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THE TERMS OF Monticello Village Manager Ray Nargizian’s contract continue to tear the board.
Ambitious plans, feuding board
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Monticello Village Manager Ray Nargizian began Monday’s village board meeting with dreams of four museums, a senior center and a new village hall.
By the time the meeting ended more than two hours later, he was the focus of a screaming match amongst board members.
It was a bumpy ride for most of the evening, in fact, with a board that continues to be riven by suspicion, distrust and anger.
Mayor Gordon Jenkins and Trustee TC Hutchins entered the meeting room already upset, having been the only attendees of an executive session the hour before, called to answer some of Hutchins’ questions about a pending contract with the village’s police force.
The executive session was thus aborted due to the lack of a quorum.
Turned out trustees Victor Marinello and Scott Schoonmaker didn’t get an e-mail about the meeting due to computer difficulties. Trustee Carmen Rue didn’t attend because she felt village code specifically states that such notifications must be made by phone, in person, or in writing, not via e-mail.
Jenkins, however, took their absence as a sign that the three are only interested in attending meetings called by them, not the mayor or Hutchins.
Marinello shot back that Hutchins and Jenkins didn’t attend a special meeting called by Rue a few weeks ago.
The resulting argument led to Jenkins telling Police Chief Doug Solomon, who was in the room, to forcibly remove “the next person who speaks out of line.”
The chief never had to take that action, and so the audience was left to watch the constant sniping that has become a staple of Monticello board meetings.
Before that could really get under way, however, Nargizian, in his manager’s report, spoke of talks to create a new village hall that would include the police department, courthouse, highway department and a youth center.
Proclaiming it to be perhaps “the most ambitious project the village will undertake in years,” Nargizian added that four museums are under discussion: one focused on black pride, one on Hispanic pride, one on the Holocaust and one on the “American heritage” (specifically including Native American history). The museums would share space with a library and senior center.
“The village needs to support its youth, its seniors,” Nargizian explained in a later interview.
He said it was his vision to enrich the lives of young and old and keep them off the streets, encouraging them to become productive citizens.
To that end, he’s discussed it with people and groups he hopes will champion these buildings’ creation and aid him in gaining funding through grants and stimulus money.
“We fall into categories that warrant grant monies,” he said.
Nargizian envisions these structures occupying space in the downtown area, though he isn’t ready to discuss specifics yet. Indeed, he’s only had preliminary conversations about the idea with a few board members individually.
And the board didn’t discuss Nargizian’s proposal that evening. Instead, they argued about a variety of issues, from rumor-mongering to Nargizian’s secretary to the highway department.
Village gets served
Middletown businessman Chris Jacques added to the tension when he served a “letter of demand” on the board and Village Attorney Jacob Billig.
Written by Jacques’ attorney Robert Rametta, the letter demanded Rue be removed from the board “in its determination of the pending issue whether to permit additional taxicab medallions in the village and/or whether to remove any such limitations thereof.”
Jacques is interested in bringing a new taxi service to Monticello, and he’s been critical of some board members’ desire to protect local taxi companies through the medallion system.
He told trustees that this was not a notice of claim, but he indicated a lawsuit might be forthcoming if Rue followed through on a previous statement to limit medallions to businesses located within Sullivan County.
“Obviously, such limitation would be an improper exercise of the board’s powers, and Ms. Rue’s statement creates a strong appearance of impropriety as to whether she can fulfill her duties in a nonbiased fashion,” wrote Rametta.
Rue, in a later interview, defended her words as her own opinion, to which she is legally entitled.
“We are limited to hire an [village] attorney who only lives in Sullivan County,” she said, referencing village law. “... So why aren’t we limited [the same way] in taxi medallions?”
Rue said the letter has no legal weight.
“His letter doesn’t mean anything to me,” she remarked. “I didn’t do anything illegal… and I’m still going to do what is right.”
That, she said, includes advocating for medallions not only to be limited to in-county businesses but charging at least $30,000 per medallion to retain their current market value, something with which Marinello agrees, too.
Schoonmaker named auditor
But the focus on Rue wasn’t over yet at Monday’s meeting. Jenkins, as mayor, is charged with appointing two trustees to audit the bills. Hutchins cannot, per village law, since he is now the deputy mayor. Marinello is already serving, and Schoonmaker has repeatedly indicated he has no time for the job.
But Jenkins would not appoint Rue on Monday, saying he’d come back to it later.
“This is a very important position,” the mayor remarked, with Rue angrily looking on.
Schoonmaker finally acquiesced, saying, “One way or the other, I’ll make time.”
Nargizian gets contract
The board eventually moved into a private executive session about the police contract, emerging to unanimously approve it.
But just as Jenkins was about to move to adjourn, Rue insisted the board vote on Nargizian’s proposed contract.
The contract called for Nargizian to be employed for the next three years (retroactive to July 7) at a pay rate of $72,800 in the first year, increasing by at least three percent each year thereafter.
Amongst his benefits are a village-owned vehicle that can be used to commute to work, health and retirement plans, 25 days of vacation (or payment in lieu thereof), four days of family leave, five days of personal leave and 14 sick days.
In exchange, Nargizian must be available during regular business hours at the village hall, gets no overtime or “comp” time, and has to be at every board meeting.
He must give a month’s notice if he plans to resign, but if he’s fired without reason by the board, he’s entitled to six months’ pay plus health benefits.
If he’s fired with cause, he still gets paid during any suspension when the board is investigating alleged wrongdoing. He doesn’t get six months’ pay in that scenario, but he does get all his accrued vacation/personal time and temporary health coverage at village expense.
Though a resolution to this effect had been passed a month ago, the contract had yet to be specifically approved, and Rue was eager to make Nargizian’s employment official.
“Everybody had this contract for weeks,” she pointed out.
But Hutchins and Jenkins balked, disliking the idea of being in contract with a manager they believe was hired improperly.
“I wasn’t prepared for this vote,” Jenkins said, angrily accusing Rue of trying to underhandedly run the village.
“You’re never going to be prepared,” Rue shot back, saying the mayor wasn’t truly interested in hiring a manager.
Billig attempted to intervene, recommending the village have a contract with Nargizian like it did with past managers so that he “is not subject to personal whims.” He rejected the claim that Rue was handling the matter illegally.
Jenkins then accused Billig of being “as corrupt as this board,” and Hutchins called it “a crime” to continue to pay Nargizian for six months (more than $36,000) if he’s fired without cause.
Accusations of sneakiness continued to be made, but Schoonmaker replied that nothing is being hidden because it need not be a public discussion.
“The people out there should not have any input on what contract we give this man,” he told his fellow board members.
Hutchins and Jenkins continued to push against the contract, until Marinello recalled how they were pushing equally hard FOR a four-year contract for John Barbarite when he was manager last year, which would have included severance pay for an entire year and made it a Civil Service position not subject to board oversight.
From there, the meeting descended into chaos, with board members yelling at each other. Rue finally called for a vote, and Nargizian’s contract was approved via assent from her, Marinello and Schoonmaker.
“Done! Finished!” she cried, and the meeting was adjourned.