Democrat Photo by Dan Hust
WOODRIDGE VILLAGE BOARD members listen as Woodridge Youth Commission Vice President Donna Akerley, standing, hands out a resignation letter and President Simmie Williams III, right, reads from it Monday night at the village hall. Sitting from the left are Mayor James Slater, trustee Andrea Roberts, attorney Jeffrey Kaplan, and trustees Arthur Natelson and Ivan Katz.
By Dan Hust
WOODRIDGE November 8, 2002 In a bitter battle that has deeply divided the Village of Woodridge, theres about only one thing that both the village board and the former members of the Woodridge Youth Commission can agree on: this fight is politically motivated.
But naturally, fingers on either side are pointing in the opposite direction, and the lack of resolution has fueled the ire of all involved.
Formed in 2000, the Youth Commission initially had about eight members. As of Monday, its down to two and those two, Mel Mednick and Irene Kirtack, were appointed by the village board just within the last two months.
But its not Mednick and Kirtack who are pointing fingers. (Mednick, a Fallsburg Central School board member, has only attended two meetings thus far, as both the commission and the Fallsburg board meet on Wednesday evenings. Kirtack hasnt yet attended a meeting.)
Its the village board comprised of Mayor James Slater, Deputy Mayor Ivan Katz and trustees Andrea Roberts, Rivan Krieger and Arthur Natelson and former Youth Commission President Simmie Williams III, Vice President Donna Akerley, Secretary/Treasurer Deborah Jacobsen, and member Joan Collins who have engaged in a war of words over the direction of the commission.
At Mondays board meeting, Williams, Akerley and Jacobsen tendered their resignations, citing an unreceptive and uncooperative board. The board subsequently lashed back with equal complaints against the commission.
Unfortunately, at this time, we do not feel comfortable remaining in the positions appointed to us by the board, wrote the three resigning members in a letter given to the board on Monday and printed in the Democrat on Tuesday. Recent events have made it increasingly difficult for us to organize and facilitate our plans for the youth in the community, and we feel there are no apparent remedies for them at this time.
In interviews this week, the three now-former Youth Commission members said they could not continue because of unnecessary politics.
We were up against a roadblock. . . . It was all political, said Williams, the village and Town of Fallsburg youth officer and a policeman with the Fallsburg Police Department. They [the board] have said they would support us, but I havent seen any support.
They never came to any of our meetings, said Jacobsen even though the mayor holds constituents nights a door or two away in the municipal hall at the same time the commissions board meets. We were tired of the politics.
They just do what they want to do, remarked Akerley, who is the Town of Fallsburg deputy clerk. Id rather work unofficially than under their rule.
Village board members are equally angry at the youth commission.
This is disappointing and unjustified. . . . Its disgusting, Krieger said of the letter the night it was given to the board. I think this board gave excellent cooperation. . . . This was a clear case of nastiness and spitefulness. They tried to embarrass the board. . . . I think the only mistake we made was picking the wrong commissioners.
We bent over backwards for them, added Katz, citing a West Point football trip the board assisted the commission with, even though only two village children attended out of 40 or so travelers. We did our best. This board is doing things for children.
Im very shocked at this letter, said Mayor Slater. Its disheartening. Its politics. Its terrible.
The difficulties stem all the way back to the original senior members of the Youth Commission former Mayor Nat Kagan and former village trustees Arlene Messina and Joan Collins who were booted off the commission by Mayor Slater earlier this year after they lost in the village board elections.
For her part, Collins hasnt forgotten what she feels was a slap in the face from the village board.
They never showed up to help in any way, shape or form, said Collins yesterday, although she did acknowledge that board members had donated items for the penny social and bought tickets for fundraisers but didnt attend either. They never once attended a Youth Commission meeting.
A key point of contention is the building chosen by the commission to be its new home a place for local kids and teens to hang out, play games, read, have fun, maybe even meet informally with a tutor, according to Collins.
The two-story A-frame structure sits on Glen Wild Road in the village. It served as the ski chalet for the now-defunct Davos ski hill just outside of town, and in recent years had been donated to the commission for use as a youth center.
According to Slater and Katz, when the board was first approached about the matter, it was warmly received.
