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Bullis loves Lysander

— Over the past 28 years I have served as town attorney for the town of Lysander, I have had the opportunity to work closely with two supervisors, and a number of different town board members. I have seen no evidence at any time of the conspiracies, self-dealing, unethical conduct or lack of integrity that Fred Burtch would like voters to believe is rampant in the current town administration.

Barry Bullis has served the town as supervisor for almost 16 years. I hardly knew Barry when I first became town attorney in 1983; there was no pre-existing friendship or any personal relationship. I have come to know Barry through an almost daily working relationship during his tenure as town supervisor. I can tell you that I have not met any person who loves the Town of Lysander more than Barry Bullis, or any town official who has worked harder to promote the best interests of the citizens of the town over the past 16 years than Supervisor Bullis. It sickens me to see an unqualified candidate like Fred Burtch and his ilk slander Barry with false accusations and half-truths in an attempt to exploit the current anti-incumbent sentiment.

Full time pay for part-time work? Let me tell you, folks, Barry Bullis spent the first half of his tenure as supervisor working full time hours for part-time pay, and the past eight years working far more than full time hours for what amounts to a very modest salary for the CEO of a municipal corporation with a multi-million dollar budget.

Republican voters, don’t be conned by the misguided rantings of Fred Burtch: Barry Bullis has served the town well, and with your vote will continue to do so.

P. David Twichell is the Lysander Town Attorney.

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turgid 2 years, 11 months ago

Anther Story for your reading pleasure: In his 1841 essay, “Friendship,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that, “The only reward of virtue is virtue; the only way to have a friend is to be one.” Over the years, this maxim has morphed into, “Virtue is its own reward.”

In other words, don’t expect to gain from friendship. Rather, do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do. I have my own turn on the phrase. “When it comes to friendship, no one’s keeping score.”

For most of us regular folks, this is true. Unfortunately, some people are always keeping score. They only do the right thing when rewarded, and they play the role of friend only when expecting something in return.

Take for example, the town of Lysander, especially the relationship between the Lysander Republican Committee and certain officials of Lysander town government. Specifically, the Lysander Republican Committee has repeatedly rewarded four of its “friends” over the years.

These four “friends” include the members of two families and two firms. I have researched the relationships between each of these “friends” and the Lysander Republican Committee. I have also calculated the consequent cost of each of these relationships to the taxpayers of the town.

This is the second in a four-part series about the price of friendship between the Lysander Republican Committee and these four best friends. As I said in my last story, based on the dollars alone, these four friends and the Lysander Republican Committee would certainly qualify as “BFF!” in text lingo.

Let’s continue with the second of these four friends, the law firm of Coulter, Fraser, & McCarthy, LLC. Over the years, this firm has been known by many names. But the one constant has always been its founding partner, Robert F. Coulter, who served as Lysander Town Attorney from 1973 through 1982. His former partner, P. David Twichell, has been town attorney since 1983, when Coulter hand-picked Twichell to succeed him in that role.

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turgid 2 years, 11 months ago

On January 10, 1973, the local paper reported that, “A new town attorney was the only substantive change as the Lysander Town Board met on Thursday to approve personnel appointments and other matters having to do with the conduct of town business for 1973. Robert Coulter of River Rd., West Phoenix, was named to counsel the board in legal matters….A member of the Syracuse law firm of Coulter, Fraser, Carr, Ames, & Bolton, the new advisor has for several years been chairman of the Lysander Republican Committee.”

In fact, Robert F. Coulter was chairman of the Lysander Republican Committee from 1965 through 1982, playing both this role and that of Lysander Town Attorney for ten of those years. During those same years, Coulter’s wife was also a member of the Lysander Republican Committee.

This set of circumstances constitutes a clear conflict of interest that lasted for at least a decade. So, why didn’t anyone challenge Coulter’s conflict of interest? Someone did.

