Dan Hust | Democrat
THE DECORATIVE LIGHTS on Pleasant Street in Monticello will not be seen on Broadway (and even if they had been, their design would have been slightly different).
Dim view of lights
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO The lights are burning bright on Broadway.
Accusations of lying, viciousness, politicking and posturing are permeating a debate about whether or not Monticello’s main street really needs 64 decorative lampposts.
It’s an argument a year in the making.
Last year, former Mayor Jim Barnicle pushed the DOT which was finalizing the Broadway reconstruction project to include lights on Broadway similar to the ones now installed along Pleasant Street.
Their purpose would be more for beautifying the street than for lighting, as the lights now on the utility poles would remain.
At various points in time, the lights had been part of the project on the existing poles or in a median in the street but were added and deleted several times by the DOT.
Ultimately, Barnicle convinced the DOT to install 64 decorative lamps on Broadway, at a cost of nearly $900,000 to be borne by the DOT, not the village.
The board unanimously approved a resolution in January to energize and maintain those lights, reaffirmed by resolution of the new board in May after March’s village elections changed administrations.
But in June, Village Manager John Barbarite sent a letter to the DOT requesting the removal of the aesthetic lighting from the project, which was being prepared for bidding.
And it is at this point where the various accounts diverge.
Barbarite said he had seen landscaped medians in other communities that looked attractive, and when he approached the DOT, they told him there would be funding to do that if the lights were removed from the project.
Mayor Gordon Jenkins affirmed that recollection.
“We’d have to take one or the other,” Jenkins said last week.
DOT spokesman Dave Hamburg, however, said this week that “it was not an either/or proposition.
“Village officials wanted to have the aesthetic lighting element removed,” he recounted. “They then asked for landscaping. As for both, it was not an issue. DOT was not asked to address that possibility.”
Barbarite, however, said there were more issues at play here.
“Many people complained that it [Broadway] was overlit,” he explained.
Plus the ongoing maintenance would cost the financially-strapped village between $5,000 and $10,000 a year, and Pleasant Street had taught officials a not-so-pleasant lesson: more lampposts meant more obstacles to carefully and tediously plow around in the winter. (One light was already knocked down, said Barbarite.)
So Barbarite consulted with four of the five village trustees, and the majority gave him the green light to write the letter.
That permission, however, was issued informally. No resolution or discussion was held during a public village board meeting.
And Trustee Carmen Rue wasn’t even approached.
“No sense in wasting time,” Barbarite said, referencing village administration’s ongoing battle with the outspoken trustee.
Rue finally found out about the removal of the lights in August, thanks to phone calls from a network of village observers.
“This is one of many surprises,” she complained. “Behind my back, they violated the Open Meetings Law.”
It’s not yet certain that they did, but Rue is certainly furious with Barbarite.
“He still doesn’t respect that I’m a member of the board,” she said. “... I feel discriminated [against] as a woman and as a Spanish.”
She and fellow Trustee Victor Marinello are worried that Broadway’s reconstruction won’t enhance the village as much without the aesthetic lighting.
“It’ll just be new sidewalks with new blacktop in the middle,” Rue remarked, bitterly adding that many villagers had spent long hours trying to secure the lights from a recalcitrant DOT.
“If you’re going to rebuild Broadway, why would you leave the old lighting,” added an equally outraged Marinello. “You can’t build a new Broadway with the same old lighting.”
Marinello did not recall speaking with Barbarite prior to the issuance of the June letter to the DOT.
“I did not accept this decision,” he stated. “I do not like this change.”
He also is doubtful Barbarite’s letter was properly authorized by the board, noting that the two resolutions earlier this year would have had to be rescinded.
Barbarite replied that Marinello misunderstood the resolutions in that they applied to whatever lighting will exist on Broadway standard and/or aesthetic but Hamburg indicated that Barbarite is guilty of the misunderstanding.
“The lighting resolution is for the aesthetic lighting,” Hamburg said, though he added, “The resolution does not obligate the DOT to install the lighting.”
Regardless, Marinello and Rue intend to talk frankly about the matter at this Monday’s village board meeting.
“We need to have a letter drawn up and signed by every board member to have the aesthetic lighting returned,” said Marinello.
“The bottom line is, certain things should not be done without the approval of the board, and this is one of them,” he added.
That said, he’s not sure he’ll find support for any letter or resolution beyond Rue.
“The lights out there are enough lighting for Broadway,” remarked Mayor Jenkins, who was critical of both Rue and Marinello.
“Carmen is going to go against everything that we do,” he explained, believing Rue was indeed informed of the issue before the letter was sent.
Saying she didn’t include the recent community block party on her Website (carmenrue.com) because it was sponsored by the mayor and his supporters, Jenkins felt Rue is simply focused on being divisive.
“She’s vicious,” he said. “She has to stop it.
“... I’m willing to put up with it, but eventually it’s going to catch up with her,” he added. “... She should resign if she’s not going to do the right thing.”
As for Marinello, Jenkins felt the trustee was getting involved just to make himself look good.
“He doesn’t do anything [as a board member],” said the mayor. “The guy is useless.”
Marinello and Rue are worried the DOT will not be able to reincorporate the lights into the project at this late date though the project has been rebid because the state was able to secure 80 percent funding from the federal government rather than having to fund it all itself.
Hamburg confirmed time is of the essence.
“All parties involved, including the DOT, would like to get this project back out to bid as quickly as possible,” he stated. “We would also like to be able to get this project done on its current schedule, beginning in spring 2009 and completed late summer 2010.
“If additional elements are requested now, it would require a new design which would require additional time and expense. To change things at this time, these issues would be concerns.”
Jenkins, however, is worried this infighting could scotch the whole project.
“The DOT is going to be sick and tired of the village,” he said. “... I hope she [Rue] doesn’t blow this deal for us.”