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COMPLAINANT IN COTTONWOOD TREE INCIDENT PURSUES ISSUE IN EFFORT TO REACH RESOLUTION

Charles A. Gerber wasn't about to let his next-door neighbor make him cut down the cottonwood tree shading his front lawn, just because the neighbor also happened to be the town engineer.

Now, the retired banker is showing the same dogged determination in trying to get the engineer disciplined, refusing to let Clarence town officials forget the incident until it's resolved.

Wednesday night, pressed by the public reading of still another letter from Gerber, the Clarence Town Board announced the matter will be referred to the town's Board of Ethics -- as soon as one is appointed in about two weeks.

Last July, Gerber, of Melinda Drive, received an official letter from the town's Landscape Committee, telling him his cottonwood was a "nuisance" that should be cut down and replaced with "a more desirable tree."

Gerber's son, now a forester, had planted the tree on Father's Day more than 20 years earlier.

When Gerber protested, it turned out that the letter, signed by Roy V. McCready, chairman of the Landscape Committee, actually had been inspired by Gerber's next-door neighbor, Town Engineer Stephen A. Cislo.

Gerber accused Cislo of abusing his power and influence as a town official. Other town officials disavowed McCready's letter, telling Gerber the town had no authority to send it and that his cottonwood was safe.

Town officials said the issue would be pursued as soon as McCready, who was suffering from a heart ailment, was well enough to be interviewed.

That was in July.

Letters and visits to Town Hall after that convinced him officials had no intention of pursuing the matter any further, Gerber said Wednesday night.

And then came the recent report that McCready was on vacation in Asia and still hadn't been interviewed by town officials.

So Gerber wrote another letter, which was read publicly at Wednesday night's board meeting. Reached at his home, Gerber said he would have been there, but that his wife was seriously ill.

"They never followed through and I think they should have," he said. Gerber also suggested that the ruckus might never have happened if Cislo "had ever come over, even once, as a neighbor to tell me he had a problem with my tree," or if he had apologized afterwards.

Gerber's latest letter accused McCready and Cislo of violating the town's 1970 Code of Ethics, in effect at the time of the incident. The code states, "No town employee shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges" or "pursue a course of conduct (that would) raise suspicion among the public that he is likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of his trust."

Clarence hasn't had an ethics board since it began rewriting the old code two years ago. Now that a new code is on the books, new ethics board members will be appointed in two weeks and the Gerber complaint referred to them, said Councilman Daniel M. Gregorio.

Two speakers at Wednesday's meeting urged the Town Board to act as the ethics board and resolve the matter. Town Attorney Donald A. Alessi said that would be unwise, in part because the board had already disavowed itself of McCready's letter.

Said resident Elmer K. Gerbracht, "If you're gonna slap his (Cislo's) wrist, slap it; if you're gonna fire him, fire him, but get it behind you. Let's not hide behind this business about waiting two weeks, then it's two more weeks, then it's six months, then it's forgotten."

"Fire 'em," an unidentified man yelled from the audience.

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