On October 28, 1991, a candidate for Lysander Town Supervisor wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper. He had been rejected for the second time by the Lysander Republican Party for the nomination. In this letter, he responded in part to the party’s public accusation that his candidacy may represent a “possible” conflict of interest:

“Now, let me tell you about (an) actual conflict of interest. The town attorney is also the town Republican chairman. The reason I believe I was not selected by the non-elected, one-party-rule selection committee, was the fact that they thought that they could not control me and the things that I felt had to be said….

The actual conflict of interest comes from wives being appointed to the selection committee whose husbands are town employees, including the town attorney’s wife! ‘Actual’ conflict of interest provides people with power they would not ordinarily have, if they live(d) by the rules.

Because the town attorney, Robert Coulter, enjoys the dual role of selector of town candidates for public office, and receiver of town fee(s) for legal services and auxiliary business as a result of his town attorney role, the second role is fed by the first. This is not a ‘possible’ conflict of interest; this is an actual conflict of interest. I call for his immediate resignation as town attorney or as chairman of the Lysander Republican Party….

Actual conflict of interest, by those accusing me of possible conflict, is evident to me when town employees’ wives and the chairman’s wife decide whether I would be the best candidate, when they have a financial interest in the outcome because their husbands are on the public payroll!”

The letter-writer went on to wonder whether the voting public wanted to “stop this kind of shenanigans as much as I do.” Apparently, they didn’t. He lost the election for town supervisor and the shenanigans have continued for decades. But let’s go back to 1981.

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turgid 2 years, 11 months ago

On November 18, 1981, an article in the local paper stated that, “In response to a letter received Thursday, the roster of the Town of Lysander Republican Committee is published here for readers’ information. Apparently, another local member of the Republican rank-and-file sought a list of those citizens who represented the local party.

According to the article, the letter writer complained that, “After eight years in the town, I don’t even know who my committeemen are and I am sure most other residents don’t know either. With the pending resignation of the chairman, the need to replace a town councilman, and following a close and hard-fought supervisor election, this information is necessary in order that we voters may evaluate changes that have been made and that we may express our views as to who should be elected as the new chairman and the new councilman.”

“The letter-writer asked, additionally, that (whether) the list includes ‘any elective or appointive positions they or their families may hold in the town, village or county governments.’” But the paper published the list without further comment or explanation.

Among other names, this 1981 membership list of the Lysander Republican Committee included Robert F. Coulter, representing District 1, and his wife, Mrs. Joan Coulter, who lived at the same address but represented a different district, District 3. At least two other names are noteworthy: Donald F. Power (District 2) and Barry Bullis (District 10).

Coulter soon turned over the reins of the town to his hand-picked successors for the roles of party chairman and town attorney. On July 14, 1982, the local paper reported that, “Barry Bullis has been elected chairman of the Lysander Republican Committee, succeeding Robert F. Coulter who had held the post for about 20 years.”

And on August 5, 1982, the local paper announced that the Lysander Republican Party would host a dinner in honor of its retiring chairman. The paper said that, “He was chairman of the Lysander Republican Committee from 1965 to 1982, resigning from the position in June. Coulter is a partner with the law firm of Coulter, Fraser, Ames, Bolton, Bird and Ventre. He is currently attorney for the Town of Lysander, having served in this capacity since 1973.” But Coulter didn’t hold this position much longer, as he had been grooming his hand-picked successor and law partner for the role for some time.

On January 12, 1983, the local paper reported that, “Lysander’s new town attorney is P. David Twichell, a partner in the firm of Coulter, Fraser, Ames, Bolton, Bird & Ventre. His appointment was unanimously approved at Thursday night’s town board meeting. Twichell succeeds Robert Coulter, who retired Dec. 31, and he has acted in Coulter’s place at a number of town meetings during the last two or three years.”

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turgid 2 years, 11 months ago

The article continues. “The one-year appointment carries a monthly retainer of $800, plus additional salary if court cases are involved….Four other applications were received for the position, according to town board members.” Although the article says that applications were received, it doesn’t indicate whether any resumes were reviewed or candidates interviewed for the role.

