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.
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.
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.
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.