A recent headline asserts "Village may be stuck with bad budget". This inexcusable situation arose because the Mayor/Acting Manager failed to do his job, including but not limited to the appointment of a reliable and qualified Treasurer. The Mayor is also the Acting Village Manager, which circumvents the manager form of government which applies by Village Law Article 15-A to Monticello. As Acting Manager, he is the Chief Executive Officer of the Village, as well as the Budget Officer.
The Mayor/Acting Manager, and former Treasurer, failed to do their jobs. Now he is attempting a cover-up to hide his incompetence.
The Board of Trustees held four or five budget work-sessions in recent weeks, totaling many hours, during which numerous errors in the original preliminary budget were corrected, as well as changes agreed upon as part of board deliberations. I have digital audio recordings of these meetings. The Mayor/Acting Manager chose not to present a final version of the budget as amended by board deliberations, preferring to force through his original error-filled and unbalanced version and then try to pin blame on the board.
He did this by delaying and cancelling opportunities for a final vote, denying the Board of Trustees an opportunity to adopt the final document. It is disingenuous, if not dishonest, of him to assert now that the Board of Trustees has "failed" to adopt a budget. In actuality, in the view of many in this community, it is the Mayor who has failed to carry out his sworn duty as an elected official.
An e-mail sent out by the Clerk, which I presume was ghost-written by a member of the Mayor's nest of self-serving advisers, insults the entire Board of Trustees and the work we put into constructing a workable budget for the coming fiscal year. They have managed to drain every Village account on wasteful litigation and attorney fees payable to the firm that has provided for the Mayor's criminal defense services.
The preliminary budget proposed by the Mayor/Acting Manager includes a 3% raise for himself and his cronies. These undeserved increases were deleted by board action during a duly convened public budget workshop.
Monticello is an incorporated village. The municipal corporation's charter and local laws have been violated both with and without intent. There is a public trust, and taxpayer monies that have been squandered by the Mayor/Acting Manager. Many of his present and prior appointed officers, legal contractors, and staff have been controversial and of questionable talents.
Our former Treasurer, a friend and crony of the Mayor, we might as well say was the beneficiary of a no-show job. She was rarely available, avoided me for months, refused to answer questions or account for fiscal problems, and declined to make herself available to attend budget work-sessions convened by the board. The Mayor/Acting Manager (actually himself the Budget Officer) allowed and enabled this.
This memo from the Treasurer dated July 20, 2013 illustrates the type of feedback that the board received from the absentee Treasurer in response to amendments we directed be made to the preliminary "bad budget" (as a news headline described it).
The present contractor assigned to manage the Village's accounts is not legally eligible to hold municipal office of Treasurer (which the Mayor wanted to appoint her) because she lives outside of Sullivan County. We are without a Treasurer, proving once again that the Mayor is failing to perform his duties. We are also without a duly appointed Village Attorney, as the Mayor prefers to use a man he calls "my attorney" from the firm who has provided him criminal defense services.
Back to our present crisis, the Mayor/Acting Manager was not competent to make adjustments to the budget as instructed by the board, repeatedly telling us he would refer our directions to the Treasurer, who remained chronically unavailable to meet with the board when required, failing discharge her duties.
The Village Clerk (also appointed by the Mayor) writes "I did my job" in her memo. I say she did it horribly. Had she done her job properly, the time-table of budget events would have been specified at the outset. Indicating that a draft version of the budget "errors and all" will be the final budget is unacceptable.
Just as bad if not more so, the Clerk and former Treasurer have failed to take steps to collect large amounts of overdue taxes in recent years, or put delinquent properties on public auction, contributing the Village's present deplorable financial condition.
I mentioned more than once, as did one or two other members of the Board of Trustees at the time, to members of the Comptrollers' office staff during the course of their recent audit, that the budget was late. They replied only that we needed to do it right away. We held work sessions. Other Trustees and I met with department heads to discuss their written "wish lists" for the coming year. We were progressing, voting to approve many changes to the original flawed draft. I pointed out to the State Comptroller's staff that our Treasurer was an absentee employee, and yet the Mayor/Acting Manager persisted in referring all matters from the board to the Treasurer. This discussion became circular, to the extent the Comptrollers' staff concluded repeatedly, based on the present state of affairs, only with the advice that the Village needs a full-time professional Village Manager. It is widely known and agreed by everyone but his closes cronies that the present Mayor/Acting Manager is not doing his job.