On November 30, 1983, the local paper reported that, “At its annual meeting and dinner dance this Friday, the North Republican Club will honor Robert F. Coulter of Lysander as its Outstanding Republican of 1983….The Outstanding Republican award was established by the NRC in 1982 to honor individuals who most exemplify and have promoted the ideals of Republicanism in the five northern towns of Onondaga County (Cicero, Clay, Lysander, Salina, and Van Buren). Coulter is a partner in the Syracuse law firm of Coulter, Fraser, Ames, Bolton, Bird and Ventre….Coulter served as Lysander town justice from 1958 to 1965 and as Lysander Republican Chairman from 1965 to 1982.” The article goes on to say that the slate of officers reported out by the nominating committee included Sergeant-At-Arms, Barry Bullis of Lysander.

On January 1, 1986, the local paper reported that P. David Twichell had once again been reappointed as Lysander Town Attorney. It also mentioned for the first time that, “The firm of Coulter, Fraser, Ames, Bolton & Ventre of Syracuse was appointed special counsel to the Lysander Town Board for special districts and litigation. David Twichell, town attorney, is a partner in this law firm.”

On October 28, 1987, the local paper published a letter to the editor from Lysander Town Attorney, P. David Twichell. In this letter, he praised the party-faithful responsible for his appointment and urged town residents to re-elect them as town supervisor and town councilors. As he shilled for his party patrons, Mr. Twichell waxed philosophically:

“Town government exists as the closest level of government to the people in our system, and thus requires, perhaps more than the other levels of government, that the supervisor and town board members be fully familiar with the town, in tune with its citizens, and receptive to residents’ needs and concerns….While individual board members disagree from time to time, my observation is that each vote is made after an informed, careful and independent consideration by each member of the best interests of the town and its residents….I urge all eligible residents to vote next Tuesday and to re-elect Republicans....”

P. David Twichell.

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turgid 2 years, 11 months ago

On March 3, 1994, the local paper published a letter to the editor from a Lysander citizen, who questioned both the ethics and competence of the town attorney. The issue at hand was the Lysander Ice Rink. This issue is much too complicated to discuss at length, so I’ll save it for another story at another time. Suffice it to say that about this time, Twichell first joined the Lysander Republican Committee, and soon became embroiled in the town’s ill-advised decision to purchase the distressed property.

In regard to the town attorney, the letter-writer said that, “As a first step, the Town Board should look to replace the town attorney with one based on ability and not politics….Mr. Twichell would have better served the board if he had advised against fighting the issue, and had advised the board to stay with the original two-day registration period. Instead, undoubtedly at additional cost to the town, he chose to assist the board in an, as Judge Reagan said, ‘attempt to back-fill and correct its original mistake’ in deciding to have the third registration day on an ‘ad-hoc, closed meeting’ basis.”

Fast-forward twelve years. On February 13, 2006, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported that, “Three lawsuits filed against Lysander have forced the town to hire outside lawyers to defend itself. The town hired Robert Ventre (of Coulter, Ventre & McCarthy) to defend two of the cases and Tim Frateschi to defend the third. Both will be paid $145 an hour. The town’s attorney is David Twichell, but hiring outside counsel is not costing taxpayers any more money than if he handled the cases, said town Supervisor Barry Bullis. Twichell is paid $34,652 by the town but has to be paid for any work done outside the scope of his retainer agreement, which includes defending the town against lawsuits. ‘We’d have to pay our own attorney anyway, but it’s more of a time factor,’ Bullis said. Twichell does not work for the town full time.”

Despite Supervisor Bullis’ comments to the contrary, it’s important to note that, prior to the town’s recent litigation with Anheuser-Busch over the assessment of its plant for property taxes, the town’s legal expenses did in fact peak in 2006.

These legal fees pale in comparison to those racked up by the town in its most recent litigation, but they’re still significant. More important, who did the town choose over time to legally represent itself and to receive these fees, and why? Here’s what we know.

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turgid 2 years, 11 months ago

We know that Robert F. Coulter, chairman of the Lysander Republican Committee from 1965 to 1982, was town attorney from 1973 to 1982. He was paid a total of $75,778.

