The Many Faces of Michael Chiara

I hoped Michael Chiara would make a difference as Amsterdam’s 5th Ward member of the Board of Supervisors for Montgomery County, New York, but a recent experience proved otherwise. On March 7, 2012, as a 5th Ward resident, I called Supervisor Chiara to express my dismay at the Board of Supervisors passing a resolution to give public funds to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, a Catholic church for the celebration of a Catholic ritual. Details of this 1st Amendment violation can be found in a previous Grove Street Grumble post entitled, Letter to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors.

Chiara required me to put my complaint in writing and send it to his 7 Montgomery Street address. A copy of that letter can be found here. To date, I never received a response from the 5th Ward Supervisor. He has, however made several statement to local media concerning my complaint. On Wednesday April 11, 2012, Chiara is quoted by Recorder reporter Heather Nellis as stating:

I won’t be pushed around. This is putting a tinge on this area. What’s next? We salute the flag. How far are we going to allow this to go?

In another Recorder article about the Shrine funding on April 5, 2012, Chiara states:

It’s a wonderful thing that’s happening in this area, I’m very proud of Auriesville, I’m very proud of Kateri — my mother wrote a beautiful poem for that years ago that didn’t have anything to do with my decisions of that. It’s a shame something as beautiful as this has to turn into a group of people who want to make a big issue. This is not a state religion, as the original idea was about separation of church and state had to do with creating a state religion. Everyone has freedom of what they want to believe in, and it’s a shame this has to happen. In my opinion, this is still a Judeo-Christian country, and I’m proud to say in God we trust.

With no response from Chiara, I took my complaint to Americans United for Separation of Church and State , an organization fighting this very issue since 1947, and to journalist Carl Strock who writes for the Gazette. Strock supported my argument, his article was published in the Gazette. AU supported my position by sending a strongly worded letter on my behalf to the Montgomery Board of Supervisors. The letter can be found here. Several County Supervisors have contacted me with their support, stating they realize now a mistake was made and the right thing to do is correct it by rescinding the award to Our Lady of Martyrs. A motion to do the same will be introduced at the April 24, 2012, meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

Chiara’s newly elected position is still surrounded with controversy that Chiara seems to thrive on. From the first meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, Chiara made his stubbornness known by refusing to sit with the rest of the Board because the seat occupied by the former 5th Ward Supervisor was taken, despite the fact that the Board of Supervisors had no assigned seats. Chiara chose instead to sit in the area designated for the public. These actions were described by the Chairman of the Board as petty and pathetic. In a statement to Recorder reporter Heather Nellis, Chiara noted,

It’s sandbox 101, It’s a matter of principal. They just can’t stand I was elected.

Small in stature and large in ego, the opinionated Michael Chiara is well-known in Amsterdam. While outspoken, he is still a very private person who refuses to use internet social networking as a means of communication. Amsterdam’s south side still retains some of the character of its Italian-American heritage and that is where Chiara resides. A devout Catholic, Chiara even mounted a crucifix on the outside of his Montgomery Street home. If I were to describe him physically, he would be the secret love child of Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman. A friend recommended I meet with Chiara to discuss an astronomical increase in my assessment in 2009. We met briefly in a south side coffee-house and he proved to be knowledge but apprehensive. I felt he was there more to find out who I was than to help me. He did tell me where to go to Fonda to get information from County sources.

Controversy seems to follow Montgomery County Supervisor Michael Chiara. His election to the post as representative for the City of Amsterdam’s 5th Ward made history in 2011 as the first ever to win by write-in ballot. That was not an easy feat to carry out and was strongly supported by Attorney Robert Going, who was Chiara’s co-host on the podcast The Show With No Name. Chiara left the show after his candidacy was announced and never returned. Prior to TSHWNN, the duo hosted a popular radio talk show on Amsterdam’s WCSS 1490AM where the conversation included often uncensored political commentary about local government officials. Chiara and Going were booted off the air after the station manager received a complaint from Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane. Even before starting the radio talk show, under the Administration of newly elected Mayor Ann Thane, Michael Chiara was allegedly forced out of his job as Amsterdam City Assessor where in 2008, he was accused of using the office as a personal club house holding private meetings with then City Attorney Robert Going and others. A month before Chiara retired as City Assessor in July 2008, Amsterdam Detectives confiscated a computer from Chiara’s office as part of an investigation of alleged wrongdoing. In June of 2008, Chiara is quoted by former Recorder reporter Bill Sheehan as stating:

Nobody told me anything, and I think that’s very discourteous. What do they think they’re going to find? All it had on it was RPS-4 which is the standard state program that we use to do everything. If they’re looking for [revaluation] information, it’s on my computer. They don’t have mine. I can guess who might be harassing me, and If I think I am being harassed I’m going to file a lawsuit.

