Orangeburg Commons Hearing Slated for Jan. 24

Council Delays New Sewer Hire, Setting Meeting Dates

BY ROBERT KNIGHT

CITY EDITOR

ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES

Confusion appeared to be the over-arching theme of Tuesday night’s meeting of the Orangetown Town Board, as the council tried vainly but fruitlessly to clear its calendar at the last scheduled gathering of the year. A new council with three new members, takes office January 3, and will be charged with trying to complete the 2011 actions the current board was unable to accomplish.

The only major piece of legislation that the board was able to enact Tuesday was a dual vote to make itself the lead agency for the controversial Orangeburg Commons mixed-use development proposed for the former Flintkote property on Route 303, and to schedule a public hearing on the project for Jan. 24.

The board was also scheduled to vote on hiring Guy DeVincenzo as deputy director of the town’s sewer department and set a meeting schedule for 2012, but ended up with insufficient votes to accomplish either move. Both measures will now be passed on to the new Town Board, which will be seated at the annual reorganization meeting at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

 

“Commons” Proceeds

In an unexpected move, the board voted unanimously, 4-0 (Councilman Thomas Diviny was absent) to name itself the lead agency for the processing of the FB Orangetown Corporation application to construct a $24 million mixed-use hotel and retail complex on 15.7 acres of vacant land on Route 303 at the Palisades Interstate Parkway in Orangeburg.

Called the “Orangeburg Commons,” the project would consist of two four-story Marriott hotels, a Super Stop and Shop supermarket and separate smaller buildings for a bank and a restaurant. When completed, possibly as early as 2013, the project would pay an estimated $810,000 in real property taxes to Orangetown, Rockland County and the South Orangetown Central School District, as well as generate sales taxes and other revenues for local governments.

The project is to be built on a vacant parcel of land that formerly housed the Orangeburg Manufacturing Company factory, later known as Flintkote, which produced tar and asbestos pipes for use in underground water and sewer lines. The factory dumped the tar and asbestos on the site for a century, and much of the debris from the 100-year-old factory was also deposited there when it was demolished about two decades ago. The site has been named a state and federal “Brownfields” hazardous waste site, and must be cleaned up or encapsulated as part of any re-development plan.

Following aborted attempts to construct apartment houses, shopping centers, big box stores and other uses there which town officials found objectionable, the current project was first proposed in 2005, but has been stalled ever since. Following pleadings and threats from one of its corporate partners, Al Rossi of Pearl River, town officials finally began processing a revised set of plans this summer.

 

Meetings Change

The next step is to hold a full public hearing on the entire project. That had been slated for Monday, Jan. 23, at an 8 p.m. Town Board meeting. At a workshop meeting the week before, it was agreed the meeting schedule would be voted on this Tuesday, but specific dates were not given at the time. When the list appeared, as part of Tuesday’s printed agenda, it included dates than angered some council members, and confused others.

 

Lack of Support

Nancy Low-Hogan (D-South Nyack) also objected, but like Maturo and Whalen, she said while she wouldn’t vote in favor of the schedule, she objected to any vote, since the three of them will not be on the board after Dec. 31. Instead, she backed Maturo’s request not to approve any meeting schedule at this time, and leave the measure for the new board, seated Jan. 3, to decide.

Because the dates had to be set immediately for the re-organization meeting and the Orangeburg Commons public hearing, however, the board finally relented and decided to set a meeting schedule for just the month of January, and leave the rest of the year for the incoming board to decide.

January meeting dates will be Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 7:30 p.m. for the annual re-organization, Monday, Jan. 9 at 7:30 p.m. for a business session; Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 8 p.m. for a workshop meeting and Monday, Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. for a business meeting, which includes the Orangeburg Commons public hearing.

The calendar for the rest of the year, from February through December, will be left for the new Town Board to formulate.

 

Deputy Delayed

Another resolution got pulled from the agenda shortly before the meeting Tuesday, but even that action did not postpone an acrimonious debate over the proposed hiring of a deputy commissioner for the town’s Sewer Department. At last week’s workshop meeting, the board acted favorably on the request of Sewer Director Joseph Moran to hire Guy DeVincenzo to fill a newly created position of deputy commissioner. The item was on the preliminary agenda posted on the town’s web site as of Friday, and sent to news media over the weekend.

By Tuesday evening, however, the item had been mysteriously pulled, and agendas sitting on a lobby table just prior to the meeting did not include the controversial measure. Residents who saw the item on the website or in the media, however, turned out in force Tuesday evening, in apparent unanimous opposition to the proposal. Speaker after speaker during the opening public session implored the board not to create the position and not to hire DeVincenzo, with many saying that if the GOP-controlled council did so, it would just be proof that they are playing “politics as usual” in Orangetown, and “the taxpayers be damned.”

 

Deputy Needed

Whalen said Burton had approached him last year on the need for a deputy commissioner, or second in command of the 40-person departmental staff. Following Burton’s sudden and unexpected death, Whalen moved into his office to insure the department functioned as smoothly as possible without a supervisor, until a replacement could be found.

From his four months working there, Whalen said he became convinced Burton was correct, and that a person of similar qualifications was needed to share the supervision and management of the town’s third largest department. The department has 40 well-qualified and experienced workers who are specialists in their individual fields, Whalen said, but none are engineers and none have an overall scope of the entire operation.

The department is also one of only two in Orangetown, the other being the police that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the supervisor added. The police have a chief and a deputy chief (captain) and 15 supervisors and managers for a total work force of 87 staff. The Highway Department has a staff of 50 with a superintendent, a deputy and six managers.