I have asked the NYS Comptroller's Office and New York Conference of Mayors (NYCOM) for advice on how the Board of Trustees may go about obtaining extension from the State for the filing of a final budget, even as we continue to struggle with the pattern of persistent obstructionism and sabotaging of proper governmental administration by our Mayor/Acting Manager.
Here is another example: According to deputy treasurer Carrie LaJoie, health insurance premiums to the NYS Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP) have not been paid on behalf of current employees and retirees for five months as of August 1st. Twenty-percent of the total premium is taken out of every employee's biweekly paycheck over this entire period, yet the Mayor/Acting Manager his cronies have conspired to allocate these withholdings for other purposes rather than apply payment for the health insurance of Village workers.
This is wrong and unethical. I wonder if it may even be criminal, but That is not for me to decide.
Another example: Because the Acting Village Manager failed to seek quotes for liability insurance, it now appears we must pay $79,000 more than last year in premiums. An added factor is the numerous lawsuits instigated by the Mayor/Acting Manager, causing insurance actuarial professionals to view the Village as a high risk candidate.
Yet another example is the most recent criminal matter the Mayor faces, in which he stands charged with Obstructing Governmental Administration for the act of hitting a police officer who was lawfully discharging his official duty. The Mayor's guilt or innocence in this crime is almost incidental, however, to his overall malfeasance, misconduct in office, and the inept manner in which he has administered the Village of Monticello, but it demonstrates arrogance and a sense of absolute privilege and entitlement. Rather than immediately apologizing a year ago for allegedly "accidentally" striking an officer during a fist-fight in front of his store, the Mayor has chosen to take the charge to trial, accusing police department of racism against him and violating his civil rights. Months ago, the case was given a change of venue to Liberty, where he is expected to stand trial within weeks. It is somewhat understandable, with this in mind, that Mayor's focus is on other things, but Monticello requires the full-time attention of a competent executive leader.
This Mayor was elected in 2012 by a plurality in a race between three candidates. A majority of those who cast ballots voted against him.
Though lawfully elected, he represents his own interests, which have included carrying out a vendetta against our police department and putting his cronies and relatives in positions of power as long as they do his bidding, ahead of municipal interests.
There is a legal vehicle to begin to correct Monticello's government corruption problem!
Section 36 of the NYS Public Officers Law provides:
"Any town, village, improvement district or fire district officer, except a justice of the peace, may be removed from office by the supreme court for any misconduct, maladministration, malfeasance or malversation in office. An application for such removal may be made by any citizen resident of such town, village, improvement district or fire district or by the district attorney of the county in which such town, village or district is located, and shall be made to the appellate division of the supreme court held within the judicial department embracing such town, village, improvement district or fire district."
I am willing to serve as a Plaintiff or Petitioner, if needed, representing the honest, hard-working taxpayers of the Village of Monticello, if there is a member of the bar willing to perform the public service of presenting such a case to the Appellate Division at no cost to the Village. Unfortunately, I am not qualified to draft and argue such an action pro-se (without a lawyer), or I would have already done so.
If no pro bono attorney can be found, I would have no choice but to respectfully call on the office of the Sullivan County District Attorney as the people's last and best hope, to seek the Mayor's removal for "misconduct, maladministration, malfeasance or malversation in office". The Village of Monticello needs to move forward. We can not do so under the present maladministration.
Perhaps with the aid of an honest community-minded lawyer, if not the District Attorney himself, the intervention of the Appellate Division can respectfully be sought to right this sinking ship. Our D.A. is busy prosecuting murderers and otherwise advocating to protect the public safety from criminals. It would be a shame to continue to call upon him when he is so otherwise burdened, but this seems urgent.
If there is no private legal professional in this area willing to take up the gauntlet and speak truth to power for the public good, what other means have we left? Is there a credible and lawful alternative? Whether there is or not, we need a professional person at the helm to lead and manage the Village, and we need to come together and hire one now.