Monti Board finds much to bicker over
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Evidence that the Monticello Village Board is working under fairly severe tension was clear again at its September 14 meeting.
Trustees sparred with each other and Village Manager Ray Nargizian at various points during the evening, beginning with Trustee Carmen Rue refusing to approve the minutes.
“I have my own reason,” she mysteriously explained.
Trustee Victor Marinello, who didn’t appear to understand Rue’s reason himself, nevertheless joined her in voting “no.”
It wasn’t until Trustee Scott Schoonmaker arrived a half-hour later (due to a flat tire) that the stalemate was broken and the minutes were passed. Rue retained her “no” vote, but Marinello decided to vote “yes.”
Bringing $300,000 HOME
Nargizian started the next battle, reporting to the board that $300,000 in NYS HOME Program monies, federal funds designed for use in low-income housing projects, had been lost and then regained.
He blamed it on a former employee’s “untimely distribution of funds,” crediting his new secretary, Jennifer Friedland, with helping him recover the monies.
“I had to call up the gentleman who administers these grants and plead with him to reinstate us,” Nargizian later said, adding that without that effort, Monticello would have been out of not just $300,000 but also the ability to apply for that funding for the next three years.
Mayor Gordon Jenkins, however, countered that Nargizian’s explanation of the funds being lost “is absolutely not true,” urging the public to FOIL for the information.
“I’ll leave it at that,” he stated.
A question of titles
But the real fight Nargizian’s comments engendered was over Friedland, whom Trustee TC Hutchins continues to insist was not hired under appropriate Civil Service rules.
“That is the grant administrator’s job,” he said at the meeting, “so she is there in violation of Civil Service Law.”
Hutchins said the board had not created the position of secretary for Nargizian.
“I never said I wasn’t working with grants,” Nargizian replied. “She’s working [with grants] under my supervision.”
The manager said he had checked with the county’s Personnel Office to ensure compliance, but Hutchins demanded that the position either be reclassified or someone be hired specifically as the grants administrator.
Village hall ‘a disgrace’
That led to another argument over the potential hiring of two new code enforcement officers to supplement the building department.
“I am in the process of interviewing [candidates],” Nargizian informed the board, preferring to finish the discussion in private executive session.
“We’re already starting out next year’s budget with a two percent increase,” lamented Hutchins, who said the money for new code enforcement officers should be used to spruce up village hall, which “is a shame and a disgrace.”
Nargizian was about to respond, but Hutchins cut him off.
“That’s not for discussion,” Hutchins told Nargizian. “That’s for me to put out.”
Rue defended the manager, saying the village hall has been in bad shape for years and that Nargizian has helped clean up the village.
Jenkins, however, replied that the village won’t get anywhere with enforcing code compliance if the village hall isn’t the hallmark of such compliance.
“We have the biggest violation out there!” he remarked, urging the village hire just one code enforcement officer and use the rest of the money to stucco the village hall’s exterior.
Jenkins also took aim at Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini, who infamously quipped to Bureau of Indian Affairs head Larry EchoHawk during a recent visit that Broadway was also known as the “Ho Chi Minh Trail.”
“To say something off the wall like that, it’s out of place,” Jenkins asserted, expressing a wish that Cellini had invited him on the impromptu tour of downtown Monticello. “I guess he’s gotten lazy because he’s running unopposed.”
And more tough talk
By the time the board got to a resolution to establish guidelines “in relation to all federal and state grants,” the room was on edge.
Hutchins asked Nargizian to look up grants for guardrails, to which the manager replied, “Do you look to harass me every meeting? I mean, I can take it!”
“Then take it, Ray!” Hutchins shot back. “Don’t respond, just do it.”
Then he asked Nargizian to explain the guidelines in the aforementioned resolution.
“What don’t you understand about it?” Nargizian replied. “It’s exactly what it says it is.”
Rue attempted to clarify that the resolution was meant to formalize the grant process, with Hutchins pointedly thanking her.
“We’re going to make you manager, Carmen,” Jenkins joked.
One point of agreement
The board did agree that evening to have invoices provided to the auditing committee before any bills are paid, a change from the current method of approving bills after they’ve been settled.
taxi medallions still unresolved
But there was one final argument to be had.
Middletown businessman Chris Jacques, who’s interested in bringing a taxi company to Monticello, asked if he’d ever get a response to his “letter of demand” pushing for Rue to recuse herself from any votes on offering additional taxi medallions.
And, he added, would there be any action on the medallions in the near future?
Hutchins wondered the same, asking Village Attorney Jake Billig where a draft of the required local law was. Billig responded that he could discuss that in executive session apparently because Jacques’ letter is being treated as a threat of litigation.
Rue wanted the medallion matter tabled until the letter issue is resolved, noting she has now retained her own attorney. Schoonmaker seconded her vote to table.
“We can’t sit here as a board and run from the taxi situation,” argued Jenkins. “It’s embarrassing ... and it’s getting a little bit redundant and a little bit silly.”
“The board really can’t act on something our legal department hasn’t turned back over to us,” replied Schoonmaker, saying the board needed advice on whether or not Rue can vote on the issue.
Jacques then accused Rue of being too chummy with Yellow Cab owner Alan Kesten, which Rue vigorously denied, adding that Kesten had been supportive not only of her campaign but Jenkins’, as well.
Kesten spoke up, saying he had only provided information and signs for Rue and Jenkins.
“It had nothing to do with financial issues,” he argued.
Jenkins intimated, however, that Kesten was lying.
“You’re paying Carmen’s way, and she’s paying yours,” the mayor charged.
“That’s a very bold statement,” replied Kesten, “and that might come back and bite you!”
Regardless, Rue’s motion to table was passed, with Hutchins the only “no” and Jenkins not voting.
“We’re further putting the village in jeopardy if this motion passes,” angrily stated Hutchins, who then asked Village Clerk Edith Schop to ensure the medallion issue is on every agenda from now on. “It just goes to show Carmen Rue is controlling the board!”
The meeting ended with Schoonmaker relating complaints about the median now being installed on Broadway with none of the cutouts requested by business owners in order to make left turns off or on to the street.
“And we’ve just limited them [firefighters] from ever having a parade again,” the trustee lamented. “We have some very unhappy people.”
He wondered if the state could be approached yet again to change plans, but businessman Sean Rieber said his staff found out from the workers that turning lanes are only allowed at intersections, according to state law.
“That median going all the way down like that is a crushing blow to businesses,” he observed.
Jenkins agreed that the median is going in no matter what, but he, as mayor and a Broadway businessman, doesn’t mind it.
“I think we’ll get used to it,” he said, noting that most hamlets in the NYC metro area feature unbroken medians stretching sometimes for miles. “I think it’s going to be a beautiful project.”