Everyone came together, said Katz. It was a wonderful idea.
We were going to move in in September, added Slater. It was a good idea.
But then they sent the building inspector to look at the property, and he found exposed wires, an inadequate heating system, non-handicapped accessible bathrooms and unsafe areas for children.
We estimated it would cost $10,000-$20,000 to fix everything, said Slater while providing a tour of the A-frame earlier this week.
And with a host of critical, expensive issues like water, sewer and infrastructure projects facing a village of just over 800 year-round residents, Slater doesnt believe pouring that amount of money into the center is justified especially since, if the youth commission ever stops using the center, the propertys deed says it must be given to the Woodridge Kiwanis, not to the village.
However, Williams and his fellow former commission members said they never intended to ask the village for anything other than covering the continuing utilities and maintenance costs.
No ones saying you have to put up $50,000, explained Williams. Weve held fundraisers, dinners, dances. BOCES students put on a new roof, we painted the building, I cut the grass. . . . We had a grant through Gateway for two computers. We got furniture, pool tables. . . . Everything that was done was through our fundraising and in-kind services.
We didnt intend to ask the village for any money, said Collins. We were doing it on our own, without asking anyone for money, and the kids were having fun doing it!
Although board members disagree, Williams added that he never got more than promises of help from the village.
Telling me youre going to help me is one thing showing me is another, he said. This was becoming a headache.
Board members argue that youth commission members themselves told them that getting young people involved in their efforts was difficult, but Williams said, Its hard getting kids to do something when theyre unsure of it.
And, he said, its hard putting together the now-cancelled Halloween and chili dinner events when you have only three people working behind the scenes.
He and his fellow members feel Slater and company just dont want a youth center.
No matter how much money we made, we never would get that center up and running, he said. I felt there were angry feelings about that building from the beginning.
This all comes down to a vendetta, said Collins. Its payback and politics. Jimmy Slater has never liked me.
She added that the current village board has wiped out any good the Youth Commission did.
I think theyre actually trying to disband the village, Collins said. Thats the impression I get. Theyre wasting so much time with immature nonsense, theres now nothing in the village.
Hogwash, said board members, who explained that their offers of help to the Youth Commission were ignored.
Were not anti-children, said Katz. I have two children of my own.
Unfortunately, it comes down to economics whats feasible and whats practical, said Slater, pointing out that the municipal hall is available for functions (although it must be scheduled out in advance). Show us where the interest is with the kids and the parents!
Slaters opinion stems from a recent open house he conducted at the youth center, where he showed about 10-20 people the interior and exterior. He said about 50 percent thought it was usable the other half disagreed.
That open house, however, was the last straw, said Jacobsen. The mayor never called the commissioners about it.
Her ensuing resignation was a tough decision. I went home and cried for an hour.
Katz, Slater and the rest of the village board remain adamant, however, that their job is to protect the interests of the taxpayers, and this building and the way the former members ran the commission is not in residents best interests. That has also led to their anger over the commissioners giving more than $700 in commission-raised funds to the Fallsburg Library, even though the Youth Commission returned its budgeted $3,000 to the board in the form of a check Monday evening.
That move, said Jacobsen, was deliberately designed so as not to be perceived as political.
If it was political, I would have given it to the Kiwanis or the [village] clock fund, which Joan Collins heads, she explained.
Besides, said Akerley, she feels the Woodridge Youth Commission is such in name only.
Were only called that because we were started in Woodridge, she said. Were here for all the children of the Town of Fallsburg.
You tell me where I can offer services to youth, and Ill do it there, said Williams, who hopes the mayor will talk to him soon about the issue. I like to do things and keep the kids happy. . . . This is for the kids.
The board evidently has a different view on exactly which children the commission should be serving, but they said they agree: the Woodridge Youth Commission should be about the kids, not the adults.
We have children, and we see them on the street, and we need to bring them in on a regular, consistent basis, said board member Andrea Roberts.
Although a future meeting is uncertain, the Woodridge Youth Commission meets every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. at the village municipal hall. The village board will next meet for its official board meeting at 8 p.m. at the village hall on Monday, November 18.