MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Supervisor Ken Schmitt called the altercation between Councilman Mike Barile and Journal News columnist David McKay Wilson “an embarrassment” last week and vowed that such behavior would never happen again at a Town Board meeting.
Barile and Wison got into a confrontation at the board’s Sept. 17 meeting as a long-simmering dispute between the two came to a head. Wilson had written a series of columns critical of Barile, while Barile claimed that Wilson had taken photos of family members that had nothing to do with any of the controversies the columnist had written about. Barile was also angered by what he said was an invasion of his personal space while Wilson was recording him and asking questions on which Barile declined to comment.
At some point, after the Sept. 17 meeting adjourned, Barile tossed a water bottle that hit Wilson and then got a hold of his cell phone and threw it into the parking lot.
“What happened here last Wednesday at the conclusion of the Town Board meeting was an embarrassment. It was something that never should have occurred,” Schmitt said. “The behavior that took place here on the part of several individuals, who I am not going to name, is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Schmitt said if a physical confrontation should happen again, he will get the Carmel Police Department involved.
“If that ever occurs again, there will probably be complaints filed by me as the supervisor of this town and the chairman of this meeting with the Carmel Police Department and those individuals will be removed from the meeting,” he said. “It is not acceptable on any level of government.
“With that said, I am going to ask everyone to respect each other. If you want respect, you have to give respect. If you are not respectful, your actions could potentially inflame a situation and I am going to ask you to leave. It’s as simple as that.”
Though he did not mention Wilson by name, Schmitt seemed to allude to the columnist by saying that journalists need to remain seated during a meeting and take a “no comment” response to heart.
“Everyone is expected to stay in their seat unless they need to use the bathroom,” he said. “We are not going to have people wandering around the meeting room with cameras in people’s faces and recording, in my opinion, to try to get a response out of them.
“I am also going to ask everyone to respect everyone’s private zone,” the supervisor continued. “If you want to get in someone’s face and disrespect that zone, then you could be trying to inflame a situation. If a reporter asks a question, and the person says, ‘no comment,’ that should end it right there. Don’t repeatedly ask the same question over and over again. Once the person says, ‘no comment,’ you have your answer.”
Carmel resident Judy Mira called the altercation between Barile and Wilson, “unfortunate, frustrating and embarrassing.”
“Personal space is important; we teach that to kids,” she said. “When somebody is in your face, it is inappropriate. Maybe because they’ve been antagonistic toward each other in the past may be the best response would have been for Mike (Barile) and family to leave immediately. But I think at one point it also looked like Mr. Wilson was also being bullied.”
Barile said he found Mira’s comment about leaving the building “a little strange.”
“I am a councilman,” he said.
“I know, but you were going into executive session and I felt maybe at that point you should have just gotten up and gone into executive session,” Mira responded. “Kids’ eyes and ears are open. We are role models and I believe we have to do a better job.”
Mahopac resident Carl Eberle said he appreciated Schmitt’s statement.
“It was a disgrace and I thank you, Mr. Schmitt, for making your point at the beginning of the meeting,” he told the board. “That’s why I came here tonight, to see if we were just going to fluff this thing over and not say anything about it, so I’m glad you said something.”
Eberle then criticized Barile for not apologizing for the incident and Schmitt pointed out that Wilson did not apologize either.
“Let’s not single out Mr. Barile when there was another gentleman here who antagonized that situation,” Schmitt said.
Barile noted he gave a quote to Mahopac News in which he apologized for any embarrassment he caused the town of Carmel. Eberle said he hadn’t seen the article yet, adding it would have been nice if Barile had expressed those sentiments publicly during a meeting.
Mira added that civility during public meetings was crucial and said she feels Democratic board candidate Jean Hopper was disrespected when she spoke during the public comment session at the Sept. 18 meeting. Hopper had asked questions about Barile’s controversial sewer hookup of Blu Restaurant, a property that he owns and was the subject of several of Wilson’s columns.
“Jean understands the issues and when she is up here, she is here for the truth,” Mira said. “And I know when Mike [Barile] was up here, when he was on this side, he was seeking the truth, too. He came with folders; he came with papers and really socked it to you guys. It really is about the truth. It’s not about politics, it’s not about a party. [Hopper] has been encouraged to ask the tough questions. We need the truth, we need honesty, we need transparency.”
Councilwoman Suzi McDonough also cautioned residents that when they come to the podium during the public forum portion of the meeting, they should address the board only and not members of the audience or the TV cameras.
“We have been very lenient with people asking questions [during the public forum portion of the meeting], but when people come up to the microphone, they are to address the Town Board,” she said. “They are not to address the audience or the cameras. We want to hear from you, but it’s hard to hear you when people are talking, and it’s like, ‘hey, I’m on camera now.’ So, please, just address us.”