BY MICHAEL HULL
It was a just a “courtesy call” not an official state visit! – Sharon Gang, Communications and Marketing Manager for the Capitol Visitor Center.
When Ben and Jerry’s ice cream was becoming popular, the company wanted to expand its distribution of products to more stores. In 1984, Häagen-Dazs wanted to limit distribution of Ben & Jerry’s in Boston, prompting Ben & Jerry’s to file suit against the parent company, Pillsbury, in its now famous “What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of?” campaign. In 1987, Häagen-Dazs again tried to enforce exclusive distribution and Ben & Jerry’s filed a second lawsuit against the Pillsbury Company.
I can’t help but connect this scenario to what I saw occurring at the Town Board meeting on Tuesday, April 09, 2013 and subsequently read in thelocal papers. For as long as Charlie Holbrook held court on that bench, he welcomed public advocacy. Though far from perfect, he had an open mind and a sense of humor. “There’s a line for lawsuits at the back door”, he once said glibly. Given that past history I find the current Town Supervisor’s thinking to be disturbingly linear.
What is Supervisor Gromack afraid of?
Instead of welcoming citizen commentary and input, he seems to disdain it. Instead of upholding transparency in government, he makes it quite clear it unsettles him. At a recent Board meeting a citizen was trying to ask him a question. According to Sarah Armaghn writing in Newsday, Gromack ridiculed him for speaking out about the hiring of police officers and their high salaries, calling his questions “disingenuous” and “unintelligent’“. Gromack said: “It’s not productive to have this continuous dialogue”. When 3,500 citizens of Clarkstown signed a petition asking for a Term Limits referendum to be placed on the 2011 ballot he insulted their intelligence by saying that anyone coming out of a supermarket“just wants to sign a piece of paper so they can get on with their lives”.
Do we have any decorum left among our elected officials and the citizenry for open discourse?
When asked by three citizens for an audit of the Town Attorney’s office Supervisor Gromack denied over one and a half year’s of his own assurances to the public that the Town’s attorneys had properly ‘vetted‘ Savino by saying: “To suggest that they have the ability to ‘vet’ an individual is aludicrous statement“.
Since when has vetting an appointee in Mr. Gromack’s administration become “ludicrous“? Apparently, only now when it refers to the past “vetting” of the Bronx Republican Chairman, Jay Savino, by Town AttorneyAmy Mele.
Perhaps Supervisor Gromack is afraid that the members of the Town Board will abandon him?
Three members of the Board, Lasker, Borelli and Hoehmann, confessed that they relied on the Town Attorney’s assurances of Mr. Savino’s suitability. Mr. Borelli now acknowledges that the concerns raised by citizens about Mr. Savino were correct. Ms. Hausner reminded us that her initial “No” vote on the retention of Mr. Savino was for questions of hisethical character in addition to her concerns about the Town Attorney not considering additional firms from Rockland.
Perhaps the members of the Town Board are wondering about the validity of Town Attorney’s views concerning open deliberations as stated in theOpen Meetings Law? Perhaps the lack of open deliberations has not been good for the Town? More to the immediate point, perhaps they are now wondering about the proposed audit of the Office of the Town Attorney? The question is who will be the first to reject Supervisor Gromack’s advice and realize that an audit of the Office of Town Attorney is in the interest of the Town?
There are plenty of worries for Supervisor Gromack.
It is likely that it will gradually become clear to the members of the Town Board that they should side with the people they represent and who appear before them on their own personal time month after month quietly asking for a government in conformance with the Open Meetings Lawand a government bereft of political favoritism and crony patronage. Cleary, we have been very patient in asking the Town Board why its members persisted with the Savino appointment despite all evidence that his experience and his moral fitness made him unsuitable to be associated in any way with our Town.
One can wonder who will be the first member of the Town Board to decide that he or she no longer wants to be part of Supervisor Gromack’s ‘political arrangements‘ and his long list of ‘political accomplishments‘.
Let’s review to what ‘accomplishments’ the individual members of the Town Board have said ‘Yes‘ ……
They said ‘Yes‘ to two successive raises for the Clarkstown Police after the Mr. Gromack himself, not the Town’s taxpayers, referred to the police salaries as “obscene“ thus causing citizens to look at what caused him to offer up that particular word of deprecation.
