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The repercussions of Town Board infighting

NORTH EAST — Following the Wednesday, Aug. 17, Town Board meeting, Councilman Steve Merwin said he regretted things had gone so far, but added that he felt as if his back was put up against the wall.“He [Councilman Dave McGhee] made the comment the truck is under state bid and we can’t get it any cheaper, and I said we can, and he completely flew off the handle,” Merwin said, adding he’s a certified diesel mechanic. “I have experience with that stuff; I know we can get it cheaper. I can guarantee cutting $50,000 off the price, and the fact is we can fix the truck we have now. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s worthless.”Merwin has a track record of saving the town money when it comes to equipment. Last year the board was ready to approve the purchase of a $115,000 tractor; Merwin was able to whittle the cost down to $60,000.McGhee disagreed; he said the town spends thousands every few months to keep the 1994 truck running. He even suggested selling it two years ago. The councilman said he has expertise on the subject, too — he worked for the Dutchess County Department of Public Works (DPW) for 16 years and served as the town’s highway superintendent for two.But the root of the problem goes beyond equipment — protocol and decorum are issues the Town Board needs to deal with, according to both men, who described last week’s scene somewhat differently.“He stood up and I thought he was going to come across the table,” Merwin said. “Obviously he was looking for a fight, because then he went after [town Supervisor] Dave Sherman. It’s really unnecessary. We should be able to talk and have rational conversation and hear each other out. That’s why we ran for Town Board, to contribute our knowledge, and we’re all on an equal playing field. It’s not personal; we are in charge of spending people’s money to the best of our abilities.”“I didn’t stand up,” McGhee said. “And [Councilman] Timmy [Shaffer] said he thought Steve was going to clock me. People can have differences of opinions, but it doesn’t have to be expressed like that. That’s going too far, and I think he has to learn better. He blows up very quickly and I’m not going to sit there and be talked to like I’m an idiot.”“Such behavior diminishes the Town Board’s ability to conduct the people’s business in an efficient and effective manner,” Sherman said, adding both men were leaning over the table toward each other during the heated exchange. “We are in the midst of the most difficult economic times we have seen. I believe it is a disservice to our taxpayers for board members to fail to demonstrate the maturity and judgment needed to deal with important matters.”“It’s too bad that it happened,” McGhee said. “But it did and what are you going to do? I’m only human, and there are going to be arguments. Nobody is perfect on any of our boards.”“It sets a poor example,” Merwin said, adding had he a choice, he wouldn’t have engaged in the exchange. “I would like to say I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s unfortunate and shouldn’t have happened. I don’t want to sound like a jerk and blame anybody, but it shouldn’t have happened. It doesn’t look good or make the rest of us feel any better. It makes us want to get up and leave. Nobody wants to take time out of their day to be yelled at.”

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