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Letter to the Editor: Resident Cites Richmondville as Example of Corruption

Written By Editor on 5/26/14 | 5/26/14

Dear Editor:

Government corruption takes many forms, all of which harm people and communities. Most people recognize the most blatant examples of bribery, extortion and influence peddling. But low-level chronic corruption is often confused with the “way it has always been done” and not considered for the damage it does to our small rural communities.

The Schoharie County Town of Richmondville makes a perfect case study. Following the collapse of the $5.6 million dollar publically funded Maranatha Project, the Office of the State Comptroller placed much of the blame squarely on the shoulders of local officials who wasted no time in making excuses for their lack of due diligence.

Town Attorney, J.R. Parshall was quoted as saying “we did everything by the book.” Perhaps that would have been true if the book were about ineptness, unprofessionalism and the legendary good ol’ boy network that forms the fabric of Richmondville’s long and unsavory history.

In reality, three separate Town Supervisors starting with Betsy Bernocco, then the late John Barlow and eventually Dick Lape advocated for the highly flawed project while being warned of everything from shockingly unrealistic business plans, to unverifiable job creation claims to grossly inadequate environmental reviews. They all chose to ignore the warnings, failed to do their homework and looked the other way when informed of questionable relationships between the developer and public officials.

Internal emails and memos obtained under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) paint a picture of poor oversight, improperly authorized payments, massive cost overruns and other irregularities. The Town’s own consultant felt compelled to warn them in an email about the legal implications of misusing public funds. Never daunted by hard facts or rational thought, Richmondville officials have taken cover behind the “aw shucks, we are just small town officials” ruse, pretending that they should not have been expected to pay attention to all the bad stuff going on.

Having public officials who are oblivious, inept or content with inappropriate conduct is, indeed, corruption.  

In August of 2013 while many residents of Richmondville and other communities were in a panic digesting the fact that they faced seizure of their property by Cabot Oil and its partners who intended to build a massive high-pressure gas pipeline through the region, an attorney for the non-profit Center for Sustainable Rural Communities sent the Town a letter informing them that one of their officials with voting authority to approve parts of the pipeline project had an “appearance of impropriety” and a potential conflict of interest related to the pipeline and was in violation of the Town’s own ethics laws. Supervisor Lape, the Town Attorney and the Councilmen all chose to do nothing.  In April of this year, the Center informed the Town of Richmondville, in writing, that the family of the public official had received more than $58,000 in payments from the pipeline company while the official continued to hold voting authority on parts of the pipeline project at both the Town and County level. To date, Supervisor Lape, the Town Attorney and the Councilman have once again done nothing despite 70 pages of documentation provided to the Town detailing the payments and the conflicts.


I suspect that if the pipeline is approved and local residents have to endure violations of their property rights, seriously diminished home values and the fear of living next to a pipeline built by a company far too familiar with fires and explosions, the Town will again shrug their shoulders, say “aw shucks” and insist they did everything by the book. In that case it would be true if the book were “The International Handbook on the Economics of Corruption” by Susan Rose-Ackerman.
Having public officials who ignore evidence of questionable conduct and value politics and cronyism over the safety, security and economic health of their constituents is still corruption. In fact, it could be argued that it is the worst kind of corruption, that silently persists as part of an entrenched culture that ultimately, harms the community just as much as bribery, extortion and influence peddling.

The decision to finally change this situation can be made by the voters who can write their own book about the power of democracy, perhaps titled “We No Longer Wish to Live with Corruption” or simply “Enough.”

Bob Nied
Center for Sustainable Rural Communities
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4 comments:

Sam Dunston said...

Just move on,sell the building to someone that will make something of it. Lets not spend a million bucks to prove a crazy bitch pulled one over your eyes, we already had one of those deals and all it proves is that lawyers love to take money.

Barry Waid said...

I agree...Many in proper things happened. Let's not waste anymore money. This would be number 2 in the county.. South Grand n now rt 7...We the people need to stop this...NOW !

upstateny1000 said...

While just moving on seems attractive, unless you address the real problem, this kind of thing will just keep happening over and over again. As long as the public officials who let it happen are still in a position to let it happen, they will. Every elected and appointed official in Richmondville has been aware of these problems and did nothing. While not normally a fan of the “throw the bums out” approach, in this case it is probably the only solution. They have to go and be replaced by officials smart enough to do the job, without conflicts of interest and willing to act ethically even when their pals are trying to pull a fast one on the taxpayers.

R Smith said...

Lets get a group together to look into a Boys and Girls Club. I would be willing to lead this.

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