They said ‘Yes‘ when Highways Superintendent, Wayne Ballard, gave an ‘obscene‘ $75,000 part time patronage job to County Legislator Frank Sparaco to answer the telephone in inclement weather. The applications from 260 citizens, many of whom would have worked full-time for less than half that amount, were rejected. One wonders how many of them are today driving a $70,000 Cadillac Escalade?
They said ‘Yes‘ when Town employee, Ed Lettre, who heads the Conservative Party called them to an ‘obscene‘ meeting infamously called “The House of Horrors” to keep him elected as the Conservative Party Chairman and thus able to provide them with his election line in November. The Town Attorney, Amy Mele, was in dutiful attendance. Mr. Lettre was subsequently successful in hanging on to his leadership position by holding his party’s convention in Clarkstown’s Town Hall on the evening ofYom Kippur so his Jewish opponent could not be in attendance. Standing outside the door was Jay Savino, and an “entourage of muscle-men” as one attendee described it, who monitored those entering the Town Hall auditorium. That evening, Supervisor Gromack celebrated Lettre’s victory at the La Terrazza restaurant in New City and shared the evening’s pleasantries with the now disgraced Bronx ex-GOP chairman, Jay Savino.
Now the question is did the members of the Town Board say ‘Yes‘ whenSupervisor Gromack railed to a fellow Town Supervisor that he is “taking the gloves off” against “those taxpayers” in response to a request for a simple audit of the Town Attorney’s office.
“Those taxpayers” are not the story here and neither is their law firm, Feerick, Lynch, MacCartney PLLC.
What is the story?
The story is that three citizens of Clarkstown are asking, on behalf of their fellow citizens, if the fix was in to hire the Bronx Republican Chairman at any price. Was the selection process rigged to justify his retention? Why was he hired behind closed doors and then fired behind closed doors?
Is Supervisor Gromack now so desperate to avoid these questions from being answered by an independent and open investigation of the procedures being followed by the Town Attorney’s office that he must employ acampaign of derogation against three citizens and their law firm while using strong-arm tactics against a fellow Town Supervisor?
In my opinion this is the only logical conclusion that can be reached as to why Supervisor Gromack called one of the most ethical Supervisors in Rockland County in what appears to have been a blatant attempt to force him to dismiss the legal firm representing ‘Clarkstown Residents Opposing Patronage‘ from any work that it was doing on behalf of another Town.
It was a Draconian measure cavalierly advanced but we now know that one Supervisor had the courage to stand up for the principles of open and honest government.
In Supervisor Gromack’s press release he stated:
“I told him (the other Supervisor) that if Clarkstown was ‘forced to defend’ the work performed by its deputy town attorneys and the salaries paid to them, we would in turn be ‘required to compare’ their performance and salaries to their counterparts in the other Rockland County Towns”.
Supervisor Gromack could have saved Clarkstown the price of this call since an outside external auditing firm would automatically look at comparable Towns to see if the practices of Clarkstown were ‘normal and usual‘ and that ‘best practices‘ are being followed. That is a standard practice in private industry!
Councilwoman Hausner stated:
“Two years ago I was the sole ‘No‘ vote on the hiring of the firm of Jay Savino. At the time I had concerns with the process, and the lack of Rockland firms considered …. Initially I had some concerns of his character …… Moving forward we need to firm up our RFP process …. I believe we need to have a more formalized process.”
This states the case succinctly for an audit of the Town Attorney’s office.
There were ‘concerns with the process‘ – ‘concerns about Savino’s character‘ – the Town still needs to ‘firm up its Request for Proposal process‘ – the Town still needs ‘to have a more formalized process‘.
A qualified outside auditor will assist the Town in making these much needed changes in order that the Town Board and the citizens of Clarkstown willl not have to go through a similar event in the future. To establish ‘best practices’ by which the Town retains its attorneys is in everyone’s interest and perhaps most importantly it is in the best interest of the Town Attorney herself.
The citizens of Clarkstown need to understand what other deficiencies exist in the Town Attorney’s office by having an external auditor identify them. The hiring and firing behind closed doors of political operatives who supply political party lines to members of the Town Board may not show up as a ‘best practice‘, but it is an aspect of this Town’s practices that an independent auditor would surely examine.
In Supervisor Gromack’s Press Release following his refusal to conduct this audit he referred to his action in calling a fellow Supervisor as a “courtesy” call.
If that is the political definition of a ‘courtesy call‘ from the Town of Clarkstown then one might wonder when the ‘horse’s head‘ will follow.