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Cherry Blasts Mann, Airey over Blenheim Covered Bridge Dispute

Written By Editor on 12/18/13 | 12/18/13

Editors note: Schoharie County Treasurer William Cherry forwarded the following email, which is addressed to the Blenheim Long Term Recovery Committee and members of the Blenheim Town Board, to the Schoharie News among other media outlets yesterday afternoon for immediate publication.

Dear members of the BLTRC, and Town Board members,

I am writing to you in response to a newspaper article that was published in the Mountain Eagle in their December 5th edition (see attached photocopy). The article centers on the regular monthly meeting of the Blenheim Town Board which took place on Monday, December 2nd. According to the article, Supervisor Robert Mann and BLTRC Chairman Don Airey made some damning and accusatory statements about me personally, and more specifically, about my delay in submitting the latest proposal to FEMA relating to the Blenheim Covered Bridge. I believe that those accusations are blatantly false, and once you know the truth, I think you will agree. 
In September, Don Airey, representing the BLTRC, made a presentation to the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors requesting that they submit a new proposal to FEMA describing the former Blenheim Covered Bridge as a "pier". Mr. Airey’s reasoning was that FEMA had paid to replace the Santa Monica Pier in California which jutted out into the Pacific Ocean when it was damaged in a storm, therefore FEMA should also pay to replace the Blenheim Bridge because, like a pier, it was connected to land on the eastern side but not connected to the bank on the western side of the Schoharie Creek. In an effort to support the wishes of the people of Blenheim, the Board of Supervisors agreed to Mr. Airey’s request without necessarily taking a position on the logic of the argument. The Board then instructed me as Recovery Coordinator to direct Simmons Recovery Consulting to put a proposal together based upon Mr. Airey’s "pier" concept and submit it to FEMA as soon as possible.
As requested, Ron Simmons used his extensive knowledge of FEMA regulations to put together the documentation to be submitted. At the Board of Supervisors meeting which was held on November 15th, I reported that the Simmons pier proposal would be ready to be submitted to FEMA by the 25th of November, some ten days later. Ron completed his work ahead of the deadline, and on November 18th, the proposal was ready to be sent in to FEMA as soon as I signed the cover letter. A series of emails were exchanged between Don Airey, Robert Mann, and me over the next few days. In those emails, both Mr. Airey and Mr. Mann repeatedly requested that I hold off on sending the pier proposal in to FEMA until the BLTRC had the opportunity to review the document.
A sampling of those emails is as follows:
"I would appreciate it if Blenheim would be given ample opportunity to review and comment before any submission to FEMA is made." Supervisor Robert Mann, 11/18/13
"Bill, I ask that you please consider said request and not rush to submission but instead, delay such admission to early December in view of Thanksgiving and people’s schedules." "There is no need to rush." BLTRC Chairman Don Airey, 11/19/13
"Is there some urgency for the November 25th date? We have been waiting patiently for two years, it seems a shame not to give Blenheim at least a few days to consider it." "Please extend this small courtesy." Supervisor Robert Mann, 11/19/13
"Of course we wanted the proposal submitted as soon as possible, but in view of how long it has taken Simmons to do so, at this point a week or two more will not change the result either way…" BLTRC Chairman Don Airey, 11/19/13
I responded to these requests in the following manner:
"It is my understanding that (at the Town of Blenheim’s request), Ron Simmons was directed by the Board of Supervisors to prepare a submission to FEMA describing the former bridge as a ‘pier’ and to attempt to get FEMA to replace the former covered bridge with a replica to be located on the same site." "Just last Friday I delivered my Recovery Report to the full Board and informed them that Ron’s proposal would be submitted to FEMA by November 25th." Recovery Coordinator Bill Cherry, 11/19/13
"I am prepared to sign this proposal and submit it immediately unless the Board of Supervisors informs me they feel differently." Recovery Coordinator Bill Cherry, 11/19/13
After receiving the repeated email requests from Mann and Airey, and with due respect for the BLTRC and the Town of Blenheim, I wrote this to Don Airey:
"You and Robert Mann can have all the time you need as far as I am concerned. I was under the impression that you and Blenheim wanted this proposal submitted as quickly as possible, and that time was of the essence." "I will hold off on submitting it until I hear a consensus from the Board of Supervisors." Recovery Coordinator Bill Cherry, 11/19/13
In direct conflict with the true series of events, at the December 2nd Blenheim Town Board meeting, Mr. Mann and Mr. Airey tried to turn the situation completely around and lay the blame on me for not submitting the proposal in a timely manner. I cannot even begin to explain their motivation for twisting the facts of the matter to the members of the BLTRC, to town officials, and to the public. They both know perfectly well, and the emails prove it, that I was anxious to submit the Simmons proposal to FEMA as quickly as possible, in fact on the same day I received it from Simmons, and that I only held back based upon the repeated and strident requests by Mann and Airey. I guess this proves the old saying that no good deed goes unpunished. As quoted in the Mountain Eagle, here are some of things they said about me and the pier proposal:
Don Airey was quoted as saying that: "he was sick and tired with the anchor-dragging at the county level and frustrated with the lack of real support and initiative he has received from the county, and in particular, Cherry." At the Blenheim Town Board meeting, 12/2/13
"Quite frankly, I am growing fatigued with Mr. Cherry’s inappropriate, inconsistent, and intransigent attitude in dealing with this issue." Don Airey, 12/2/13
"As far as the bridge goes, he’s holding it (the Simmons proposal) on his desk right now, knowing that all he needs to do is commit and submit." Don Airey, 12/2/13
"We all want to move forward." "In my opinion he (Cherry) is basically thumbing his nose at the Board of Supervisors and I am angry." Don Airey, 12/2/13
"The problem now is it’s sitting on Bill Cherry’s desk and he said it will not be submitted to FEMA until he receives a go ahead from the Board of Supervisors." "At this point I feel like we are getting the run-around." Robert Mann, 12/2/13
It wasn’t until last Friday, December 13th, that I was presented with a copy of the newspaper article, so I really had no idea of what had transpired at the Town Board meeting until eleven days after it happened. Given the fact that in September, the Board of Supervisors had originally ordered the proposal to be submitted to FEMA as soon as it was drafted, and since the only reason it was still sitting on my desk awaiting my signature was because of the direct personal requests of Mr. Mann and Mr. Airey, on that same day, Friday, December 13th, I signed the cover letter and submitted the Simmons pier proposal to FEMA.
I will leave it to the members of the BLTRC to decide how to handle the matter from here, but in the meantime, rest assured that the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors, and I, are actively pursuing your request to replace the Blenheim Covered Bridge in its original location via the pier argument. Mr. Airey has been pushing for me to come to Blenheim to discuss this matter further with the BLTRC, but in light of the events described in this letter and the toxic relationship that has clearly developed between BLTRC Chairman Don Airey and myself, I prefer to await FEMA’s reaction to the proposal before entering into any further discussions. I hope you can appreciate my position.
William Cherry,
Recovery Coordinator

