Town of Dewey Residents Square Off With Leadership
Residents Claim Town Leaders Moved Without Considering Public Comment
By Brandi Makuski
Residents from the Town of Dewey filled the municipal building Wednesday night to get answers on why the town’s leadership have ignored resolutions passed by residents in April.
Four resolutions were passed by a show of hands vote during the town’s annual meeting this spring which were designed to prevent $204,000 in proposed spending for 2014 on a new fire truck and town hall remodel. Town Chairman Maurice King told the townspeople at that meeting he didn’t believe the resolutions had any legal standing because they were “only advisory actions”, meaning the town doesn’t need to abide by them, something he said has since been confirmed by at least two attorneys consulted by the town.
Town leaders approved borrowing the money Wednesday despite heavy public objection and an accompanying petition with over 170 signatures.
“The people here would like an answer as to why we passed resoultions in April (for) no town hall, no fire truck,” said resident Jerry Kizewski. “Explain to us why you went ahead with that anyhow. Between yourself and Dennis (Meis, Town Supervisor), you fight the wishes of the people. Majority rules, but in this town it doesn’t. Why?”
“We’ve had them discussions,” said Town Chairman Maurice King. “Them discussions are over.”
King’s response spawned angry replies for several seconds until he finally agreed to answer.
“The town hall has numerous fire code violations, and those issues need to be addressed, and we’re taking care of that,” King said, adding those safety violations trumped the advisory resolutions from April because they were overseen by the state. The town hall has no bathrooms or office space, so town records are often carried around in a box, and the building is in dire need of electrical updates, he added.
“As for the fire truck, the truck needs to be updated and this was the decision made by the town board. We are responsible to maintain and take care of the fire department and protect the fire fighters. We were elected to make those decisions, and this discussion is done,” King said.
“But if we voted on this resolution that said no new fire truck, how can you not listen to the people?” Asked resident Tim Lepak.
“It’s been explained by three or four attorneys that none of those (resolutions) have any value,” King said, adding he would eject anyone who didn’t “settle down” from the meeting. He added no attorney was present to answer questions because it would cost the town too much money.
“Everybody here probably needs to go and take out your statutes and read them, because it’s very explicit. We’ve had this discussion, it’s over and we’re not talking about it anymore,” King said.
Several times the meeting dissolved into a shouting match between King and various members of the public, who took jabs at King’s fairness, intelligence and communication skills. King repeatedly attempted to get the meeting back on track but was often interrupted.
“Ok, so I just have a question then,” said Marcy Hintz. “Just for my information, why wasn’t there any special committee formed to deal with the fire truck issue? It seems a lot of these questions could have been answered if there was a committee.”
King said the Town Board was elected to deal with those issues which affected the safety of the public and saw no reason to create such a committee. He also said Dewey Fire Chief Leroy Pukrop wasn’t present to answer questions because he was at a meeting with the fire truck’s vendor Wednesday night.
Town Board Member Dennis Meis said the town’s government has gone through major upheaval recently, with three of the five elected officials- a town supervisor, the town clerk and town treasurer- resigning over the past few months. Only Meis and King remained.
It’s not uncommon, Meis said, for the members of the Town Board to be the only people present during public meetings.
“People come out when they have something to complain about. When everything’s okay and everybody is happy, nobody shows up,” Meis said. “But when something happens they don’t like, or they don’t understand, hey, they get one person to rally everybody up and they all show up.”
“For about a year now we’ve been doing battle with the leadership,” Kizewski told the City-Times. “We asked (King) to have a vote on needing a new fire truck, and he said no. They just ignore us. We have no recourse anymore. King said the petition had no meaning and threw it out. He’s a dictator- he’s turned into a little Chavez.”
Newly appointed Town Board Member Tim Pazdra, who remained largely silent during the meeting, later admitted the communication between town officials and residents could be better.
“It would have placated people if they had been a part of the decision,” he said after the meeting ended. Pazdra did vote in favor of borrowing money for the town hall remodel, but voted against the $154K fire truck loan because of the lack of public input on that decision.
“It’d be nice, though, to get some positive input. If you’re only going to complain, it’s hard to consider all points of view,” he said.
“I’ve been here for 33 years,” said King. “Every major project in this town you suddenly hear from people who don’t want that project, and they’re the only people who ever show up for the meetings.”