Dan Hust | Democrat
RAY NARGIZIAN, VILLAGE of Monticello manager.
Monti Village Board Split Over Barnicle
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO April 13, 2007 Tension characterized Monday’s village board meeting in Monticello.
It started when Mayor Jim Barnicle reappointed Danielle Jose as village attorney.
Trustee Scott Schoonmaker asked fellow Trustee Brian Vandermark to recuse himself from a board vote approving the mayor’s appointment, due to Schoonmaker’s contention that Vandermark has a conflict of interest since his father works for a relative of Jose’s.
Vandermark felt no need to do so, and so the reappointment passed 3-2, with Schoonmaker and Gordon Jenkins opposed.
A similar appointment for deputy village attorney Tim Havas passed 4-1, with Schoonmaker again opposed.
The spectacle returned when Barnicle said Schoonmaker might need to recuse himself after voting on appointing Schoonmaker’s wife to the village planning board a comment that evidently infuriated the trustee.
But the agenda items that caused the most consternation that evening didn’t even make it to a vote.
A resolution created by Deputy Mayor Vic Marinello would have formalized Mayor Barnicle’s pay he received as acting village manager from last August to last December. Although Barnicle was ultimately (and controversially) paid $6,000 total, the resolution contained no actual figure.
“We didn’t do this resolution seven months ago [which] was a mistake on our part,” Marinello explained.
But when Marinello asked for a second to Vandermark’s motion to approve/disapprove the resolution, neither Jenkins nor Schoonmaker spoke. (Barnicle had recused himself.)
The same thing happened on the subsequent motion to approve/disapprove an agreement for the board to meet with members of the Dispute Resolution Center to mediate the payment issue.
Thus both resolutions could not be brought to a vote and subsequently died and rightly so, said Jenkins.
“This is in court,” he explained. “The mayor was served papers… It’s in the lawyers’ hands now.”
Yet even after the resolutions died, Schoonmaker pressed Marinello to recuse himself “for the simple reason that he is part of the whole system that is at fault here.”
When that stirred angry debate, Schoonmaker called for an executive session to discuss it further. Trustees emerged less than five minutes later looking just as angry but remaining silent.
In other news, Village Manager Ray Nargizian reported that District Attorney Steve Lungen has asked the village to move its court out of the County Courthouse as soon as possible.
The Monticello Village Courthouse was closed down last year due to a black mold infestation, and even though it’s been cleared up, the building is too small to handle the increased court schedule, said Nargizian.
Temporarily relocated to the County Courthouse on Broadway, the court needs its own building and soon, he explained. Nargizian dreams of creating a whole municipal complex that would include a new village hall and police station, as well possibly near the Sullivan County Government Center.
As for the courthouse, Schoonmaker suggested the old Burger King on Richardson Avenue, but Nargizian wasn’t sure if it offered enough room.
A 'Miracle' in Monticello?
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO The similarities are simply astonishing.
Ray Nargizian and John Barbarite do far more than work together.
They’re both from Brooklyn.
They’re both 61.
They both moved here within two years of one another.
They both took a chance on self-employment and made their fortunes as a result.
They both established widely lauded businesses offering quality materials and labor to a high-end clientele.
And they both gave up the promise of a relaxing, richly rewarding retirement to jump into village government in the politically acidic atmosphere of Monticello, no less.
Of course, that’s where they both live.
Now the duo is in charge of their hometown Nargizian as village manager, Barbarite as his deputy.
And where they want to take Monticello will be nothing short of miraculous.
How They Got Here
Nargizian was appointed late last year to a $60,000/year (plus benefits) position that has long been a focus of controversy in Monticello.
It’s a far cry from his days as an Oriental rug importer, first for the Concord Resort Hotel and then as a wholesaler known the world over for his business skills.
Nargizian retired 10 years ago but eventually found himself drawn to politics as a Sullivan County Republican Party committeeman.
Having long owned property in Monticello (including prime commercial pieces along Broadway) and having lived in the village since 1971, Nargizian saw the county seat’s spirit rotting away and his two children, like so many other natives, choosing to live elsewhere.
“One day I realized, ‘You know something?’” he recalled. “‘The best way [to help] is to jump in with both feet.”
So he applied for the village manager’s position last year, and village leaders liked what they saw in this CEO of many a corporation.
“I like the challenge,” said Nargizian. “I pride myself on being able to solve common-sense and logic problems.”
But once named to the post, Nargizian realized he couldn’t do it alone, and with the board’s permission, he hired Barbarite this past February.
The two men knew each other mostly from the business world, as Barbarite himself was a successful entrepreneur and owner of Barbarite Construction.
Barbarite’s keen awareness of building codes intrigued Nargizian.
“John is an expert on code enforcement,” Nargizian said. “What he’s forgotten I will never be able to learn or know.”
Barbarite also knows the political process, having served as Thompson’s town supervisor from 1992-1993. The County Legislature did not arrive until 1995, so Barbarite also got a taste of county issues as a member of the Board of Supervisors.
Barbarite, an Army veteran of the Vietnam era and a licensed electrician, takes particular pride in having revamped Thompson’s building department those 15 years ago, and ever since he’s had a passion for good government.
