March 8, 2016

Homer addresses village office options

homerBob Ellis/staff photographer
During Homer’s town hall-style meeting Monday night, Mayor Genevieve Suits, second from right, holds up a flier containing what she described as “outright lies” that was circulated in the village, pertaining to the search for a new village hall. Listening, left to right, are Village Board members Kevin Slack, Gene Smith and Andy Brush.

Staff Reporter

HOMER — At least 60 village residents took part in the town hall-style meeting Monday night as the village officials tried to clear up misinformation related to the village offices and a flier that was circulated by a candidate in the villageelections.
Outgoing Trustee Paul Gower, a Democrat, suggested during the gathering at the Paul Hill Memorial Community Building that the village have the meeting ahead of tonight’s candidates’ forum at the Homer Center of the Arts at 7 p.m. to clear the air about the village offices.
In 2010, the village moved to its offices at 53 S. Main St. following concerns about air quality in the Town Hall. But officials and village employees have said more than once that the current space is cramped and have considered using $272,000 in reserve funds to either build or buy new, larger offices.
The hourlong meeting opened with Mayor Genevieve Suits castigating the author of a flier that circulated recently around the village.
The document purports, among other claims, the village had considered building new offices on Fulton Street, displacing popular community gardens. It also claimed a new office building would be tin with a shingle roof, and that free rent has been offered by the town.
Trustees Andrew Brushand Gene Smith took turns dismissing specific claims, but Suits’ statements were the most harsh.
“This is embarrassing to me that someone would put this out with outright lies and didn’t have the gumption to ask any one of us about this,” she said. “We need to move forward in a positive direction. This has drawn on way too long and become so negative.”
Residents mostly asked about how the $272,000 in reserves would be used. The village board members said residents can be sure the money can only be spent on new buildings for the village.
Their message was clear: Where or when new offices will be built is far from set, and the village is committed to moving beyond considering the Town Hall as an option.
After the meeting, Republican trustee candidate Ed Finkbeiner claimed responsibility for the fliers, saying it was information he compiled from his own research.
He said it was not his intention to spread misinformation, just to illustrate how a lack of communication between the Village Board and residents has led to residents not getting the whole story.
Finkbeiner called the timing of the discussions cynical and a political move that serves only to benefit Democrats in the village elections next week.
“Somehow, the Democrats want a new building and the Republicans don’t,” he said. “This is just obfuscation. I thought it was very political. It’s very cynical to do it a week before the election.”
Republican Pat Clune, who is also running for a seat on the Village Board, said after the meeting, for him, moving back the Town Hall is a choice, not a priority.
“More information to the electorate is a good thing,” he said. “Most people have the idea that it’s an either/or thing. That’s not the case. There’s at least five options. Some of them are more feasible than others, but they all need to be explored.”
Democratic trustee candidate Suzanne Reily disagreed with Finkbeiner, saying this morning she felt the meeting was less about politics and more about letting people know the truth about ongoing village office discussions and, in that regard, the meeting was a success.
“I think turnout was excellent and I’m glad a lot of that misleading information out there was cleared up,” she said. “I don’t see it as a Democrat and Republican thing at all. I am a big believer that ... in a small community, when you are elected and you sit at a board, that you represent everyone. That truly is how I feel.”
Democratic candidate Janet Steck could not be reached for comment by press time this morning.
Suits said the village could have done a better job of getting information out about where the village is in office discussions and said the village is updating its website where information will be made available, but she also encouraged residents to contact the village with questions.

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