In October 2008, Police Chief Brownell stated the investigation of the computer was closed, that he found no criminal wrongdoing but noted there may have been an alteration to the hard drive, but nothing of a criminal nature, to Recorder reporter Bill Sheehan. In response, a retired Chiara stated:

The investigation was a political bunch of nonsense. They ought to be looking at [high taxes] and they better start giving people some relief.

In 2007, Amsterdam City Assessor Michael Chiara was accused of not performing his job by Alderman William Wills who in a Recorder article published December 1, 2007, Wills stated Chiara was given $10,000 above his salary for two years in to pay for extra help in performing a revaluation of Amsterdam’s properties. He went on to state only a few adjustments were done. Chiara’s response to the allegation was:

I’m doing my own impacts based on some of the numbers that I have…doing numerous calculations based on my own analysis. This is serious and I don’t want to make any mistakes,” he said, adding the impacts “are immense.

In a September 16, 2007, a Recorder review of the short film, Amsterdam, NY True Stories of the Rug City, featuring Michael Chiara, he is described as The Man Who Won’t Be Told He Isn’t King. The 27 minute film was produced by Colin Bannon with filmmakers Rob Rombout and Roger Van Eck. The review goes on to not only denigrate the film but Chiara as well, describing him as an unprofessional, disheveled, frenetic buffoon. In the film, Chiara is carted around Amsterdam by the filmmakers as he gives commentary. At one point in the documentary while describing Amsterdam, Chiara states:

We’re gonna go forward, and I’m the man who’s gonna take us there. My house — that’s where city hall basically runs from

According to another Recorder article published in 2004, the controversial Chiara was booted off the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency where he served as Chairman. In May 2004, Chiara stated to former Recorder reporter Bill Sheehan:

That’s the council’s prerogative under state law. It’s not the first time I’ve been thrown off the board. I think this is the third time.

 

_MG_2004_MG_2005

 

Michael Chiara is not the innocent, patriotic altar boy he professes to be. History tells us differently. Just as he often argued for elected officials to do the right thing, increase government transparency and lower taxes. I’m demanding he do the same. Get over the ego-driven politics and whatever his religious affiliation is telling him to do and act according to the framework provided by Federal, State and County law. He was elected by and for the residents of the 5th Ward of the City of Amsterdam, not the Catholic church.

Update:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State makes a second appeal to the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors to rescind the public money awarded to the Shrine.

The 2nd letter can be found here.

Update #2

The Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs declines the grant from the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors. From an article published in the Recorder, written by reporter Heather Nellis, the Shrine event coordinator Beth Lynch states:

“We are what we are — a highly visible and deeply Catholic entity. We’re glad that we can contribute to the economy as far as tourism is concerned, but that’s not our main focus — we are a Catholic shrine, and we’re not going to agree that we have to do something on secular terms.”

This is exactly the point I have been trying to convey all along. No secular purpose = no public funding.

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14 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Michael Chiara

  1. sandra griffin

    Jerry,

    Having been recently introduced to your newsletter, I felt the need to let you know that I find your articles quite interesting. It is refreshing to read the opinions of a fair-minded, apparently intelligent and rational person. The articles are very well written and the photos offer a look at the brighter side
    of Amsterdam. I look forward to reading more. Thank you for taking the time and effort in putting all of this together.

    Sandra Griffin,
    former resident from the Town of Amsterdam

    • Thanks Sandra,I do appreciate your comments. A lot of my time an effort goes into the Grove Street Grumble created in January of 2011.

      I discovered there was a need for an alternative source of local information that covered topics the local newspapers would not because of political affiliations; or the fact that they are in the business of making money from news. I do this a public service, receiving no compensation of any kind.

      It is rewarding to hear that my time is not being wasted.

      Jerry

  2. diane

    No Jerry your time is not being wasted. While we might not always agree, I enojy reading your opinions.

