Friday, June 28, 2013

Lawsuit, here we come!

The village board loves a law suit.  Makes me glad that my tax dollars are going to attorneys rather than, oh, building a new sewer system.

This time, it's about Mayor West's salary.  A brief recap on that subject:

In 2007, after unsuccessfully pushing to get his salary boosted to $40,000 a year, Jason West was ousted as mayor after making a name for himself nationwide.

Last year, the village board decided to give themselves raises, for a job well done.  Trustee Rhoads swears that any pay changes must be done at budget time, but she has yet to explain to me why none of the candidates the prior year had broached the subject.  That Rhoads suggested it was, in large part, why it went through.

This past April, West asked for another 5-digit increase, and instead, the board pulled the rug out from under him.  He must have forgotten that he's only ever gotten raises when someone else does the asking.  I think he'll remember that now.

I joined with others, mostly supporters of the mayor, in denouncing the pay cuts which, like the raises the year before, I feel were morally reprehensible.  Let the voters decide if you're worth some extra cash, or deserve a cut, by proposing the changes before the election.  If you want to change someone's pay during their term, it should require a referendum, I believe.

He may irritate as many people as he ensorcels, but West is a studied man, so it's no surprise he found documents suggesting that the pay cut was illegal.  The village attorney was asked to chime in and, not surprisingly, found cases to support the pay cut.  This is what happens when people write laws to their benefit:  elected officials cover their asses, instead of protecting their constituents.

Early this afternoon, I encouraged the board via email to seek another comptroller's opinion.  The ones West produced referred to town officials, and they need one specifically addressing villages.  And I suggested that they ask about pay raises, as well as cuts, because I certainly don't expect West to go there on his own.

Instead, in an executive session which did not include the mayor, they did nothing.  "I was told a majority of the Trustees would rather have a lawsuit," he reported on Facebook.

I am not at all surprised.  After all, I pleaded with the board, and the mayor, to get the DPW to dig me a trench for a new sewer line, after an illegally-approved subdivision led to a house being built on my old one.  I offered to pay the three grand for the plumber, and wanted the village to dig and fill in the trench.  Instead, they told me too bad, so sad, and my wife and I had to sue.  Rest assured, the entire debacle cost village taxpayers far more than it would have to simply fix the problem the village created, but some members of the board chose to act out of spite, rather than protect the community.

A "majority" of the board, if there were four in the room, means three votes, correct?  So who voted what, I wonder?  And will there be accounting of how much this childishness is costing us?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Resident scandal

Jason West, it turns out, lives across the street from the village he is tasked with running.  It's the latest chapter in the continuing story I like to call Game of Chairs, until I realize that I'm not funny enough to be making up names for things.

The drama does have all the elements of fun political fight, though:  a charismatic mayor who inspires strong feelings one way or the other, a cadre of retirees seeking a return to the glory days when they were in power, a district attorney on the case, dueling legal arguments, elected officials too focused on their dislike of each other to ever get around to governing . . . who likes popcorn?

I've never met Ms Danskin -- I wouldn't know who she was if she cut me off with a shopping cart in Stop & Shop.  I do know that she counts herself among a group of people who never forgave Mr West for winning his 2003 election, people who have sought ways to get rid of the guy ever since.  And he's practically gone out of his way to give them the chance, it seems:  breaking the law early in his first term, getting ousted after only one term, fighting consolidation with the town . . . and now, by leaving the village entirely, albeit "temporarily," in his words.

Residency requirements seem like they shouldn't be too tough to enforce, but once you ask lawyers to write the very laws they will one day argue in court, nothing is simple.  An attorney I was once friends with taught me that if you don't want to have to commit to something, put it in writing.  Simple laws could be simply enforced, but time and again we've seen that the residency requirements for elected officials are slippery.

  • Brian Kimbiz wandered off for three months, justifying it by not taking pay, and the board found that booting him would be more trouble that it's worth.
  • Stewart Glenn bought a new house in Gardiner, and rented an apartment in the one he sold until his term expired.
  • Susan Zimet had her house for sale before she ever ran for her present stint as supervisor, and uses an apartment in the village to fulfill her residency requirement.
Common sense says that a person either lives here or doesn't, but common law is an entirely unrelated concept.  So the desire to chase after the mayor, when these other recent examples have been largely unchallenged, is clearly fueled by a dislike of the man or his policies.

Okay, I get that.  Mr West has described himself as impatient and short-tempered, qualities which have inspired no small number of allies to abandon him, at least temporarily.  I share those qualities with him, meaning that my clash with him was all but inevitable.  If you're a short-fused jerk in public office, you make enemies.  And if you make enemies of a landlord, and then move into a place outside of the village, expect your enemy to find out about it.

But the extra wrinkle here is the dimension of voter residency.  That's the part that actually got the Mr West targeted.  Voter law, says the village attorney, hinges on whether the relocation is temporary or not.  That's why we have absentee ballots, and mechanisms to allow homeless people to vote.  He signed candidate petitions, and voted, using his old Church Street address.  According to at least one attorney, that's okay.

On the other hand, we have the argument that using his old address is tantamount to fraud.  If and when he returns to a village address, it won't be that one, so isn't it a lie to claim he lived there when he didn't?

This is where we return to fun with attorneys, the game that everyone not wearing a Brooks Brothers suit loses.  West has, finally, retained his own counsel; based on past history and the mayor's current pay level I suspect it's a pro bono arrangement.  The village attorney is likely to continue to represent the village clerk and board, so he will probably be diverting some of his tax-funded time to this issue.  The district attorney's office, also paid for through taxes, will also be devoting energy to this investigation, which will surely take up the time of a judge or two along the way.

My guess is that, a year from now, we will know if Mr West will be allowed to complete his term of office or not.  What a utter waste of my tax dollars.

To Ms Danskin, Mrs Rhoads, Mr Dungan, and the many, many people who wish to see Jason West removed from office:  there is a tried-and-true mechanism to achieve your goal, called democracy.  Please use it.  I completely sympathize with your desire to get Mr West out of this village, and I understand that he keeps giving you opportunities to try again, but seriously, stop it.  This is wasting my money on a legal case that is by no means clear, because we keep letting lawyers write the laws.  I'm sorry you haven't gotten him out of office permanently, but if you'd find a decent candidate, I and many others would line up to help.  But don't grind my village government to a halt, and pick my pocket, because you don't like him.  Be a grown-up, and use the electoral process to unseat him.  If you can't get behind a single candidate in 2015, maybe it's time to find a new hobby.