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Unknown said...

Mr. Cherry’s attempt at a hatchet job on outgoing Supervisor Mann and community volunteer Don Airey is unfortunately typical of the County Treasurer’s behavior. Mr. Cherry favors venomous attacks on those he considers to be impediments to his political agenda and prefers to do so not by engaging in reasoned debate but instead by making personal attacks in the press and through direct mail campaigns. If Mr. Cherry spent half the time he does on political maneuvering on the tasks to which he is assigned by the Board of Supervisors the people of Schoharie County would be far better served.

Mr. Cherry’s letter contains excerpted quotes (several from newspaper coverage of a meeting he did not attend) that he attempts to weave into a misleading narrative that is neither accurate nor supportive of his stated contention. Mr. Airey, the latest target for Mr. Cherry’s vitriol, has been a tireless leader of Blenheim’s flood recovery and revitalization, chairing the long term recovery and comprehensive plan committees, both of which produced landmark roadmaps for a renewed and sustainable community.

Mr. Airey, a fellow activist who’s work I know and admire, has personally developed and submitted grant applications on behalf of the Town for nearly $5 million in flood recovery funds, secured a high speed Internet pilot program to directly help a community underserved by technology, arranged for the transfer of a church building to the Town for use as a community center at no cost to the taxpayers and spearheaded the Town-wide arboretum project. Mr. Airey has been instrumental in reversing the FEMA denial of funding for the replacement of the Blenheim Covered Bridge, a national historic monument and vital component of Blenheim’s potential tourist economy.

What has Mr. Cherry done for Blenheim? He has refused to meet with the Town’s long term recovery committee blaming a “toxic environment” that he, ironically, created.

In sending a copy of his letter to the press, Mr. Cherry failed to mention that he also sent an email with similar content, not to the entire Board of Supervisors, but, instead only to select members of the Board with whom he is politically aligned, his “team” if you will, in which he suggests that outgoing Supervisor Mann and community volunteer Airey were “liars.” He did so because his style is one of subterfuge and personal attacks. In reviewing Mr. Cherry’s missive, I am reminded of his recent pre-election mailing attacking incumbent Jefferson Supervisor Singletary. While I disagree with Mr. Singletary on most issues, I absolutely agree with the perception that Mr. Cherry’s campaign against him was an inappropriate and crass attempt to influence a local election and an effort at political assignation. Now, only a few weeks later, Mr. Cherry is at it again. His latest antics further diminish Mr. Cherry’s reputation and the integrity of his office.

- Bob Nied

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