Dan Hust | Democrat
Village Clerk Edith Schop, left, and Village Manager Ray Nargizian listen as the Monticello Village Board talks about an investigation into potential wrongdoing in village government.
Village eyes widespread investigation into 'wrongdoing'
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Monticello Village Trustee Victor Marinello on Monday called for a full investigation into “any wrongdoings” in village government.
Though he insisted his motion had “no connection” to the prior week’s indictment of Village Clerk Edith Schop, Marinello did acknowledge it would include Schop and apparently everybody else on the village payroll.
“I want people to know we are watching them,” he said after the meeting.
The vote passed 3-2, garnering support from trustees Scott Schoonmaker and Carmen Rue after it was clarified that Village Manager Ray Nargizian would be empowered to hire an outside, independent entity to conduct the investigation.
Deputy Mayor TC Hutchins and Mayor Gordon Jenkins balked at Marinello’s demand, however, countering that the mayor is charged with conducting such investigations and that he is doing just that.
They also feared the potentially high costs associated with hiring an individual or firm to conduct an investigation.
“Does the village have the money?” Jenkins wondered. “This is going to cost a fortune!”
Marinello argued that Nargizian, as the chief executive of the village, should be the one to hire the investigator someone who is free of any conflicts of interest. He added that his motion included a provision to create a committee, if Nargizian deems it necessary, to aid in the investigation.
He acknowledged that the cost may be significant; “however, I feel this is something that needs to be done.”
But Hutchins’ question of what exactly needs to be investigated was answered vaguely, with Marinello only specifying that it’s to root out any “funny business” within village government.
“This is something that should have been done a long time ago,” Marinello said.
Rumors have swirled for months that the NYS Attorney General’s Office is already investigating the village, though officials will not confirm such.
However, Schop’s 40-count indictment last week had nothing to do with her village duties, according to Sullivan County District Attorney Steve Lungen. Instead, she was charged with allegedly putting in for more pay than she was due for her job as the state’s law library clerk inside the County Courthouse.
That case has yet to make its way to trial, and trustees have stressed that they consider Schop innocent until proven guilty (though Schoonmaker proposed Schop voluntarily take a leave of absence until the issue is settled).
The mayor, however, warned that he might take the entire board to court over this proposed investigation.
“You are trying to take the power away from the mayor,” he charged.
“It can give him too much power where he can be the Gestapo,” Jenkins said of Nargizian.
Hutchins added that Schop may have a harassment case against Nargizian and board members.
“I guarantee you one of Ray’s first agendas is to piggyback on the charges from the DA’s office,” Hutchins alleged. “We’re creating a hostile environment for Edith to work in.”
Yesterday, Nargizian characterized Jenkins and Hutchins’ comments as “absolutely ridiculous,” noting that any investigation would be conducted independent of him.
At this point, Nargizian said, he’s contacted the village’s insurance company to see if it will undertake the investigation, which would not cost Monticello anything.
If the insurer declines, lawyers and/or investigators will be asked to do the job, he said, adding that such an investigation would naturally include a review of Schop and her duties.
“Obviously we are extremely upset with the pending [DA’s] investigation of Edith,” he acknowledged. “Certainly it brings a red flag that ... there may be a problem, and it has to be looked into.”
In other village business
• Halloween weekend will feature the usual village curfew for those under 18, thanks to a resolution the board approved unanimously on Monday.
Children will need to be off village streets by 10 p.m. the nights of Friday, October 30, Saturday, October 31 and Sunday, November 1. They are not to return to the streets until 6 a.m. the following morning.
• Jenkins once again called for 10 taxi medallions to be made available, while Rue once again motioned to table the matter until potential legal issues are addressed.
That reignited a debate about the board’s continuing inaction on increasing the 21 medallions currently available in the village, each of which allows a single taxicab to serve residents.
Marinello felt they should be sold to interested vendors for upwards of $10,000 apiece, while Jenkins felt they should be far cheaper, if not free.
“The village should not be in the taxi business,” he reiterated.
But whatever is to be done must be accomplished via a local law, so Jenkins asked Schoonmaker, Marinello and Rue to draft something for Deputy Village Attorney Robert Gaiman to write up as a proposed village law.
Rue, however, felt no further medallions are needed, so Jenkins abruptly tabled the matter.
• During a worksession prior to the regular board meeting, the board agreed unanimously to have Jenkins or Hutchins draft a memo to Nargizian asking him to have department heads include estimates of how much is left in their budgets after each expenditure.
Hutchins wanted that as part of his call for better tracking of village government purchases.