By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO August 23, 2002 Village of Monticello Trustee Scott Schoonmaker came to Monday night's board meeting upset and aggravated.
Traditionally, the trustees, the mayor, and other village officials sit around downstairs, talk, and then head upstairs for the meeting. Monday night, Schoonmaker headed right upstairs, sat with his young daughter, spoke with village residents, and waited for everyone to come upstairs for the meeting to begin.
At 7 p.m., the meeting began like any other with the Pledge of Allegiance. After a moment of silence for former Town of Thompson Supervisor Ralph Meyer, preliminary business was taken care of.
But once the public comment period began, Schoonmaker let his anger out directing it right at Village Mayor Gary Sommers.
"Why did you remove us from the Community Policing Unit [CPU]?" Schoonmaker asked Sommers. "What gives you the right? No one on this board was contacted [about the decision]."
"Your comments are out of place," Sommers responded. "We cannot discuss this due to personnel issues. We need to discuss it in executive session."
The matter was scheduled to be discussed at the end of the meeting. However, Schoonmaker, other members of the board, and the audience did not want to wait.
"We should not have to read about it in the newspapers," remarked Trustee Mary Jo Oppenheim. "We should have been contacted."
Last week, Sommers and Village Police Chief Michael Brennan decided to pull the village out of the Sullivan County Community Policing Unit. The CPU is made up of members from the Sullivan County District Attorney's Office, the New York State Police, the Sullivan County Sheriff's Department, the Village of Liberty Police, the Town of Fallsburg Police, and the Monticello Police. Each member serves about one week a month. The CPU has been active for over two years, and 40 percent of the arrests are in Monticello.
The situation began last week when Brennan sent Sommers a memo suggesting the village no longer participate in the CPU program. The concern was over being shorthanded in the police force. The village will lose four police officers in December when their grants run out. Also, two other officers are out on medical leave. It was felt other options needed to be looked into to provide proper protection for village residents.
"We never said the door was closed," Sommers remarked. "I approved what the department head wanted. We just wanted to look at the financial aspects."
"This is a bunch of crap and has got to stop," Schoonmaker commented. "People should not live in fear. Maybe we are not capable to run the village. Maybe the Town of Thompson should just absorb the village."
"Maybe they should," replied Sommers.
Those in the audience took the opportunity to voice their opinions.
"This should not be done in executive session," stated village resident Betty Friedland. "It is not a personnel issue. It should be done in front of the people."
None of the four trustees nor Village Attorney Michael Davidoff were aware the contract was terminated. They read about it in an out-of-county daily newspaper. That was also a major point of conjecture.
"I also read it in the newspaper," Deputy Mayor David Rosenberg said. "I was not offended but disappointed that I wasn't called. I think everyone is a little harsh on Gary."
After more heated debate, a vote was taken on whether or not to go into executive session. The vote was 3-2, with Schoonmaker and Oppenheim opposed. As the board, Davidoff, Brennan, Village Manager Richard Sush, and Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen went downstairs into executive session, Schoonmaker refused to go. After coaxing from Oppenheim and Village Clerk Edith Schop, Schoonmaker did join the others.
After a 45-minute executive session, the group came back upstairs. Rosenberg made the following statement: "I propose a resolution that the board directs the manager to re-affirm our CPU obligation. The board further directs that the police chief negotiate with the DA on who will participate."
It passed 5-0.
At the end of the meeting, Rosenberg made another statement. "What was discussed was 100 percent for executive session. I am asking everyone to please don't ask us to break our vow of confidentiality. It was for our ears only. Out of respect, please don't ask."