    Diane

  3. diane

    Jerry,
    Down the road I think you will see Michael take a lead in budget talks and explaining things to the public. This is one of his areas of expertice, understanding what all goes on and why. I do think he will be an asset to the board in the long wrong.

    We are never going to agree with everyone all the time. I do beleive he still has the taxpayers in the back of his mind at all times when he makes decisions. He is very concerned for them in 99% of all issues.

    Diane

    • Diane, as well intentioned as you believe Chiara to be, communication is NOT his forté. An elected official should be accessible to his constituency. Supervisor Chiara refuses to give out his email address, does not answer complaints, or return phone calls. I heard this same complaint about him from a few people.

      Did he have the taxpayers in mind when he became Tom Quackenbush’s puppet agreeing to vote the party line? Supervisor Chiara is a member of the finance committee who are proposing to raise the County sales tax tommorrow night. Supervisors Sweet and Walters as members of the public safety committee, proposed a resolution to raise District Attorney Jed Conboy’s salary $20,000 this year. He was already the highest paid County employee with a salary of $120,000! The average salary for a County DA is $55,000. Can you believe the audacity of this Board to propose such an increase in this recession when others are being laid off and we have a tax cap?

      Chiara’s performance so far has been substandard. It will be interesting to see how he votes on these issues. I will be attending the finance committee meeting tomorrow night in Fonda, to find out.

      The complaint about the illegal funding of a catholic ritual has been forwarded to the New York State Public Integrity Bureau, a Division of the Attorney General’s Office, for investigation.

  4. diane

    Is there a justification for the salary increase? I agree it does seem high, but do we have more cases then other areas? If the answer is no, then there should be no increase.

  5. Jerry,
    Mr. Chiara’s email address is listed right there in the letter you posted from Americans United.  You can’t say he didn’t give you an email address when all you had to do is research the county site and pull it yourself just like you did when you gave AU the same.
     
    Also, I’m curious to know if you would support a not-so-likely lawsuit from AU against the BOS, which would cost the county in time and manpower plus the almost certain need for outside counsel, all most likely totaling in the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars for a petty $750.
     
    A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is all I’m asking for.

    • Yes, it has never been about the money, it is about the breach of public trust. Our elected officials must act within the scope of the law provided for them. When they knowingly choose to ignore the law, they must be held accountable. It will be the County’s choice whether or not to comply and accordingly face a lawsuit or not.

      I will feel that I have done my part either way, to educate and inform.

  6. Jerry,
     
    I think most would agree that while the objective is understood, pushing this further and further adds an undue expense on the taxpayer.  It seems like a rather unreasonable, costly approach to a lesson. 

  7. Until the Board of Supervisors agree to withdraw the public funding of a church, the lesson is not learned; again the choice is up to them. Their actions will prove them either reasonable or unreasonable.

  8. Another blogger makes a valid point: would you counter-argue that if the shrine shall receive no monies, then shall the state and county receive no sales tax revenue from the shrine?  That would make the most sense, and will probably negate AU’s argument, which you also interpret to be a very rigid way of interpreting case law.

    • The other blogger is not using a rational argument. That blog is filled with irrational articles reflecting the authors fear-based bias, lacking appropriate factual information to back it up.

      These are two separate issues. Sales Tax Law is written and enforced by New York State. The Shrine is not paying sales tax, visitors to the Shrine who are not part of the not for profit entity, pay sales tax on merchandise sold in the gift shop. The gift shop collects the sales tax and passes it on to the taxing authority. They also pay utility fees as do all residents.

      The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors have not presented any legal opinion on this matter, other than County Attorney Doug Landon stating he had not even thought about the Church-State issue when the resolution to give public money to a church was passed. Jeff Stark alludes to obtaining legal advice in his amendment to the resolution, but none is referenced or presented, despite my request for him to do so. The 2nd letter from AU to the Board gives specifics as to why the amendment does not address the initial issue. The Shrine apparently agrees as they now refuse to accept the public money, stating they will not be bound by an agreement to use the money for secular purposes since their primary mission is to promote the catholic faith.

      I researched these issues extensively, but this is not my opinion, it is the legal opinion of AU. The legal team of Americans United have been fighting to keep Chuch and State separate for over 65 years and are the preeminent authority on these issues.

      In AU I trust.

  9. Anthony D. Leggiero

    Interesting thread Jerry. Aside from the expected provocation and taunt, I’m still waiting for Boy Wonder to call me at work and say “hello”…

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