The president of the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company has filed a formal complaint against the Town of Whitehall after he said he was yelled at it and mocked during a public meeting.
Brian Brooks filed the complaint last Thursday following a heated budget meeting the previous night.
“I was down there, not as a member of the fire department, but as a citizen,” Brooks said. “I wanted to know how the budget works and where the money is. I don’t know how the budget works. I got yelled at for asking simple questions.”
Brooks said he was spoken to in raised voices by some members of the town board and outwardly mocked by Councilman Farrell Prefountaine, who made a hand gesture using his thumb and forefinger to resemble a mouth and said “blah, blah, blah.” At one point, Brooks said Prefountaine referred to him as “trouble maker.”
Brooks, who has filed a Freedom of Information Law request seeking audio recordings of the meeting, said the treatment was distressing and he is considering moving out of the community he has lived in for over 30 years.
“I’m not a child; they don’t need to raise their voices to me. I can’t imagine the local parish pastor would have been treated the same way,” Brooks said. “I don’t go to meetings to be made fun of or mocked.”
But according to Prefountaine, Brooks, who was asking pointed questions about the budgeting process, “came on hard” and aggressively questioned highway superintendent, Louie Pratt’s budget.
“It upset me the way he came after Louie (Pratt),” Prefountaine said. “He (Brooks) has good questions and I don’t mind listening to anyone, but sometimes things get said that don’t deserve to be said.”
Town councilperson Stephanie Safka said there was some “back and forth” between Prefountaine and Brooks, but believes the situation may have been blown out of proportion.
“I didn’t feel there was anything horrific. There was some disagreement but I wouldn’t call it arguing. I don’t believe Farrell was trying to stifle Brian,” Safka said.
“Brian is committed to representing his cause and we’re never all going to agree. Every department wants money to improve their department so they can improve the community. Everyone needs to remember we all have the same goals.”
During the meeting, Brooks also questioned the responsibilities of Carol Greenough, Heritage Area Director.
“I wanted to know her job title and what she does,” he said. “How is it different that what she does for the village?”
Following the meeting, Brooks filed a second FOIL request, seeking information regarding Greenough’s job description.
The fire department and the town are at odds over the department’s level of funding. The department currently receives $99,000, plus an additional $5,000 per year for its first response unit. Members had asked the town for additional $25,000, an amount the town board has balked at. The two sides have since exchanged different offers and are working toward a resolution.
Brooks said he asked the questions he did because he was trying to get a clearer picture of the budgeting process.
“I want to know where the money is,” he said.
Brooks is asking for a “sincere public apology” from those officials involved and a promise that other citizens will be treated with patience, respect and consideration in the future.
Prefountaine said that in light of the way of Brooks questioned officials, he doesn’t feel an apology is warranted.