Town council candidate has many questions for board
TUPPER LAKE — A candidate running for a town council seat in the November election aired out a long list of his questions, complaints and grievances at a town board meeting Thursday night.
Daniel “Boonie” Carmichael spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, asking questions for which he said he had submitted Freedom of Information Law requests and received answers he said he “wasn’t satisfied” with.
He got answers to most of his questions, but some were not able to be answered yet because projects had not been finished, payments had not been made or grants had not come in.
“I asked these questions months ago,” Carmichael said. “I FOIL-ed this stuff and didn’t get the answers. … I got stonewalled.”
Town Supervisor Patti Littlefield said a FOIL request has to be specific to get a good response. The law lets citizens request public documents, but sometimes there isn’t a document that clearly answers a question.
“You can’t just ask a random, open question because that makes it difficult,” Littlefield said. “What do you want us to give you? Everything?”
Carmichael said he knows how to submit a proper FOIL request and said he has gone over them with the town FOIL compliance officer Laurie Fuller.
“That’s the reason I’m running for the town board,” Carmichael said. “When I get on the board, instead of having to go and beg for answers, I can just pick up the phone and call people and get my own answers.”
Littlefield said Carmichael could have showed up and talked with members of the board in person to get the information he was requesting.
“I feel like if Boonie, like anybody else, came to the town (hall) when I was there or called and said, ‘Hey, can I talk to you about something?’ … we could have had a conversation. We’ll share all that information,” Littlefield said Friday.
Carmichael asked if the town has had an appraisal of the Setting Pole Dam it said it would get earlier this year. Littlefield said the company that was going to do the appraising had been planning to come last week but wanted to wait for the water to get lower first. She said the town can do an appraisal of the dam “in the dead of winter.”
A previous board had prepared to sell the dam for $1.6 million, but “members of this board thought that that was a low-ball price,” Carmichael said.
He asked what the results of that previous appraisal were and again said he did not receive that information in his FOIL request response. Littlefield told him the town could get him the results.
“I am not the person who responds to FOILs, and possibly it was an oversight,” she said.
Carmichael asked how a private citizen can request an outside audit, saying his request for that information had not been returned.
“When was the last time the town of Tupper Lake had an external audit by the state comptroller’s office?” he asked.
Littlefield said the last formal audit by the comptroller’s office was done before 2012.
“So it’s been seven years at least,” Carmichael said.
Littlefield said she spent a day with the comptroller’s staff going over the books when she started her first term as town supervisor in 2014.
“We invited the comptroller’s office to come spend the day and do a work session,” Littlefield said. “We went through that audit piece by piece with them and did some training with our new accountant.”
She said representatives of the office were back in Tupper Lake several times to assist an accountant last year.
“We contact them by phone, I’m not going to say weekly, but it’s pretty close,” Littlefield said. “We have a standing conversation with the comptroller’s office regularly here.”
“Maybe it’s time to audit,” Carmichael said, adding that he would like to request one.
“It’s up to them,” Littlefield said. “They are more than welcome here any day.”
Carmichael asked if the exterior stain job on the older portion of the town hall was done by the general contractor that built the new, $400,000 entrance. Littlefield said the work was done by town employees.
Town employees work four, 10-hour shifts in the summer, Monday through Thursday. Work done outside of that is overtime, paid at time-and-a-half. Littlefield said the overtime for the stain work came from the highway department budget.
Carmichael asked why the town would pay its employees to do the job instead of having a contractor do it. Littlefield explained that the bidding process would take so long and be so expensive that it was more cost-effective for the town to have its own employees do the job. She also said it was cheaper than having to pay prevailing wages job.
“Even at overtime rates?” Carmichael asked.
“Even at overtime rates,” Littlefield said.
“I can’t reconcile in my own mind paying our highway department to paint a building,” Carmichael said.
Later in the meeting, the town board thanked town employees Herbert “Herbie” Kentile and Ryan Shaheen for their overtime work on the town hall. Kentile was at the meeting because his daughter Cassidy was attending for a school assignment.
This was just a portion of the questions Carmichael asked.
“You’re asking a lot of questions that I don’t have at the moment,” Littlefield said. “You keep peppering all these questions. I don’t have the accounts in front of me right now.”
“Is there a time limit on the public (comment portion of the meeting)?” Councilman John Quinn asked. “We’ve got public business to conduct.”
Littlefield said there is a three-minute limit. Carmichael pointed out that other people had talked for around nine minutes. He had talked for 13 minutes by that time.
“Thank you, Boonie,” Littlefield said.
“Well, you do not mean that,” Carmichael said.
He said he would call the state and submit FOIL requests to Fuller again.
On his way out, he asked about the door to the back parking lot being locked, pointing out that it is a fire exit.
“Thanks for bringing that to our attention as well,” Littlefield said.
“Wow,” said Councilwoman Tracy Luton when he left.
Luton’s seat on the board is up for election this November.
The town hall was full with high school students attending the board meeting for a government class, as they do every year.
“You guys got a good education from that,” Littlefield said.
“It’s hard to figure out what I learned,” high school student Hayden Ormsby said.