CAYUGA HEIGHTS MAYOR ORDERED BY JUDGE
TO RELEASE RECORDS THAT PROVE SHE CONCEALED
WIDESPREAD REJECTION OF BACKYARD DEER KILLING
Irregularities in documents and failure to comply
with court order raise concerns of a cover up
ITHACA, NY—On the heels of a June 13th Ithaca Journal report that Cayuga Heights Mayor Kate Supron may pursue the killing of deer in Village neighborhoods this Fall, a local resident has uncovered evidence that the mayor concealed a lack of resident support for this controversial program.
When the Village abruptly switched from a planned bait-and-shoot deer killing program to a sterilization-only program last December, the mayor explained it was because a small minority—owners of just 90 properties, or approximately 10% of the properties in the Village—would not allow their land to be used for the program. But documents released following a recent court order show the mayor's claims to be grossly misleading. In fact, these newly released documents reveal that the owners of 75% of the properties in the Village withheld permission for killing deer.
The documents in question are “Landowner Consent Agreements” that had been submitted by Village residents during 2012, giving the Village permission to carry out various activities on their land, including baiting deer, killing deer, moving deer carcasses, and discharging deadly weapons within 500 feet of their homes. These consent forms were included in a Sept. 7, 2012 mailing to landowners in the Village, titled “To All Village residents from the Board of Trustees — An Important Request.” The cover letter asked for their support for the deer killing program planned to take place in Village neighborhoods over the Winter of 2012-13, and made it clear that this program depended on the cooperation and participation of Village landowners in order to succeed.
The mayor illegally withholds crucial data upon which public policy is being made.
In a March 29, 2013 ruling, NYS Supreme Court Justice Robert Mulvey ordered the Village of Cayuga Heights to release these forms, which it had been improperly withholding for several months during a time when critical public policy decisions were being made based on the data contained in the forms. To get Mayor Supron to comply with a New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, a lawsuit was brought by attorney Trevor DeSane on behalf of Ithaca resident Jenny Stein, a documentary filmmaker and co-founder of the local citizens’ group CayugaDeer.org, which seeks non-lethal solutions to resolving the community’s deer conflict.
In addition to ordering the Cayuga Heights government to comply with Stein's August, 2012 FOIL request, Judge Mulvey further ordered the Village to pay $7,325 for Stein's attorney’s fees, costs and expenses, finding that Stein had “substantially prevailed” and that Mayor Supron "did not have a ‘reasonable basis for denying access’ to the records in question."
Court documents show that the Village’s non-compliance with Stein’s original FOIL request was based on alleged concerns for residents’ privacy and safety. Yet, when Stein offered to accept the forms with all identifying information “blacked out,” or redacted, her request was denied again for the same reason. In that second denial, Mayor Supron offered no explanation as to how any person’s safety or privacy could be jeopardized by the release of anonymous statistical information.
The mayor insists on personally redacting forms that are in her political interest to censor.
In an affidavit submitted to the Court, Mayor Supron stated that if Stein prevailed in Court, she intended to personally redact the records, “because of the seriousness of this task.” She offered no explanation for why the Village clerk, who normally performs this function, or another disinterested party, could not be entrusted with the task. DeSane argued, “It is inappropriate for [Mayor Supron] to personally redact permission forms whose contents she may plausibly have a strong personal political interest in suppressing.”
Questions of document tampering and a coverup are raised when the mayor returns a grossly incomplete set of forms with startling irregularities that go unexplained.
Following Judge Mulvey’s order, Mayor Supron, who was permitted to redact the documents, released 305 forms. On examination, numerous irregularities were discovered, including 19 duplicate forms, several of which bore the identical signatures of Police Chief James Steinmetz, but in different locations on what were clearly copies of a single landowner's form. The irregularities were substantial enough to raise questions about the legitimacy of the documents, as well as the possibility of tampering.
A complaint filed with Judge Mulvey on April 12th specified these and other irregularities and documented the Village's failure to comply with the court's order. In response, Cayuga Heights’ attorney John Stevens conceded that an incomplete set had been delivered and that the Mayor would now be releasing a substantial number of forms that had previously been withheld. On April 22nd, a total of 362 forms were released, comprised of the 286 non-duplicate forms from the original set plus 76 entirely new forms. Stevens offered no explanation for why Mayor Supron had withheld 21% of the forms despite a clear court order calling for her to release the complete set. Stevens also failed to adequately explain the irregularities involving duplicate forms and the identical signature of Police Chief Steinmetz appearing in different positions on otherwise identical forms.
“The secrecy, repeated non-compliance with the law, and most recently, the question of possible document tampering, only underscores why judicial intervention was needed in this matter,” says Stein.
Village officials propagate the 10% Deception, claiming that a minority of landowners blocked the deer shooting plan, when in fact it was the majority.
Stein says that during two Village Board meetings that she videotaped last November, Mayor Supron and Village Attorney Randy Marcus indicated the shooting plan had been blocked because the owners of 90 properties, or approximately 10% of the 933 residential parcels in the Village, would not allow the killing of deer on their land. Trustee Robert Andolina responded, "We've gotten the community's buy-in to the point where, you know, 10% can change our ability to execute -- and take a tool away from us that [the DEC] are saying is available to us. Well, it's not." [Video excerpts here]
Statements by the mayor reported in the media also clearly implied that only a small fraction of property owners were standing in the way of the Village implementing its deer killing plan. A Nov. 20, 2012, WENY TV news story reported that, "One in ten property owners won't allow killing on their property."
The documents released by court-order reveal that 75% of landowners withheld permission for deer to be shot near their homes -- not 10%, as the mayor repeatedly claimed.
But the released documents reveal another story. Not 90, but 130 of the forms Mayor Supron surrendered indicate the landowners’ outright refusal to allow killing on their properties. Additionally, owners of 571 residential properties did not return consent agreements that were mailed to them requesting their participation. These were treated as a denial of permission to kill on their properties, according to Village officials who were directly asked by residents.
In fact, during a period of nearly a year in which Village officials were actively soliciting resident consent in order to move their deer killing program forward, the number of properties whose owners chose not to participate totaled 701, or 75% of all residential properties in the village. Therefore the mayor's representations at meetings and in the media that the owners of 90 properties, or 10% of all properties in the Village, are responsible for blocking the killing program are misleading and inaccurate.
The mayor's persistent flouting of NY's Freedom of Information Law wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars and violated her campaign promise to govern with transparency.
“In my opinion, Mayor Supron is abusing her power and misusing public funds,” says Stein. “She just wasted thousands in an attempt to cover up the fact that she misled the public, and that most Village residents do not want a deer killing program carried out in their neighborhood. Now, she is telling the media she may again pursue killing deer in the Fall. It makes no sense, when 93% of the does have been sterilized and more than $150,000 of tax-payer dollars have already been invested in this non-lethal approach, which has all but ended the community controversy. People have the right to know how little support Mayor Supron actually has for her misguided agenda. That is why CayugaDeer.org has chosen to make this information public.”
Says Stein’s attorney, DeSane, "The New York State Freedom of Information Law clearly states, ‘The people's right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality.’ The Supron administration went to extraordinary lengths to arbitrarily withhold access to information that is very clearly in the public interest. When the Village refused our very reasonable offer to accept forms with resident information redacted last November, they went down a path that was not legally defensible. The judge's ruling left no doubt that the Village was breaking both the spirit and the letter of state law in its attempt to impede government transparency in Cayuga Heights."