By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO October 17, 2006 Was it just poor communication? Bad procedure? Deliberate contempt? Or is it plain old politics?
Village of Monticello Mayor James Barnicle has been acting as Village Manager ever since Richard Sush resigned two months ago. According to the mayor, he spoke with his board about receiving $2,000 a month extra to do the job as manager while they searched for a new one. His salary as mayor is $9,000 a year.
But the board never voted on the salary. The village code calls for the mayor to take over the duties of the manager, if he is incapacitated, resigns or is fired. However, it does not spell out his salary. Sush’s salary was approximately $6,000 a month.
The last time the village was faced with this problem, was over six years ago when Cheryl Scheiber was fired. Mayor Gary Sommers took over for nearly a year until Sush was hired. About two weeks after Sommers took over the duties of Manager, a resolution was brought forth by trustee David Rosenberg to compensate him by $1,000 more a month.
Sush announced to the board on July 10 that he would be resigning August 11. The village filed papers with the county’s personnel office on August 1, setting the new salary for Barnicle at $2,000 a month.
According to Barnicle, he told the board in an executive session in July that he would need $2,000 a month to carry on with the duties of the manager. He said the board agreed to discuss it again at a later date. He said they talked about the salary again at a meeting in August and there was an understanding that he would be receiving $2,000 a month.
Signing off on the salary was Deputy Mayor and trustee Victor Marinello. Marinello said he did so under the guidance of village attorney Danielle Jose. Jose said she is awaiting word from the New York State Attorney General’s office and New York State Comptroller’s office on whether they are following proper procedure. However, she warned that process could take months. She suggested the village may have to pay Barnicle the full salary that was taken by Sush.
But at a special meeting on Thursday called by a fuming Scott Schoonmaker, the village trustee said the salary was taken without the authorization of the board. He and trustee Gordon Jenkins opposed the way the salary was given, saying in effect, the board was worthless if it didn’t have the ability to set the salaries of its employees.
“I feel this was done totally against the board without our knowledge,” said Mr. Schoonmaker. He acknowledged there was a discussion of the possibility of Barnicle receiving $2,000 a month, but those discussions didn’t go further.
Jenkins said he told Barnicle at the executive session that $2,000 a month was too much. “I said I would do it for free.”
He called on the mayor, Marinello and Jose to resign. “Where is the compassion for the public?” He said the mayor was only interested in the money. “It doesn’t look good.”
The mayor said he made a mistake by not setting the salary through resolution. The error was in procedure, he said. “Be rest assured, I only have the public’s interest at heart.”
Marinello defended the raise given to the mayor. “The man is doing a job. He should be compensated… If the Attorney General says its illegal, I will apologize.”
Jenkins and Schoonmaker voted to rescind the $2,000 a month payment to Barnicle but Marinello and Barnicle abstained, thus falling short of a majority of the board. Trustee Brian Vandermark did not attend the special meeting.
On Sunday, Barnicle said he believes the whole matter is a game of politics. “It’s not like it’s been a week or two. I’ve been performing the duties of manager for two months with no car or benefits.”
“I told them I wouldn’t do the job unless I got that amount of money. I was very clear - I did not mince words,” stated Mr. Barnicle. “I have nothing to hide. I did nothing wrong. If it was procedurally wrong, then shame on us - I am not trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.”
The mayor said he is giving the village a bargain by taking a salary which is one-third less than the manager’s
But some of his opponents say he has been doing the job sparingly. They say he is hardly ever at the Village Hall. Barnicle’s job with Anheuser-Busch requires him to travel frequently. Sommers said he was in the Village Hall a minimum of three days a week and six hours a day when he took over as manager.
Jenkins said that Barnicle was only a part time manager who is not around enough to deserve the salary he is being given. He threatened to take the matter to court after he consults with his personal lawyer.
“It is an insult to the taxpayer,” said Jenkins after the meeting. He referenced the heated budget work session this past summer when the board was fighting over how to save money, which cuts to make, and allowing its employees to receive raises. The village ended up raising taxes by 4.5 percent.
Betty Friedland, who brought the salary to light and made it an issue, said “I don’t mind him getting paid. But this is too much.” She also said he was hardly around to act as manager. She called for the hiring of a new manager to be put on a fast track.
In the view of Sommers, Barnicle is entitled to extra compensation for doing the job. “But if you know your business is failing, do you start taking money out of your business?” Sommers said the answer is no.
“My personal advice would be to make it $1,000 a month. When you’re increasing taxes and heating bills are rising, it doesn’t bode well for the public.”
Meanwhile, the village continues its search for a new manager. There have been a dozen applicants for the job so far. Only a handful are local. A committee of local community leaders have reviewed the applicants. The village board was supposed to discuss how to review the candidates last week in executive session, but never did so. The board will meet again next week Monday.