And when it comes to the hometown he crisscrossed time and again as a postal clerk, he refuses to give up.
“When I first started delivering mail in the village in 1971, it was much different than today,” Barbarite recalled of stately, tree-lined streets and a bustling Broadway. “After the gas crunch in 1973, it quieted down.”
Magnificent homes that once housed Monticello’s wealthiest became illegal dwellings for as many as a dozen families, and trash littered streets once regaled for their beauty.
“We did have laws,” he acknowledged. “They just weren’t being enforced.”
Barbarite complained, just like many others before him. But it never seemed to make a difference.
“So when Ray offered me the chance to actually do something, I took it,” he said.
Sending a Message
Nargizian and Barbarite are full of ambition, but they are not ignoring the team already in place.
Ninety staffers in a dozen departments provide Village of Monticello government services, and 6,500 residents depend upon them.
Nargizian is beholden to those residents and their elected representatives, the village’s five-member board, but he is the leader of Monticello in virtually every respect (including its roughly $6 million budget).
And though he cautions people that he’s not looking to make this a career, Nargizian has a range of goals to restore Monticello as the crown jewel of Sullivan County and more importantly to him, stop the flight of the middle class from the village.
“They see the decline of the area and are no longer comfortable living here,” he explained. “We have to instill more pride in our community.”
Here’s what he and Barbarite are working on:
• Law Enforcement: Monticello’s grant-funded Impact Patrol Initiative (IPI) has already collared hundreds of suspected criminals since January for everything from firearms to drugs.
Nargizian wants residents to feel safe and secure at home and on the streets and woo people back who left for that very reason.
• Code Enforcement: “One of our first goals is to make every residence legal,” said Nargizian. “People’s lives are at stake.”
That’s a tall order, considering “there’s so many bad buildings in Monticello,” observed Barbarite.
“We became a target area,” he said, for slumlords who found cheap property with lax code enforcement.
“Some of the conditions are horrible,” Barbarite remarked. “We’ve found people living in cellars.”
But times are changing.
“Now we’re saying, ‘Come to Monticello and do it right,’” he added.
Tough crackdowns by Building Inspector Sue Flora and her crew have led to some testy confrontations between village employees and landlords, but Nargizian shrugs it off.
“It’s not my job to make landlords happy,” he remarked. “It’s my job to make the village safe.”
And to improve it.
“If this program continues, in five years the village will be noticeably different,” said Barbarite. “We’re going to be fair, firm and bend over backwards to help people get permits, but we’re going to enforce the code.”
• Making the Village Whole: When Sullivan County sells a foreclosed property and gains past-due taxes, it distributes to townships what is owed to them, as well. But not to villages.
Nargizian said he’s been told that’s the way it’s always been done, so don’t try to change it.
“The truth of the matter is, had the county done the right thing decades ago, the villages would not be in the position they are in today,” he noted.
Monticello is considering closing its Parks and Recreation Department, in part because the village is owed more than $1 million in back taxes.
Nargizian has been pressuring county lawmakers to make villages whole, and he’s confident of a positive response.
In the meantime, he’s adamant that village residents are overtaxed, and involving the county is just one of several ideas he has to lower taxes.
• Comprehensive Recycling: Right now, only 7 percent of the village’s garbage is recycled, and it is home to the county’s controversial landfill.
Nargizian hopes to mimic the success of recycling programs like those found in the neighboring Village of Liberty.
The Future of Monticello
Of course, he’s as realistic as he is optimistic.
“This process of turning around the village isn’t going to happen overnight,” he said.
But if the past is any indication, Monticello’s future may indeed be bright.
“Number one in the village’s favor is its history,” Nargizian explained. “This was a thriving resort area, and there are certain names up here that are synonymous with those years.”
Monticello, he indicated, need only discover how to cash in on that name-recognition.
“I can’t tell you how many millions of people have frequented these [resort] establishments over the years,” he continued. “That’s a terrific positive.”
And he sees the rebirth of the Concord and the very real potential of a casino at Monticello Raceway as keys to the village’s success.
“I’m certainly encouraged it will happen,” he said of gaming.
“It will turn around the village,” he added. “If this doesn’t happen, I’m not sure the village will survive.”
He acknowledged that gaming cannot be a cure-all, but considering the area’s history and the housing and lodging booms he expects will accompany a casino, Nargizian is all for it.
“Gaming will certainly add a new dimension to Sullivan County,” he said.
But for now the “new dimension” in Monticello consists of Nargizian and Barbarite and all of Sullivan County is waiting to see how successful they really will be.
Barbarite knows that.
“I think we’re making a change,” he remarked.
And he hopes people notice it especially those who fled so many years ago.
“For a downtown to survive, they need specialty shops,” he said. “And for specialty shops to survive, they need middle- and upper-income people.”
And that, he explained, will spur more change.
“Businessmen and developers are only going to come if they find a return on their investment,” he added.
Nargizian sees it in even simpler terms: “There has to be a complete turnaround in attitude and philosophy.”
To find out more, Nargizian and Barbarite welcome calls (794-6130) and visits to the village hall (corner of Broadway and Pleasant St.).