As regular readers of Retrospect have no doubt learned, the long era during which Sullivan County was governed by the Board of Supervisors was often marked by heated exchanges and stubborn political …
As regular readers of Retrospect have no doubt learned, the long era during which Sullivan County was governed by the Board of Supervisors was often marked by heated exchanges and stubborn political posturing. And the presence of numerous local newspapers, most with their own political leanings, was as likely as not to enflame matters even more.
The fireworks that erupted at the monthly Board of Supervisors meeting in January of 1966 and the coverage that followed in the Liberty Register newspaper was a good example.
Following the elections of the previous November, Republicans entered 1966 with a nine to six majority on the Board, and quickly elected Lumberland’s Edward Bisland, Jr. as Chairman. With veteran Fallsburg Supervisor Mortimer Michaels—typically one of the Democrats most forceful and eloquent leaders—on vacation in Florida, and therefore absent from the meeting, the Republicans wasted little time in going on the offensive.
The Liberty Register later reported that the GOP barrage was “bare knuckles, with the gloves off, and descended into the gutter at intervals.”
The majority’s assault centered largely on three topics: the looming countywide reassessment, which they opposed, a replacement for retired county publicity director Homer Millard, and, most significantly, the county’s system of purchasing, audit and budget created by a Democrat controlled Board a decade earlier.
The purchasing/audit/budgeting position had been occupied by Samuel J. Laskey of Liberty since its creation in 1956, and had been a campaign issue in each of the biennial supervisor’s election ever since. With Republicans taking control in 1966, one of their first orders of business was to eliminate it.
In a front page article in its January 27, 1966 edition, under the headline, “Supervisors Feud as Neuhaus Lights Fuse” the Register reported that “the Republicans mowed down the opposition with neatness and finesse.”
“Early in the meeting, the triple position of county auditor, purchasing agent, and budget officer, filled since their establishment by Samuel J. Laskey of Liberty, were officially buried with simple obsequies and with scarcely a tear being shed.
“Republicans have long wanted to go back to the good old days of 10 years ago when department heads, with no control over them, bought as they pleased, when auditing of bills was not subjected to any expert perusal but left to a committee of the party in control and of the same political faith as the department heads,” the Register continued.
“The GOP chafed for years at the tight rein by Laskey on buying and auditing, the Democrats have repeatedly stated their objections to what they term ‘marching steadily forward into the 19th century’ in ending professional purchasing, auditing and budgeting.”
With that order of business out of the way, newly elected Bethel Supervisor George Neuhaus turned the Board’s attention to Millard, who after many years of service promoting the county, had retired effective December 31, 1965, due to deteriorating health, but was still being paid.
Neuhaus demanded to know why, and when the Democrats explained that Millard had agreed to finish up the creation of the county’s first ever industrial data book, and was being paid by the hour to do so, he exploded.
“I resent Mr. Millard’s attitude,” he fumed about the data book. “If it is so damned urgent, why the hell hasn’t it been done yet?”
At another point during the discussion of the data book, and Millard’s work on it, Neuhaus interjected again, saying angrily, “What the hell is going on here? When a man resigns, he’s finished.”
Despite Bisland’s inability to calm his colleague down, cooler heads eventually prevailed in the persons of Neversink’s Joseph Raffa and Cochecton’s Steven Stetka, Democrats, and Thompson’s Ralph Meyer, a Republican, and the Board agreed to move the issue of the data book and Millard’s work on it to the Publicity Committee.
The Register’s managing editor, Richard Rosenbaum was not impressed by the outcome, and made that known in an editorial in the same issue.
“The Board of Supervisors hit a new low last Monday afternoon when the 13 other members present, some spectators, and the press, witnessed a display of ill-tempered arrogance, ignorance, and vulgar oratory from a new supervisor who did not know what the score was, had not bothered to find out, and indulged himself in a violent and baseless blast against one of the finest public servants this or any other county has ever been privileged to have,” Rosenbaum wrote. “We refer with disgust and disdain to the explosive and execrable remarks of George Neuhaus, who sullied the good name of the Board of Supervisors by an emotional outburst against Homer A. Millard of Roscoe, the only publicity and development director the county has ever had and one of the finest any county has ever had.”
Rosenbaum wrote that Neuhaus’ berating of Millard was “about as low a blow as anyone could ever strike.”
Furthermore, he noted, the Bethel Republican’s “use of intemperate and abusive language, to the point of swearing, provided a spectacle never before witnessed on the floor of the Board of Supervisors. We would have thought that as a freshman supervisor, still wet behind the ears, Mr. Neuhaus would have spoken softly or not at all.”
John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian and a founder and president of The Delaware Company. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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