community."
Although he's supporting Catillaz in the supervisor campaign, Van Cott said his letter was "not intended to be political."
Harrietstown Deputy Supervisor Barry DeFuria said he took issue with Van Cott's letter, "and if he ever sends me one like that again, although he indicated it wasn't political - and I don't understand why, if it's not political he would send it to (the Enterprise) and (Denton Publications) - that if he does another one like that, it will get political."
Town officials have said, based on the advice of their attorney, Jim Maher, that it would be inappropriate to meet with the village to discuss annexation until they get a formal letter from Trudeau seeking annexation.
"(Van Cott) is a lawyer, and I thought he was bright enough to go and look up the procedure on how to do annexation, and apparently he doesn't want to do that," DeFuria said. "He just wants the town and the village to start annexation proceedings, and we can't."
"If we were to meet with them before the process started, it would be like it's a foregone conclusion it's going to happen," Bevilacqua said. "That's not the proper way to do it. That can be challenged."
"It's being presented in a way like we're not cooperating, and that's not true," said Councilwoman Nichole Meyette. "All we're looking for is to go about the process the right way."
As the discussion continued in the board room of the Harrietstown Town Hall, DeFuria brought up a letter to the editor from Catillaz supporter Doug Fransen that was published in Monday's Enterprise. Fransen, a former town council candidate, praised Catillaz's plan for boosting revenue at the town-owned Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear, specifically naming Catillaz's proposals to lease land at the facility for hangars and to experiment with fuel prices to spur demand.
But DeFuria said the town has done both of those things, which he said Fransen or Catillaz would have known if they had bothered to talk to airport Manager Corey Hurwitch or to come to a town board meeting.
"I've got 30 years here, and (Catillaz) has never been to a meeting since I've been here," Keough said.
Over the past year, DeFuria said, the town has been putting in infrastructure for new hangars using a $440,000 state grant. DeFuria also said the town has been experimenting with fuel prices since he joined the board in 1998, and on at least four occasions in the last two years.
"We're doing it," he said. "A lot of this stuff that's been in the paper is already in the works, or they're giving out misinformation."
Catillaz has called on the town board to either make a modest investment in a move-in-ready industrial building at the Lake Clear business park or to look for another use for the property, potentially for residential development or athletic fields. Catillaz has also chided the board for not marketing the park, which only has two tenants, noting there's no information about it on the town website.
Keough defended the town's approach to the business park, saying further development of the property was hindered by the lack of state-Adirondack-Park-Agency-approved, shovel-ready building sites. The town finally got APA approval for seven sites in June, a step Keough said was necessary before the town could develop a business plan for the property.
He said there are legitimate questions about whether the town should "be in the real estate business" and whether it should market the park or seek outside help, but he said town officials aren't sitting on their hands.
"The town board is working hard and spending long hours here," Keough said. "If Tom Catillaz thinks he's going to waltz in here and on four or five hours a week, sprinkle it all with holy water, make it all blessed and good, and multiply the fishes and the loaves, he has no clue what he's thinking about, and he's deceiving the taxpayers of the town of Harrietstown."
Keough also said some of Catillaz's ideas for the business park are far-fetched.
"He wants to do ball fields and all those things, but there are issues with the APA in how you can use it and not use it. So if he was doing any homework at all, if he had been to any of the meetings, if he'd even read the press releases that you people do, he'd be knowledgeable about that, but he's not. He hasn't done any of that."
'A little nasty'
Catillaz and his supporters have said they want the village and town boards to work together more closely, but Meyette said the way his campaign is being run is driving a wedge between the two governments.
"In my opinion, they're doing nothing but alienating the two," she said. "There's things that are being said and there's things are being portrayed out there, and it's not that they're not correct or incorrect - they're not the full truth. To me, it's ridiculous, and it doesn't have to be that way."
"It's starting to get a little nasty," Bevilacqua said. "There hasn't been any mudslinging between Tom and I; it's just an uncomfortable atmosphere sometimes."
Town board members speculated that other people in the Catillaz camp, not necessarily Catillaz himself, are calling many of the shots in his campaign, though they wouldn't name names.
"Right in there lies the problem," Meyette said. "That's what's unfortunate here, and that's what's alienating the two."
Catillaz and Meyette are Democrats; the other three town board members are Republicans.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.