Could Monticello do away with village manager system?
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Monticello voters could be asked to redefine village government come March.
Trustee Carmen Rue is promoting a petition drive to replace Monticello's village manager form of government with one where the mayor is the full-time administrator.
"Of 550 villages in the State of New York," she said at Tuesday's village board meeting, "only 176 villages have a village manager form of government."
She's gained support from Mayor Gordon Jenkins, who recently became acting village manager after Village Manager John LiGreci was fired.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist. ... This is very simple," he said of the job. "... You don't even need a mayor probably. All you need are good department heads."
Should enough signatures be obtained on a petition, village voters might have the question of mayor vs. manager posed to them in the March elections.
Jenkins to be paid
In the meantime, the board voted 3-1 on Tuesday to pay Jenkins $3,000 a month $2,000 less than what LiGreci was making to serve as acting village manager.
Jenkins said he was willing to do it for free, but squabbles over the situation led to Tuesday's vote. Jenkins himself did not vote, while Deputy Mayor TC Hutchins was opposed.
Hutchins argued that hours and duties had not been clarified, and he questioned how Jenkins could authorize bills to be paid without running into a conflict.
Village Attorney Dennis Lynch said Hutchins himself could sign paperwork and bills if a conflict arose.
Rue and fellow trustees Larissa Bennett and James Matthews ultimately gave their assent, so Jenkins will be paid for both his managerial and mayoral duties until a new manager is appointed.
Looking for new manager whilst paying the old
Jenkins affirmed his intent to hire a permanent replacement.
"As we speak now, people are calling and sending resumes," he said, adding that he plans to advertise for the position in about two weeks. "It's something you don't rush into."
The board also voted 3-1 to provide LiGreci a severance package amounting to 30 days' pay and health insurance coverage through the end of the year. The terms hewed close to LiGreci's contract, even though that contract expired in August.
This time, Rue was the dissenter, while Jenkins again did not vote though he said afterwards that he supported the measure.
"I just didn't want to go to court and fight it," he remarked.
Although exact numbers could not be obtained, the payments to LiGreci will total at least $5,000, considering his previous salary.
During the meeting, Lynch referred to the agreement as a "settlement," and afterwards LiGreci himself affirmed that "at this time, I'm not looking to do any litigation" against the village.
Attorney steps aside, is replaced
Rue was the lone "no" in a vote to replace the law firm of Burke, Miele and Golden with Stephen McGiff of Patchogue.
McGiff was hired at $250 an hour (the same as Burke) to represent the village in a grand jury investigation Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell has launched over the potential hiring of a police officer.
Every board member and several current and former village employees have been subpoenaed by the DA's Office.
The former attorney, Patrick Burke, stepped aside on Monday, citing "differing positions" amongst the village officials.
"Our Code of Professional Responsibility prevents a lawyer from representing the conflicted parties," Burke wrote to the board.
He also suggested each official retain their own, separate attorneys ' advice the board ultimately did not heed.
A quicker process
The board agreed unanimously to make it easier for property owners in the village's B-1 and B-2 business zoning districts to obtain building permits to renovate their stores.
The amendment to the village code allows owners to bypass the planning board and go directly to the building inspector in certain cases ' the hope being that this will stimulate Broadway's economy.
FEMA says 'no'
Saying LiGreci had evidently not informed the entire board, Fuller disclosed that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) had back in August denied Monticello's request for funds to repair a Hurricane Irene-damaged stormwater pipe along St. John and Spring streets.
The denial is being appealed, but the work is nearly done. Fuller estimated the total cost will exceed six figures (aided by a zero-percent interest federal loan), but he disputed Rue's contention that it could cost nearly half a million dollars. Rue, however, stated that the pipe alone cost over $100,000.
A phased-in project?
Fuller said he'll get back to the board next meeting about the costs and resulting tax impacts of renovating the village hall and constructing a youth center in phases versus an immediate, full buildout.
The Bagel Capital
The board is also considering approving a request from the Monticello Business Association (MBA) to offer a resolution in support of naming the county seat the "Bagel Capital" in anticipation of the village's first annual Bagel Festival August 16-18, 2013.
The MBA's Jeff Siegel said he's already secured bagelcapital.com and .org and is seeking national media exposure, with proceeds from the festival to benefit local nonprofits.
Court vs. arbitration
With Rue opposed and Jenkins not voting, the board agreed to let Attorney Lynch ask for a stay on the police union's grievance that the village's police department isn't fully staffed as per contract.
Though at least two new hires are coming, the village is apparently still below the mandated minimum.
The village could arbitrate the matter with the union, and Rue didn't like the idea of spending more money on Attorney Lynch and company.
Nevertheless, Lynch insisted the village choose the courts over arbitration, warning the village otherwise might lose its case.