In this corner . . . Malone vs. Fleming, then Nuzzi vs. Throne-Holst, then Fleming vs. Nuzzi, then Throne-Holst vs. Malone, not to mention a free-for-all double bill Throne -Holst vs. Malone and Nuzzi vs. Fleming simultaneously.
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Last Friday, what was supposed to be a simple work session reviewing the agenda for yesterday's Southampton Town Board meeting descended into a series of verbal skirmishes, with bubbling resentment among majority and minority members boiling over and enmity escalating to a new level.
While there was a new level of ire, debate over departmental organization has been going on for weeks.
Warm fuzzies have been in short supply in town hall since last fall, when members of the Republican majority Chris Nuzzi, Jim Malone and Nancy Graboski tanked Supervisor Anna Throne- Holst's plan to reorganize certain departments and put forth their own philosophy regarding how the General Services and Comptroller's offices should function.
Along with Democratic minority member Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, Throne-Holst, who proposed abolishing the position of Commissioner of General Services and passing some of that department's duties over to Comptroller Tamara Wright, complained of an eleventh hour budgetary ambush. The Republican threesome adopted a budget that kept the office, then voted to install Russell Kratoville as head, a move that elicited scorching criticism from Democrats and community members supportive of the supervisor. The GOP-supported budget cut spending by one percent while the supervisor's proposal raised them by a little over two percent.
Resolutions relating to the ongoing disagreement about how the two departments should operate kicked off Friday's snipefest, which morphed into high volume accusation, then ratcheted up to a verbal brawl, with the supervisor attempting to end the discussion and Malone rebuking her for chastising council members. Telling the supervisor, "You can stop the scolding," Malone admonished, "You know what? This is not your breakfast table and I'm not one of your children."
Last month, Fleming put forth a measure restoring staff to the comptroller's office. It was summarily squashed by the GOP majority, members of which said they wanted to maintain staffing levels outlined in the adopted budget. On Friday Fleming re-introduced her bill and Nuzzi proposed a resolution directing the comptroller's office to provide financial information, spurring the latest display of internecine ire.
Both moves, along with a third resolution revising the duties of the General Services department, were slated for vote at the town board meeting held as Indy went to press yesterday, but Throne-Holst urged colleagues to hold off until after a comprehensive work session on the matters scheduled for this coming Friday.
Although she said she supported the supervisor's request to discuss the allocation of tasks and staff during a work session, Fleming admitted she put the resolution on the agenda because "it's the only way I can get my foot in the door." She said she discussed the matter with Malone and it "went nowhere."
Malone was offended by the assertions and said as much.
Nuzzi said he was offended by Wright's notation in the fiscal impact section of his bill directing the comptroller's office to provide "basic financial information." (See sidebar for additional information about financial reporting effort.) The fiscal impact section called for a new $75,000 position in Wright's office. Nuzzi and Malone both derided the "ridiculous" notation, suggesting it was a back door move to increase the comptroller's staff. A financial impact statement isn't designed to be a lobbying effort for more help, Malone said adding that if Wright didn't know that, "I'm wondering whether we've got the right comptroller." Throne-Holst argued Wright has served the town "exceedingly well."
Complaining that the only way to get the information he wanted "and is entitled to," was through a directive in a resolution, Nuzzi said to the supervisor the information he seeks is data which Wright "claims to have, which you claim she has every day, which she better have because she's the one watching out on a daily basis of what our finances are."
Throne-Holst insisted the information is "plopped in to the town clerk's office" each month and is readily available. However, if the councilman needs it in a different format, it would require more staff, she said. The supervisor said Wright was "deeply offended" that Nuzzi failed to speak with her first before sponsoring the move. When the councilman claimed to have had numerous conversations with the comptroller, the supervisor interjected "no you have not."
As happened several times that morning, the discussion then descended into a 'did so/did not' type interchange more often seen on schoolyards. Each member of the board (except Graboski, who was absent) at one point accused a colleague of making statements that were untrue. The heated outing climaxed with arguments raging at both ends of the dais. While Malone demanded "respect for the office" from Throne-Holst, Fleming clashed with Nuzzi referencing the controversy surrounding the appointment of "crony" Kratoville and efforts to aggrandize his office. "Just stop. Stop. Stop with the rhetoric," Nuzzi interrupted, chastising the councilwoman for resorting to a "mantra" dissing the Republican majority. "Be responsible in your position here as a town board member," he said.
Fleming reminded that her responsibility as a minority member to watch the majority and "put the brakes on" when necessary, particularly when moves invite controversy and anger.
If there is anger and frustration, Malone interjected, it's because the Democrat minority refuses to acknowledge and accept decisions made during the budget process. Stating he had no interest in another discussion of staffing, Nuzzi directed his comments to the supervisor. "It seems we can have a hundred work sessions, but apparently in your world, we will continue to talk up until the point everybody agrees with you."
When the supervisor said, again, that she'd schedule a work session on the issues, Malone said "let's do it respectfully and have respect for the offices we hold."
"I think those were my very words," Throne–Holst replied.
"Well, then live by them," Malone countered.