Eli Ruiz | Democrat
Village of Bloomingburg Board meetings have been heated lately. Pictured is Bloomingburg resident Jennifer Shaw asking the board to consider contacting the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for the purpose of going over the SEQRA for the 396 unit Villages of Chestnut Hill high density housing complex being built by local contractor Shalom Lamm of Black Creek Holdings, LLC. Shaw and several others asked for such a review hoping that irregularities in the filings could lead to a scaling back of the massive project that threatens to triple the tiny village's population.
Bloomingburg board, village staying put
Story by Eli Ruiz
MONTICELLO On Friday, the Village of Bloomingburg Board rejected a petition from residents by way of the grassroots community group known as the Rural Community Coalition (RCC) to dissolve the tiny Sullivan County village and along with it, its board.
In a November 12 letter signed by Village of Bloomingburg Clerk Susan Berentsen, and addressed to the Village Board of Trustees, Berentsen who is married to Bloomingburg Mayor Mark Berentsen rejected the petition seeking a referendum to dissolve the village as "insufficient or otherwise defective for various reasons." Some of the reasons cited for the rejection state that the petition "was not properly filed with the office of the Village Clerk," discrepancies with some of the obtained signatures and over 120 errors found on said petition.
In order to file such a petition under the New York Government Reorganization and Citizen's Empowerment Act which establishes procedures for towns, villages and other municipalities to dissolve or consolidate services signatures of no less than 20 percent of voting residents must be obtained. The petition to dissolve set forth by the RCC went well beyond the required signatures.
Dissolution is the termination of a local government unit. The services it provides may end, or may be assumed by another local government unit that will provide them at the same or a different level. A petition for dissolution only needs to be circulated in the local government unit for which dissolution is proposed.
Apparently at the center of the rejection controversy was the method with which the RCC served the petition to the village: certified mail.
RCC founder and President, Holly Roche, claims that several attempts were made to serve Mrs. Berentsen "in person."
"She [Susan Berentsen] never once made herself available to receive the petition," explained Roche in an interview with the Democrat.
"We hand delivered a letter to Village Hall on October 9 requesting to meet with the clerk and village attorney [John Kelly] where we could have formally served the petition but that request was completely ignored," said Roche.
"Then on October 24, myself, Bill Herman and Christen Grassly (both RCC members) went to the Village Hall personally and, although their posted hours are supposed to be 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., the office was closed," added Roche.
Not sure how to proceed with the matter, Roche said she reached out to the Department of State (New York), and was told that with all of her previous attempts at serving the village having failed, to go ahead and mail the petition.
"One of the reasons they are giving for rejecting the petition is that it wasn't hand delivered, explained Roche, “How exactly are we supposed to hand-deliver the documents if no one would make themselves available? Somehow I don't think that anything we would have handed them would have been accepted."
Bloomingburg business owner and RCC member Teek Persaud recalled the last village board meeting where, as he said, "They [the village board] were asked at the last meeting if we could agree to a good place and time to deliver the petition and the request was basically ignored."
Indeed at one point during the October 11 board meeting RCC co-founder and member Bill Herman rose to inform board members of the petition to dissolve. Herman then asked if the board would make itself available for service, to which Village of Bloomingburg attorney John Kelly responded, "You're grandstanding."
Roche remains frustrated with the apparent conflict of interest stemming from the village clerk and village mayor's relationship.
"Let's see, you've got Charles Griswold, Dr. [Clifford] Teich and the village attorney [John Kelly],” she said. “You're telling me that not one of these village trustees or the village attorney can't see the clear conflict of interest when you've got a village clerk making decisions on a petition to dissolve her husband's the mayor's village?”.
The RCC held a closed meeting of its board yesterday to, as Roche put it, "To discuss our options moving forward." Besides an Article 78 proceeding, which is looking like a strong possibility, Roche said the group also plans to contact Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell's office.
"If Mrs. Berentsen has indeed broken the law, at the very least the DA's office should know about this," said Roche.
Village of Bloomingburg officials could not be reached for comment.