A Heated Debate at Clarkstown’s Town Board Meeting

BY MARIA MIRAJAK BROWNSELL

On June 19 at Clarkstown’s Town Board Meeting, Supervisor Alexander Gromack opened up the floor discussing Rockland County’s financial dilemma and how it affects Clarkstown residents.

The county is increasing property tax by 32 percent and making the towns responsible for paying for county costs such as the board of elections, Rockland Community College charge backs, police intelligence unit, and police narcotics task force. The latter two costs effectively abolish those programs, as towns will not flip the bill.

As part of the regular board meeting, there was a proposed public hearing on the consolidation of three town garages into one garage. The law is entitled: “A local law to transfer the function of highway mechanics and consolidating all town mechanics under the town garage department.”

A printed report was provided to town members attending the meeting that included the savings that would be created with this new law. The proposal includes the elimination of many staff members, such as store keepers of the garages and mechanics. Decreasing the amount of parts and equipment need and the vehicles that are purchased each year are part of the costs. The total savings is estimated to be about $1,022,459.

Deputy Town Attorney, Keith Cornell, explained the “transfer of function” from the highway department to the town board. He said that the town attorney is researching the matter and the legal aspects are being looked into.

Councilwoman Stephanie Hausner proposed to postpone the public hearing to the next meeting to get a more creative solution. She wanted to sit down and work on the proposal more thoroughly. Gromack and the rest of the board agreed, so the public hearing will now be next month.

Councilman Frank Borelli spoke out about one of the agenda items. He asked about why the creation of a part-time constituent services assistant for the Town Highway Department was necessary. The highway supervisor, Wayne Ballard, explained that this a part time position with no benefits and that the money is already in his budget.

The main purpose of this new person will be to take action during emergency situations and normal work hours. This person will attend public functions to address common questions and assist in the void left behind by other eliminated positions that resulted in staff reductions.

Borelli argued back and forth with Ballard. “I’m interested in making the government run as efficiently as possible,” he said. There were snickers throughout the room at his comment, as Borelli and Ballard are known to have a tenuous relationship, and they often butt heads in public.

Most residents who attend board meetings seem to side with Ballard, evidenced by the fact that after Ballard said he thinks the people like the way he is doing his job, a round of applause and cheers broke out.

Borelli continued his questioning of Ballard by asking about the resurfacing of roads, asking for a full list of the roads with their ratings. He insisted that he needs every road in every town throughout Clarkstown with an estimation of when they will be resurfaced.

“No. I can’t give you a date when that will be ready,” said Ballard. Hausner agreed with Ballard, saying there are many roads and he would need more time. She proposed to set up a workshop to discuss a five year plan.

All the resolutions were adopted.

During general public comments, Marge Hook of New City took the microphone. She said that she was recently approached by police officers for questioning about a personal matter. “I feel like the town board is using the police department for their own use,” she said.

She said there may be an abuse of power and office by one of the board members.

Another resident continued her subject. “Can an elected public official make a complaint about a private citizen without probable cause?” he asked.

Police Chief Michael Sullivan assured Marge Hook there was nothing personal about their inquiries, and that they were not trying to intimidate her, but simply trying to do their jobs as tactfully as possible.

Laurie Seeman of the Rockland Water Coalition asked the board where they stand on the Haverstraw Desalination Plant. She asked the board to attend the press conference on June 20. Gromack said that the board has sent a letter to the DEC expressing their issues and concerns with this project.

Councilwoman Shirley Lasker said she is against the water desalination. She is worried about what contaminates would be present in the water in the future. The other board members agreed.

The subject of ICLEI and agenda 21 came up again by Mary Slattery and Lynn Teager. “Does the town really want to be a member of this group that refers to towns as settlements?” asked Slattery. They expressed concern in the UN creating environment policies instead of the towns themselves.

“Agenda 21 is a wacky theory about what ICLEI is about. It’s a fabrication for people would don’t believe in climate change…,” said Lasker. Her and other board members spoke how agenda 21 is a “they are trying to take over the world” theory and it isn’t true.

Before the meeting came to an end a group of residents revisited the subject of Bronx GOP Chief Jay Savino’s law firm winning the bid to handle town tax certiorari matters. Seven different residents took turns speaking about different aspects of the resolution and problems with it.

GOP candidate for town supervisor in 2011, Ralph Sabatini of New City, explained background information on Savino and his connections with Legislator Frank Sparaco. Legislator Sparaco also is a powerbroker with the Rockland County Independence Party, as he was the driving force behind the installation of his mother and father-in-law in leadership positions in the party.

