Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Remove Chair of Columbia County Ethics Board: call for a hearing

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Official Correspondence: An open letter to the Columbia County Board of Supervisors

I am writing to call for a hearing to determine if Stuyvesant Supervisor Valerie Bertram should be removed from her position as chair of the Columbia County Ethics Board. I presented her with credible evidence of wrongdoing by people under her and the town as a body, with her knowledge and approval, retaliated against me. I will argue that leaving Ms. Bertram in her current position is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house.

County Chairman Brown heard my allegations and wrote to Ms. Bertram, link below. In his letter, Mr. Brown noted the suggestion that Ms. Bertram be asked to voluntarily resign from the Ethics Board as an alternative to the hearing proposed here.

In my experience, open accountable government, democracy and a healthy environment for economic growth are synonymous. Government corruption can gum up the works in every aspect of human life, including the economy. My business has suffered and I have not made additional investments that might well have produced more jobs locally.

I do not need to establish the criminality of the underlying charges to demonstrate that Ms. Bertram’s response is unethical. As a private citizen I am not authorized to bring criminal charges, nor can I subpoena documents, nor is it obstruction of justice to mislead me. My FOIL submissions to the town of Stuyvesant are routinely rejected and ignored. Despite these handicaps in obtaining and verifying information, in the proposed hearing at the county level I would argue that 1) the underlying charges were serious, well substantiated and actionable; and 2) Ms. Bertram’s response was entirely inappropriate.

My necessarily superficial investigation of town finances and practices found serious problems: solicitation of inappropriate payment, movement of funds from the town bank account to contractor pockets without paperwork, invoice fraud, assessment manipulation allowing privileged property owner to avoid paying taxes, filing false statements and frequent pre-dawn observation of a residence.

The Columbia County Board of Supervisors should not allow this example to serve as a model for the county. However, Ms. Bertram deserves a chance to answer my charge that she retaliated against me for bringing ethical violations to her attention. Therefore, a hearing is absolutely necessary, unless Ms. Bertram avails herself of Chairman Brown's offer to discuss resignation. In my letter of Thursday, February 3, 2011 to Chairman Brown I argued that the Ethics Board itself is the proper venue for this hearing. Otherwise, the entire Columbia County Board of Supervisors would hear the case without the benefit of an advisory opinion.

There is no equal protection under the law, no due process, and no accountability in Stuyvesant. The concerted effort by many officers of the government is intended to ruin my business, the way I provide for my family, and, potentially, put me in jail on a false charge. Since I am obviously wholly innocent, the real purpose of this extraordinary campaign against me was an attempt to intimidate and silence me, to punish and convince me not to exercise my constitutional rights.

Prior to the coordinated attack on my rights by this town government, my life was dangerously close to perfect: prosperous, surrounded by beauty and happiness. I have a lot to lose. As a private citizen with no institutional standing and as a business owner vulnerable to politically motivated manipulation of zoning rules, I am vulnerable.

Vulnerable or not, punished or not, imprisoned or not, impoverished or not, I will never compromise when it comes to basic principles of fairness. The curse of this campaign against me may be a disguised blessing, revealing a prize I took for granted prior to this struggle: the Constitution of the United States of America. If I were put a higher price on a permit or almost anything else than I do on my constitutional rights I would disgrace to the blood of patriots. “For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one title shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

The Columbia County Board of Supervisors should not embrace open defiance of bedrock principles of American jurisprudence by leaving Ms. Bertram in her position as chair of the Ethics Board. Ms. Bertram’s response to allegations of corruption and abuse in her own government in the town of Stuyvesant was wholly inappropriate and should not be a model of ethical behavior to be embraced at the county level.

I will be at the Columbia County Board of Supervisors meeting tomorrow night, Wednesday, February 9, at 7:30 PM. If logistical and jurisdictional issues need to be hammered out in person, I will be available to speak individually with any board member or with the board as a group if public comments are allowed or authorized tomorrow. Thank you for your attention to the issue of corruption in government in Stuyvesant, Columbia County, and how we might start to stamp it out. See you all tomorrow.


Will Pflaum
PO Box 40
Stuyvesant Falls, NY 12174

Links to documents (some files make take a minute or two to load):

Documents presented to Roy Brown, Chairman of the Board, Columbia County Board of Supervisors, Robert J. Fitzsimmons, County Attorney, and David Colby, President and CEO, Columbia County, Chamber of Commerce on January 24, 2011:


Audio of that meeting:


Letters following January meeting with Roy Brown, from Mr. Brown to Valerie Bertram and from me to Mr. Brown:


Documents submitted to the planning board:


Blog entry about harassment:


Blog entry about assessments:


Blog entry about unusual payments:


FOILs and recent issues with access to information:


Audio of December Stuyvesant Town Board meeting with discussion of ethical issues:


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