BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
Drama and accusations of favoritism and bizarre behavior continue to percolate amongst officials in the Village of Pomona as the village election approaches next week. Though Mayor Brett Yagel is on the receiving end of most accusations, he has managed to keep a strong board majority and win most political battles throughout the last few years he has found himself at the center of controversy.
Kevin Conway, the attorney of Trustee Ian Banks (Yagel’s main political adversary) has indicated that Banks is the victim of Yagel politically interfering to stop Banks from receiving a Certificate of Occupancy Banks he has long sought for an old barn on his property.
Meanwhile former Village Clerk Lisa Thorsen says that Yagel has been working behind the scenes to blackball her career in local government all over a political battle between several personalities in 2014 and 15.
The general practices of Yagel’s regime also are under criticism.
In late February, the mayor removed six-year member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Peter Obe, citing the fact that he did not sign an oath of office. Obe had been on the ZBA since 2013 and his term was not scheduled to end until 2018.
Obe said he had no interest in fighting for his position because it was a volunteer role and if Yagel or the board did not want him anymore, he would move on. But Obe did say he felt the treatment he received was “unfair.”
“I would think if I needed to sign a form, they would have brought it to me,” he said.
Persons in the village have told the Rockland County Times that they believe Mayor Yagel is purposely arranging for employees and appointees to never sign their oath so if he wants them removed he has a convenient excuse. Obe agreed this might be the case.
One employee told the Rockland County Times on the condition of anonymity that despite their best efforts to get their hands on a form to sign, an oath was never provided to them. The employee said it was obvious to them the mayor did not want the form signed.
The removal of Obe for his failure to sign an oath of office also begs the question, why did the board allow him to serve several years without signing an oath? If a non-tender of the oath of office is a disqualifying act, were Obe’s votes as a ZBA board member valid? It is not clear how many persons employed or volunteering for the Pomona government have not signed an oath of office.
Pomona regulations also state, “The Mayor of the Village of Pomona is hereby authorized to remove a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals or Planning Board for cause, after public hearing and an opportunity to be heard.”
Obe said he never was afforded a hearing. Because Obe has no interest in fighting for the ZBA position, the breach of protocol will go unchallenged.
Critics of Yagel say such tactics are the norm under his regime and those who resist him face retribution. Trustee Banks said after years he has still not been provided a certificate of occupancy for a barn on his property even though the building inspector said everything is squared away.
Banks and others who spoke to the Rockland County Times described Yagel as micromanaging every aspect of village business and acting out against anyone he dislikes or perceives as a foe. Banks is considering legal action against his own village due to the endless delay on receiving his CO.
Other accusations levied against Yagel by current and former Pomona residents involved in the political scene include harassment, creepy hang-up phone calls, video surveillance of activities in Village Hall and hacking of personal email accounts. Yagel has spread rumors that former Village Clerk Thorsen could face legal trouble for supposed personal use of a village Fed Ex account but provided no evidence.
Witnesses in Village Hall told the Rockland County Times that in the current year, Yagel is still ranting about Thorsen three years after she has left the village’s employ, pining for her arrest over the FedEx “scandal.”
Despite all the drama, Yagel has maintained a base of political support due to his stance against over-development. He also has been staunchly opposed to the Tartikov Rabbinical College project, which is unpopular and would drastically alter the character and demographics of the village.
Yagel’s handling of the lawsuit has been questioned, however. He suffered perhaps his most embarrassing moment when in a comment string underneath an article on the Rockland County Times website he “outed” former Trustee Rita Louie for making a comment in a text conversation with him years earlier that he said could be damaging to the legal case with Tartikov. Attorneys for Tartikov picked up on the conversation and brought it to the judge’s attention.
The village was reprimanded and sanctioned $43,000 in 2016 for the Yagel/Louie fiasco. There is fear that given the judge’s past reprimand, should the village lose the Tartikov lawsuit taxpayers will be forced to pay up to $4 million in attorney’s fees.
On Tuesday, Ian Banks and his Preservation Party running mate Robert Klein are running for trustee seats on the Preservation Party line. Their opponents are Rena Nussbaum and Michael Kaufmann of the Pomona United line. The term of the trustee seat is four-years.
Mayor Yagel loyalist Alma Roman failed to gain enough signatures to qualify for the board.
Banks said, “In my letter to residents of January, 2015 [When he opposed Yagel for mayor] I stated ‘Among the many issues facing us, strong leadership is required to address ever increasing budgets, spiraling tax rate hikes, lack of paved roads in certain areas,continued control and defense of our rural, residential environment, improved code enforcement, renewed direction for existing institutions like our Cultural Center, restoration of the newsletter, coffee with the mayor, better communication with residents, improved management of our office and staff, and, above all, treating residents, staff and the public fairly, openly and honestly All of these issues are still current in 2017, and in many cases, things have gotten worse, such as code enforcement.”
Mayor Yagel was emailed three times for comment and requested return phone call on this article and did not return the email or leave a message of any kind with the Rockland County Times.
Deputy Mayor Leon Harris answered a phone call from the Rockland County Times and stated, “Since I am not running for reelection this year, I have no comments. Thank you.” He then hung up.
CORRECTION – An earlier version of this article stated that Thorsen had used the Fedex account and then reimbursed it. Thorsen says this was a misquote and she had never used the account.
APPENDIX: Bickering caught on tape and email
Hear and see some of the non-stop drama for yourself. In the attached audio Mayor Yagel accuses Banks of “harassing the staff.” In the second audio around 4 minutes in Banks asks a staff members if he harasses them. (The Banks audio features dead air, the relevant portion is from 4 minutes to 7 minutes).