Savino was Sparaco’s mother-in-law Debra Ortutay’s lawyer when she defended herself against felony charges of election fraud in 2011. Notably, the attorney position which Savino is taking in Clarkstown was previously occupied by Marsha Coopersmith, who was chair of the Independence Party before Sparaco led a campaign against her.

Sabatini questioned why Gromack was unable to answer exactly how and why Savino was the one hired.

Michael Hall of Bardonia directed his questions to Town Councilman George Hoehmann about Savino’s retention. Amy Durbin of Congers directed Borelli asking about the FBI investigation that was impending on Savino about voting machines and also about his awareness of Savinos’s position as the Chairman of the Bronx GOP. Gerry O’Rourke of Congers directed his questions to Hausner. He asked about the use of the term “less baggage” when referring to finding a different firm to work with.

Frank Grandel of New City asked Lasker about the criteria used to select Savino and what the qualifications were. Mike Hirsch of New City asked Gromack if he was aware of the possible corruption with voting machines and the links to the Bronx GOP’s representative. Tom Nimick of New City asked the final questions, which were supposed to be directed towards Town Attorney Amy Mele, who was absent. He asked for the standards and requirements used for appointing Savino.

He also asked for a list of other firms that were considered. He also talked about unusual phone calls heard on wiretaps on phones during the appointing of Savino.

Gromack left the residents with an answer of “I didn’t know about any of this (re: Savino’s supposed legal problems), so I have no comments.” Borelli responded with quick yes and no answers, while the other board members didn’t touch the subject at all. Gromack flippantly dismissed their their concerns regarding Savino, stating they’d already been answered in previous meetings.

More on the Jay Savino hiring:

SAVINO CONTROVERSY LIVES ON

The January hiring of Jay Savino as an attorney for the Town of Clarkstown has evoked much criticism from concerned residents, as well as from some persons in politics in Clarkstown and Rockland County.

In addition to being a major inside player in the political world as chair of the Bronx GOP Committee, Savino has a close relationship as friend and attorney of Rockland County Legislator Frank Sparaco, the unofficial leader of the Rockland County Independence Party (his mother and now father-in-law have been running the party).

Savino also represented Sparaco’s mother-in-law Debra when she was charged with felony counts of election fraud.

For more background read the original article detailing the hire of Savino, republished below verbatim.

IN HIS OWN WORDS: Sparaco’s Lawyer gets No Show Job in Clarkstown

Reprint verbatim of article published on January 5, 2012

BY DYLAN SKRILOFF

The same position that only two years ago County Legislator and Minority Leader Frank Sparaco referred to in a series of Rockland County Times articles as being a no-show job paid off as political patronage to former Chair of the Independence Party Marsha Coopersmith, is now going to the law firm of Sparaco’s close friend and lawyer Jay Savino, albeit at about half the price and on an annual per diem basis.

Coopersmith’s lucrative position as deputy town attorney has been erased from the books, and Savino, who is also the chair of the Bronx Republican Party and a regular in NYC tabloids, has been hired. The position ostensibly deals with tax certioraris and Savino’s firm put in the lowest bid of $87K.

Coopersmith was paid over $127K a year plus pension and benefits of about $45K. Savino will be paid approximately half that amount. Supervisor Gromack said the town is saving over $75,000 in the deal. “It’s a very important job, handling all the tax certs for the Town of Clarkstown,” Gromack said.

When told that Sparaco had said Coopersmith’s job as a deputy town attorney was a “no-show job,” Clarkstown officials denied it. Supervisor Alex Gromack, Councilman Frank Borelli and Councilman George Hoehmann all said the job had legitimate duties.

However, even by their own math, the town ought to admit Coopersmith’s position was at best a “half-time job” seeing as they were able to easily hire someone at about half the price.

How many other “no-show” and “half-time” jobs are in effect in Clarkstown and all over local government?

In 2010 Sparaco said that Coopersmith got the job due to her influential position in the Independence Party. In 2010 Sparaco’s mother-in-law Debra Ortutay became new chair of the Independence Party and since then the former self-described “man against the machine” has found himself in the sudden position of actually having political influence.

Savino has helped represent the Independence Party in a claim against Coopersmith as well as helped defend her against election fraud charges she is currently dealing with pertaining to Sparaco’s 2010 run for state assembly.

The only vote against the appointment was by Democrat Stephanie Hausner. She said she prefers that local attorneys fill positions in town government. She said it was “interesting” that Savino represents the Independence Party and is currently involved in a lawsuit against Coopersmith, whose job he is replacing.