Troy agreed with Whalen, calling it inconceivable that the town expected the sewer director, technically the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Management and Engineering, to single-handedly run the entire department 24/7 without assistance, while also acting as the town engineer and supervising construction projects is almost every department.

 

Already Working

To assist the department head, the town hired DeVincenzo in 2008, at Delo’s request. Clerk of the Works is a temporary, non-civil service position that expires when the job is done. Besides overseeing the construction work, DeVincenzo filled in as acting director of the department when Delo resigned, and again this year when Burton died. Burton and Moran have both praised DeVincenzo and urged that he be promoted from Clerk of the Works to deputy commissioner. His salary would jump from $75,000 to $90,000, and he would get a town vehicle, in addition to health and retirement benefits.

Several people in the audience Tuesday evening questioned whether DeVincenzo’s promotion was really necessary, or a case of the Republican majority on the board taking advantage of their additional strength and hiring one of their own members for a position that never existed. DeVincenzo is a long-time GOP activist, and was that party’s candidate last month for the county legislative seat for Blauvelt and the Nyacks. That seat is currently held by Democrat Connie Coker, who decided not to seek re-election. The race to succeed her was won by Low-Hogan, a Democrat, who gave up her Town Board seat to run against DeVincenzo.

Low-Hogan had no objections to DeVincenzo for the sewer job, but did ask several questions about the need for the position, and how the decision was made both to create the job opening, and to hire DeVincenzo. She insinuated that both decisions were made by the GOP majority on the board, without any consultation or input from the two Democratic council members, herself and Maturo. The board is currently 3-2 Republican, which will increase to 4-1 as of January 3. Maturo and Low-Hogan will be replaced by Republicans Thomas Morr and Paul Valentine, while Whalen will be replaced by Andy Stewart as supervisor, the lone Democrat on the new council.

 

Public Reaction

Former GOP Councilwoman Eileen Larkin of Palisades Tuesday accused the Republicans of being hypocritical for cutting the supervisor’s administrative assistant from full-time to half time and then padding the sewer department with a new $90,000 plus benefits position that isn’t needed.

Long-time board critic Michael Mandel of Pearl River also chastised the board, calling it hypocritical for a different reason. Through political chicanery the board reduced the tax increase from eight percent to 1.9 percent to keep under the governor’s new mandate, and is using that as an excuse for cutting Democratic positions from the staff and adding GOP positions, Mandel charged.

“How dare you,” Silverstein yelled at the board, to loud applause from the packed meeting room of more than 100 residents. “We’ll all do the job for free to stop you from doing this,” she continued, adding, “You can’t continue to shove things down our throats and think that nothing will happen. We’re going to take you out,” she concluded as she strode back to her seat from the podium, to nearly tumultuous applause.

 

Race Car Parking?

Gail Raffaelli, a former employee in the sewer department and supervisor’s office joined in the criticism, wondering why previous sewer directors never felt the need for such help. She added her own critique, charging that someone is allowing private race cars to be parked at the sewer department, and demanding to know if the owner is paying the town rent for this privilege. Her accusation drew only quizzical looks and shrugged shoulders from council members and town officials in the audience.

Henry Rand of Nyack questioned why the sewer director, who is an engineer and makes $165,000 annually, couldn’t run a small department of 40 men without assistance. And, he asked, is no one in the department qualified to assist, so an outsider must be brought in, if the job is even needed.

A Nyack woman congratulated the board for keeping the tax increase below two percent, but then chastised them for trying to create the new position and hire DeVincenzo. “It took guts” to reduce the tax burden, she said, “And I thank you for it.” The board could continue that trend by not creating a new job and filling it with a political candidate, she concluded.

 

Council Supportive

Whalen strongly supported both the new position and hiring DeVincenzo, noting he worked well under three sewer directors, engendering praise from all three, and brought the town’s long-delayed and highly controversial sewer upgrade project to a successful completion.

He has worked directly with all of the private contractors hired to do the work, gotten labor disputes settled and refunds for the town, and been fully trained in all aspects of operating the entire department, from the planning through the construction and through the implementation and operation of the system and its component parts. One man cannot be expected to supervise a department that size with 40 men working 24/7, Whalen asserted, without an assistant.

Troy also supported DeVincenzo, noting the position is already included in the town’s 2012 budget at a total of $140,000, and that the prospective hire is “eminently qualified” for the job. He noted he opposed the hiring of Delo as commissioner, and also opposed his hiring of DeVincenzo in 2008. His feeling about Delo was correct, Troy said Tuesday, but he has since changed his mind 180 degrees on DeVincenzo, and feels he is the most qualified candidate for the needed position.

 

Maturo Approves

“Paul (Whalen) made the right choice,” Maturo said in a written statement he distributed after the meeting, to clarify his position. “I have full trust that Joe Moran and the incoming board will protect our recent $60 million investment and improve long-term management with the important role of second-in-command, someone who deeply understands Orangetown’s sewer system, its employees, and our taxpayers’ needs,” Maturo concluded.

Low-Hogan agreed with pulling the item from the agenda, complaining that she only got the written job description for the new position the day before, and hadn’t had the opportunity to study it in depth. “There’s been no opportunity for the board to discuss the job, and DeVincenzo’s qualifications,” the councilwoman lamented.

“I do feel there is a need for the position,” Low-Hogan said, adding “But there is also a public perception that appointments like this are being made in

Orangetown based on political recommendations, when I don’t know if this is the case or not.”  Appointments should be transparent, she concluded, to avoid scenes like that played out earlier in the evening during the public comment period.

Other Town Board action Tuesday will be described in a separate article in next week’s Rockland County Times.