A Tree Falls in Lumberland
The Town of Lumberland in Sullivan County, New York is on the outside edge of an area thought to have recoverable Marcellus Shale gas. It is, therefore, a place where the cost and risk to local officials in taking a position against natural gas development is nearly non-existent (no landowners are negatively affected) and the political benefits very high in appealing to those opposed. Because of this, the Park Foundation funded Community Environmental Defense Council has seized upon the opportunity to get another town to ban such development and build momentum for its last ditch local law campaign against the inevitable. That effort has taken a rather surprising turn, however, and some mighty (at least in their own eyes) “trees” seem to have fallen in Lumberland.
We have written about CEDC efforts here and here, and the organization recently wrote a piece in the River Reporter. It was all par for the course until a landowner named Charles Petersheim, who, as far as we know, has no particular position on shale gas, became alarmed at the way the CEDC and Town were proceeding. He attended a public meeting and spoke out. He then sent out an e-mail to local businesses, which produced a rather startling reaction by Attorney David Slottje of the CEDC. Petersheim then sent it to us and that was followed by another puzzling reaction from David Slottje’s wife, Attorney Helen Slottje, also of CEDC. We include all three pieces below, so you can be the judge. Our question is this; If you were a local official, would you want the CEDC representing you?
Here is what Petersheim sent out (note the CEDC is from Ithaca, not Binghamton):
As we mentioned, repeating the same thing over and over, regardless of how many column inches the River Reporter wishes to give to the ‘home rule trumps everything’ mantra, I suggest the Town of Lumberland obtain a 2nd, unbiased, independent review of the new zoning being proposed. Why are the proponents of the new zoning so against such a simple precaution?
And the interloping attorneys from Binghamton are not working for free – they have a non-profit that pays them to represent communities in these types of issues. If they stop representing communities, they stop raising money, thus stop being paid. That’s not ‘pro bono’ – that’s being paid to do a job. Like many things they do, it’s misleading to the community to say you are working for free, when in fact you are doing your job. I believe this misrepresentation of facts continues through most of their work with our zoning as well.
If the Binghamton attorneys are leading Lumberland down a safe path, they should welcome the opportunity to have their zoning review by outside, independent counsel.
And what due diligence did the Town Board exercise before allowing these 2 attorneys to take over the zoning rewrite, leading it in a very radical direction? Did they check their references? The donors to their non-profit organization? What projects they worked on previously? Or do they spend more time interviewing who cuts the grass at Town Hall than checking the background of these two important individuals?
Here is CEDC Attorney David Slottje’s e-mail to Petersheim regarding this letter (Slottje listing his subject as “LAWYER UP, BIG GUY!”):
I’ve put up with your knowing or grossly negligent erroneous statements long enough. I’ve put up with your personalized attacks on good, hard-working citizens who give their time and energy to their communities, but who you happen to disagree with. I’ve put up with your slanderous/libelous attacks on my wife (and me).
I’ve put up with those attacks – until now – because I felt you needed dogs to kick, because of the sad and unfortunate things that are going on in your business and personal life.
But I will no longer remain silent in the face of your defamatory remarks.
Get yourself a lawyer – a really, really good lawyer – before you make another defamatory “publication.” (Ask the lawyer what that means.)
Some advice – perhaps worth only what you’re paying for it – DON’T use your friendly domestic relations lawyer, or some lawyer who might be giving you advice about a moribund real estate business. DO get a lawyer who specializes in defamation law; that is what you will need.
You’ve been given MORE than three strikes here. You will get no more. Check your facts before your next letter or e-mail, or anything you’ve been spending on marital lawyers or business lawyers will look like peanuts.
It doesn’t feel very good to be attacked personally, does it? You’re nothing but a bully. And you’ve picked on somebody who hates bullies.
Lastly, don’t for one moment think that this e-mail is going only to you. It is not.
I want to be clear: this is NOT about you commenting on civic matters. It IS about you defaming people, under the guise of commenting on civic matters.
I (EXPLETIVE DELETED) HATE bullies.
Your friend (not) from (according to you) Binghamton,
As noted above, Petersheim, who was anything but intimidated by being called a bully by someone else acting like a bully himself, forwarded this to our attention and copied Slottje, producing the following responses from CEDC Attorney Helen Slottje to Petersheim and us:
I am writing to advise you that the email from Attorney Slottje to you of today’s date and forwarded to Mr. Shepstone by email, as well as this current email from me, are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc.
Helen Slottje, Esq.
Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc.
I am writing to inform you that many of the statements that Mr. Petersheim has made about us are untrue and defamatory. Publication of any defamatory statement will cause serious and irreparable injury to our professional reputation. Mr. Petersheim has taken the debate about Lumberland’s zoning code beyond the dissemination of accurate and truthful information and fair comment on issues of civic interest and is engaging in activities that unlawfully encroach upon our rights.
Please be aware that this email as well as the email Attorney Slottje previously sent to Mr. Petersheim are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc.
Helen Slottje, Esq.
Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc.
Pretty interesting, isn’t it? We didn’t know about Persheim’s letter until he forwarded us a copy of David Slottje’s response and, before we could even think about that, we got Helen Slottje’s response. It’s all quite fascinating. It appears the CEDC thought it could march into Lumberland and stand there like some mighty whispering pine that would be held in awe by all, but ends up shocked when one of the lumbermen comes along with a saw. You be the judge.