Below is an email string Deputy Mayor Harris emailed to the press. The emails have been arranged in chronological order to make them easier to follow.
On Feb 22, 2017, at 12:16 PM, Ian Banks wrote:
Dear Mayor Yagel:
As you brought up continuing problems related to email communications within the village at our workshop meeting on February 13, it must be clear that the Village of Pomona never sent me access instructions to use the village website from a remote location and I was not provided with a village computer.
Since the village failed to send instructions or make any effort to make the village website accessible for Trustee’s use, in the best interests of better communication for village business, I voluntarily donated my company’s email service, as I have no access code for the village internet service, although others do.
Please forward the access information as soon as possible so we can correct this ongoing, long term problem.
From: Mayor Brett Yagel
To Ian Banks
Cc: Leon Harris, Nick Wilson; Alma Sanders Roman
Sent: Wed, Feb 22, 2017 1:22 pm
Subject: Re: Village email
The only problem that exists is a PEBCAC issue!!! The village is unable to correct that issue! It’s all up to you! Good luck.
On Feb 22, 2017, at 8:25 PM, Ian Banks wrote:
Dear Mayor Yagel:
Please respond to my emails in plain English. Your response using the word PEBCAC is incomprehensible to me and most likely to the rest of the Board, since it has never been defined or discussed clearly in any communication I have received.
As Head of a corporation in NYS, you are responsible for all actions of the corporation. Please do not pass the buck to some unknown entity in an effort to absolve the Village from errors in performing its obligations, such as providing equal access to Village computer networks to all Trustees.
Sent: Wed, Feb 22, 2017 9:44 pm
Subject: Re: Village email
Dear Trustee Banks,
Problem Exists Between Computer And Chair! (PEBCAC!). As you fail to realize this simple ‘IT’ jargon, your offer to assist with the IT aspect of village proves your lack of understanding in the area.
As for ‘problems’ what problems are you referring to? I’m unaware of any major issues? Are you experiencing issues? Please identify such so these can be mitigated, if they exist.
Btw, below is a simple google search on ‘PEBCAC’. I’ve typed it extra slow for you so you can understand.
Mayor – Village of Pomona
Dear Mayor Yagel:
You fail to understand that neither you nor anyone else at the Village of Pomona have fulfilled your work obligations to make the village website accessible to all trustees. You need to provide the access code so I can log on from a remote location to all trustees, not just selected ones. Should you choose to continue this discriminatory treatment, I will pursue a complaint to the proper authorities.
Your sophomoric behavior exhibited by name calling, using jargon “PEBCAC” in a formal communication is reprehensible and slanderous.
YAWN!!! Feel free to call the authorities Ian.
Although, as an elected official, you must realize that diverting resources for your personnel agendas, could result in the loss of life or harm elsewhere in the town. But then again, your selfish interests never astounds anyone anymore. I’d try calling you, but you’d probably call the ramapo police again and state another falsehood about harassment.
Mayor – Village of Pomona
PS- would you please stop using your personal email account when it relates to village business. All village business must be conducted on village email accounts, UNLESS, it is protected by board authorized attorney-client privilege. You do realize your ‘aol’ account is foilable, don’t you? Especially given your consistent propensity for its use. Once again, you feel you are above established procedures/policy/law.
(At this point Trustee Leon Harris copies the news media to the email chain)
From: Leon Harris
To: Mayor Brett Yagel
Cc: Ian Banks; Nick Wilson; Alma Roman; Akiko Matsudo; Steve Lieberman Journal News
Sent: Thu, Feb 23, 2017 5:18 pm
Subject: Re: Village email
Please help me understand the problem you are experiencing. The subject of your email is an email issue but in the body of email you state you don’t have remote access to the website. Everyone / Anyone has access to website. No one has remote access to the village network. The only remote access is for web master and or designers to update the website
If you are having issues with your email let me know.
Sent from my iPhone
Subject: Re: Village email
First, I object to your inclusion of the media in the discussion of village business. No village official has my permission to use the news media for their own political self promotions which include false statements which are used for slander.
Brett Yagel falsely stated that I am using my personal email for village business. This is a lie.
Brett Yagel stated that I am diverting resources for my personal agenda. Also a lie.
Brett Yagel’s description of my desire to access the village website as “selfish interests” is slander.
Brett Yagel stated that I called Ramapo Police when in fact he has called the Rampo Police on 2 occasions when he confronted me in failed attempts to prevent me from doing my duties as a Trustee. I have the Police reports.
For the issue at hand, clearly neither you nor Brett Yagel are interested in answering my simple question in the attached email of February 22nd asking how to sign on to to the village website in order to use my village email address. According to your email, you cannot understand plain English. Perhaps you are saying this falsely in an effort to gain news media attention.
Please forward a list of all other emails to Trustees which have been copied to the Media.
Everyone in the Village of Pomona is sick and tired of you and the Mayor utilizing village resources to attack residents you don’t like, promote your agendas on the Village Newsletter which is only published before your elections using Village funds. illegally denying FOIL requests from the public, using village equipment and personnel to assist in the Mayor’s witch hunts against selected individuals who do not agree with him, etc.
I will give you another chance to respond to the original email request, which is your duty as a trustee, since the village website does not work for my use in sending out emails; nevertheless, I will be disconnecting my corporate email, gratuitously donated for use in communication to the village for approximately 20 years, from its connection to the village website as soon as possible, so if no intelligible response is received from you, I will no longer be available on email through the village website.
To conclude, it’s the Mayor’s responsibility to get the website working, and it appears that he is more interested in news media attention than doing his job.