We know that Coulter’s law firm has been special counsel to the town of Lysander for special districts and litigation since 1986. This firm has been known since then variously as Coulter, Fraser, Ames, Bolton, Bird & Ventre; Coulter, Fraser, Bolton, Bird & Ventre; Coulter, Ventre, McCarthy & Twichell; and finally, Coulter, Ventre & McCarthy.

We don’t know what the Coulter law firm was paid by the town of Lysander from 1986 through 1994, because the records are missing from town files. But we do know that since 1995, the town has paid this firm a total $139,131. You can do the math to estimate the prior nine years.

We know that P. David Twichell, Coulter’s former law partner, has been town attorney since 1983, for which he has been paid a total of $749,464, including his part-time salary and fees for hours outside the scope of his retainer agreement. As part-time town attorney, the Lysander town board set Twichell’s salary for 2011 at $39,775.

And we know that Barry Bullis took over as chairman of the Lysander Republican Committee in 1983 after Robert F. Coulter stepped down. We also know that Bullis was first elected to the part-time role of town supervisor in 1995, a role which he voted to make full-time in 2003. 2011 will be his seventeenth in office as Lysander town supervisor.

In return for their years of political friendship and loyal service, Barry Bullis and the Lysander Republican Committee have rewarded Coulter, Twichell, and crew by consistently appointing them to town roles without the benefit of competitive bid or open interviews. We don’t know whether bidding or interviews would save the taxpayers of the town any money, but it would certainly prevent the perception of favoritism.

So, what is the town’s position regarding favoritism? Chapter 28 of the Code of the town of Lysander states that, “The Town of Lysander's Procurement Policy is readopted annually. The most current version is on file in the office of the Town Clerk.” This policy was included in the town board agenda for the 2011 organizational meeting held on January 3, 2011. Guideline 6 states in part that, “Except when directed by the Town Board, no solicitation of written proposals or quotations shall be required under the following circumstances: a) acquisition of professional services….” To be clear, the town of Lysander is not required to solicit competitive bids for legal services of any kind.

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turgid 2 years, 11 months ago

But, New York State law expressly forbids favoritism of any kind on the part of town government. Specifically, Section 104-B (Procurement policies and procedures) of Article 2-A (Public Contracts) of General Municipal Law of New York State, states that,

“Goods and services which are not required by law to be procured by political subdivisions or any districts therein pursuant to competitive bidding must be procured in a manner so as to assure the prudent and economical use of public moneys in the best interests of the taxpayers of the political subdivision or district, to facilitate the acquisition of goods and services of maximum quality at the lowest possible cost under the circumstances, and to guard against favoritism, improvidence, extravagance, fraud and corruption.”

“To further these objectives, the governing board of every political subdivision and any district therein, by resolution, shall adopt internal policies and procedures governing all procurements of goods and services which are not required to be made pursuant to the competitive bidding requirements of section one hundred three of this article or of any other general, special or local law.”

Where can one find the town of Lysander’s policies and procedures to guard against favoritism in the acquisition of professional services, for which competitive bidding is not required? You won’t find them, because there are none. To be clear, there is no clause in either the Official Code or Procurement Policy of the town of Lysander, which protects taxpayers from this favoritism. So we are left to consider only the cost of such services.

Then, what has been the price of this friendship to the town’s taxpayers? Well, let’s add up the accumulated earnings from the town to Coulter, Twichell, and company since 1973. Not including the nine years for which the town lost its record of payments to the law firm of Coulter and Twichell (1986 through 1994), the town of Lysander has paid Robert F. Coulter, P. David Twichell, and their law partners a total of $964,363 since 1973.

Who says that you can’t put a price on friendship? If you ask David Twichell, it’s worth a cool million.

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turgid 2 years, 11 months ago

I guess you can see why Mr. Twichell wants Barry re-elected. Keep the gravy train rolling.

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jmsml 2 years, 11 months ago

You missed an important point there turgid, Barry worked the Supervisors job for the first 8 years or so, from a bar stool in Van Buren. The only thing that got him into the Town Offices was the outlawing of smoking in bars, so he built himself a taxpayer funded smoking office.

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