BY MARIA MIRAKAJ BROWNSELL
After the recent FBI investigation and arrest of Joseph J. Savino, Clarkstown residents have expressed many concerns to the town board. Although many questions came after the arrest, residents remind the town board of all those questions that came over a year ago.
“I and other residents on several members of the public have questioned you on numerous occasions since January of 2012 about how Mr. Savino’s name came to your attention and the process by which Mr. Savino was vetted by the office of the town attorney. Members of the public brought to your attention several items that pertain to Mr. Savino’s past behavior that raise serious questions about his suitability for a post in the town of Clarkstown,” said Tom Nimick of New City.
“Now our concerns have been fully vindicated. What I am wondering is why after voting to terminate your relationship with Mr. Savino you did not at the same time consider the actions of the office of the town attorney.”
Nimick and his fellow directors of the Clarkstown Residents Opposing Patronage, Ralph Sabatini and Michael Hull, asked the town board to look into Town Attorney, Amy Mele, and the rest of the Town Attorney staff. The group had the papers prepared and ready to go if the board didn’t agree to launch the independent audit.
“We, you, and I have been burned by what appears to be a bad apple,” said Ralph Sabatini of New City, who ran against Gromack for supervisor in 2011. “We are simply looking for assurance that that’s the end of the story and we think the audit will give us the taxpayer and you the board that assurance. All we are asking for is an independent audit of the legal process office. We’d like you to do the right thing,”
“All we are requesting tonight is the board to place and pass a motion of that audit to encompass all the attorneys in the town’s attorney office. If that action is not taken at the close of this meeting I am prepared to serve the board with a notice of claim that will be followed up with a lawsuit,” continue Sabatini. “Each member of this board has been duly elected as independent servants of the people. Each of you independently has a power to introduce a motion to conduct this. By authorizing funding for this tonight, the town will avoid using tax payer money for outside councel to fight this legally and then be compelled to carry out the audit that is required anyway.”
Joe Ciardullo of New City asked the board a question that is on many residents’ minds. “What steps as a board will you take to make sure that people hired by the town are properly bedded and that the hiring process is more transparent?” he asked.
“I’m just looking out for you. How did we get here? Now the Feds are coming in? We asked about it. Why is a guy from the Bronx getting a job in Clarkstown? What is the connection? We asked you not to operate this way,” said Pat Gotfried of New City.
“I think that is the most ludicrous statement I have ever heard,” said Clarkstown Town Supervisor Alexander Gromack. “This town attorney, I think, is one of the finest town attorney’s Clarkstown has ever had. The town attorney and other attorneys in that office have served in a very professional way. To suggest that they have the ability to vet an individual is again a ludicrous statement.”
Gromack went on to say that District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said positive things about Clarkstown’s town attorney office and that there is no way anyone could have known this way coming with Savino.
“He was not under any type of investigation when we hired him. There was no hint of any legal wrong doing,” said Gromack.
One by one, each member of the town board spoke about the request to propose an audit on the Town Attorney’s office and one by one, each member formally denied any desire to do so.
“I’d like to acknowledge that the citizens were correct,” said Councilman Borelli. “But that doesn’t mean the process we followed up here was flawed. I don’t see a reason for an audit.”
“Feel free to serve me with the papers,” said Coucilman Hoehmann. “There are a lot of leaps of logic being taken here. As an elected official, you are called on to make a lot of decisions. People don’t always agree with our decisions.”
“Two years ago I was the sole no vote on hiring Jay Savino. I had some concerns over his character,” said Councilwoman Hausner. “Nobody in this room could have known that the FBI was investigating him. We found out when you did and moved to act swiftly. His work on behalf of the town was satisfactory and that is why I voted to renew his contract. I don’t believe fingers should be pointed at every elected official. I will not be threatened or bullied by a lawsuit.”
“First let me state that the entire town board is outraged with the events reguarding Mr. Savino and others charged with breaking our laws and our trust. And that is why the town board took such quick and decisive action in terminating this outside contract,” said Gromack. “It is also important to remember that the town board has answered many of these questions on numerous occasions over the past fifteen months. I’d like to point out when he was hired there was no hint of any scandal.”
At the close of the board meeting, Ralph Sabatini and his legal council served each board member with a notice of claim. The claim outlines numerous laws that were broken. They are requesting that all town residents are reimbursed in the town’s general account for the cost of these illegal hirings.