Mamakating Board Opens With Conflict
By Nathan Mayberg
WURTSBORO January 5, 2007 There was no shortage of electricity at the Town of Mamakating’s annual reorganizational meeting Tuesday evening.
The tenure of controversial Zoning Board of Appeals member and former Chairman Jim Barnett was up for consideration. In addition, current Chairman John Piazza’s annual position was up for appointment, as were a number of vacant seats on both of the regulatory boards.
Supervisor Charles Penna engaged in arguments with his fellow board members, particularly councilwoman Judith Young, who grew irate over several issues.
The public was not without its share of complaints as well, and voiced displeasure with a number of the board’s decisions.
From the top: Jim Barnett’s reappointment was tabled as the board decided it wants to wait and review the applications of those who have applied for the three available slots on the ZBA. Along with Barnett’s seat, there is one other alternate seat open on the ZBA. The board will be accepting applications until its next meeting on January 16.
Barnett circumvented the town board over a year ago when he forced out attorney Ira Cohen, appointed as counsel to the ZBA by the town, when Cohen recommended the board deny the key variances to the Yukiguni Maitake Manufacturing Corporation of America for their proposed mushroom plant. Barnett replaced him with Orange County attorney Stephen Gaba, who has yet to be paid because the town board never passed a resolution to hire him.
On Tuesday, Penna said that Yukiguni would be responsible for covering the expenses of Steve Gaba, the attorney appointed by Barnett in the fall of 2005. The board passed a resolution to pay for the attorney’s expenses a couple months ago, but then rescinded that resolution after it was brought up at a meeting by the public. On Tuesday, the supervisor fought vigorously for an item on the reorganizational agenda which would specifically require developers to pay all fees associated with the town’s engineers and attorney.
Although the board never passed a resolution to fire Cohen, they subsequently replaced ZBA member and former chairwoman Fern Laks, the lone board member to vote against the variances.
Doctor Clifford Teisch lost his job as the town’s official physician, after he opposed the mushroom factory and ran for a position on the board.
Barnett could likely be on the way out. Young has tried to remove him for years and has described him as being “very rude to residents.”
Barnett stood up and shouted at the public to “shut up” at the landmark ZBA meeting in December of 2005 regarding the mushroom plant while calling on residents to be removed. Barnett was replaced last year as chairman with William Fedun. Fedun has been equally supportive of the plant and has been as combative with the public as Barnett has been. Last year, Fedun called on the State Police to remove residents who asked the board to use microphones during the meeting. The residents were eventually allowed back in.
On Tuesday, Penna said Barnett has 20 years of experience on the board, but described his actions in regards to Cohen as being “morally wrong if not legally.”
The planning board has three vacancies and the town board is accepting applications. One applicant who appears to have little chance is noted mushroom factory opponent Andrew Weil. Weil was appointed by the current board to head the master plan review committee, but the committee’s call for a building moratorium were not looked upon favorably. Penna said the town is looking to be more business friendly and feels that Weil is not supportive enough of development.
Penna and Young both said on Tuesday that they would not support the appointment of Weil due to his affiliation as a Democratic committee member. Four of the five seats on the town board are made up of Republicans.
Weil countered that he supports smart developments which will pay a living wage. “If I was up there, I would ask the hard questions. I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do.” In addition, he pointed out that there is no representation on any of the boards from Summitville, Phillipsport and Spring Glen, where most of the industry is being proposed. “It’s taxation without representation,” said Weil, who hails from Summitville.
There are two alternate seats open on the planning board. The town board will be accepting applications to serve on the board over the next two weeks. One of the seats vacated is due to the resignation of John Malmgreen shortly after the decision on Yukiguni. The board never formally accepted his resignation, yet replaced him with alternate Joseph Darmetko.
At the last meeting, resident Eileen Weil questioned the board as to why it hasn’t accepted the resignation. Most of the appointments to the boards are being given to residents of Bloomingburg.
On the question of Piazza, who lives in Middletown, the board once again decided to give the planning board the decision as to who it wants as its chairman.
One of the fiercest battles of the night revolved around a call by Penna for more oversight of fees collected by the town from developers. Penna and the board members argued about who should be in charge of the oversight. Young and Penna clashed for the first time of the night with Young saying the chairman of the planning and zoning boards should take some responsibility, as well as the town board. Councilman Nicholas Salomone Jr. said that it was Penna’s job, while Penna appeared to think planning board secretary Linda Frank should be given a full time salary in order to correctly collect the fees and account for them.
In the end, Young called for a resolution which would require Frank and the chairmen of each board to submit a monthly report to the town board on the fees. The board voted 3-1 to support the measure. Penna opposed the bill. Councilwoman Regina Saunders was absent due to a reported illness.
Just as matters seemed to calm down, they grew hostile as Young and Penna battled over a job description review that Young has been calling on for some time. Penna blasted the board for not taking enough responsibility in town decisions. Salomone and councilman Sean Moriarty took exception.
During public comment, town resident and local attorney Mark Schulman expressed his displeasure with the town court for having six court officers on duty more than any other town in the county. In addition, two of them were armed, a violation of the town’s law. Schulman said this was excessive, considering the State Police are next door. He also said he was asked to sign his name before entering court.
Following his comments, the board voted to limit the number of court officers to two on each day. Salomone initially said the resolution would prohibit court officers from appearing at arraignments, but it is not clear if that made its way into the official resolution. Moriarty opposed the resolution, stating the judge should be able to have as many officers as he sees fit.
Andrew Weil expressed his concern that the town was not acting to protect the health and safety of the residents. He cited delay in placing a weight limit sign on Mount Vernon Road, a steep hill where truck traffic is heavy. He also complained about a garbage problem in Summitville as well as the allowance of the ZBA to give the mushroom factory 625,000 gallons of water a day when they only asked for 400,000. Weil also called for better lighting in front of the town hall, where his wife recently went off the road. Schulman also cited garbage dumping as being a problem on Munn Road.
The Sullivan County Democrat was named as the official newspaper.