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Annual Mayoral Appointments Melee Drags On

As board members dissent, residents voice disapproval over squabbles

An empty seat was nowhere in sight as residents and well-wishers packed the boardroom at village hall last Thursday evening to watch members of the Garden City Fire Department be sworn into office. However, the real fireworks ignited after the members of the Garden City Board of Trustees attempted to resolve the controversy surrounding the mayor’s annual appointments.

The meeting kicked off with Mayor Donald Brudie reading a statement regarding the annual committee appointments, which were previously voted down by the majority of board members in a 5-to-3 vote on Monday, April 2.

“This year’s mayor trustee committee appointments have sparked unprecedented dissent of five of the eight trustees that is impeding village progress. Sadly, this conduct emphasizes friction and appears to fracture the community,” Brudie asserted.

Brudie clarified for the audience that the mayor solely appoints trustees to various committee assignments that he believes will be in the best interest of the village.

“Not unlike my mayoral predecessors, these assignments were made based on consideration of various capabilities — not popularity, not wants, not desires, not demands. In previous years, the trustees accepted their assignments respectfully, without regard to ego or résumé enhancement, working to the best of their abilities to fulfill the obligations for which they were elected. But this year, mayor policy is being undermined,” he said.

A longtime board member, the mayor said he could not recall a time when trustees dissented, disrupted or complained about assignments. However, the mayor did admit that trustees have campaigned for certain positions since he first became mayor-elect.

Defending his appointments, the mayor said his duty is to do what is right and best for the village as a whole and the assignments reflect that.

“At the April 2 meeting, trustee Episcopia complained that one trustee received a number of chairman assignments. It was also made to appear that not one trustee was rotating in different committee assignments which is inaccurate…”

On several occasions, up to and including the April 2 meeting, the mayor claimed he was advised by village counsel Gerard Fishberg that the issue would be resolved if he appointed trustee Donnelly as police commissioner and trustee Episcopia as second deputy mayor and made the appointment of Village Administrator Robert Schoelle termless.

The mayor later proposed eliminating one chair position from trustee Cavanaugh. “In the interest of moving forward and in order to concentrate on attending to the village’s more pressing business, I would appoint trustee DeMaro to serve as chair of the Executive Staff Compensation Committee in place of trustee Cavanaugh, thereby reducing his chairperson assignments to three,” the mayor added.

Under the new business portion of the agenda, trustee Donnelly offered a resolution to suspend the mayor’s appointments and offered a different set of assignments, with only a handful of changes proposed.

Trustee Brian Daughney commented that the dissenting trustees have tried to be collaborative and accommodating with the mayor.

“We have tried to work with him from day one. He’s refused. He refuses to accept that we are trustees of this village with virtually the same powers that he has. And in New York State and in our village, the mayor has very limited, superior, if you want to call it, powers than the rest of the trustees,” he said.

Trustee Nicholas Episcopia clarified his point that he never spoke to Fishberg as a go-between. “I never spoke to village counsel about anything asking to be the deputy mayor. I never spoke to him about these appointments. I don’t know where that came from. I assure you that it was not true. And to the best of my knowledge, I don’t think my colleague here, trustee Donnelly, did either. That would be totally inappropriate to do that.”

Trustee Cavanaugh interjected that Donnelly’s motion was a “usurpation of the mayor’s power.” He cited that New York State law and village law states: “It shall be the responsibility of the mayor to appoint all the department and non-elected officers and employees subject to the approval of the board. The actuating power under the law of State of New York is the mayor’s.”

In a vote of 5 to 3, the board approved Donnelly’s motion, with trustees Donnelly, Episcopia, Daughney, Quinn and DeMaro voting in favor and Mayor Brudie and trustees Watras and Cavanaugh voting against.

To further clarify the board’s authority regarding appointments, Fishberg told Garden City Life that the mayor appoints and board approves statutory appointments such as the board of police commissioners and the board of commission of recreation and cultural affairs.

He further explained that mayoral appointments for committees are essentially in-house, informal titles and not official statutory titles. “Even though the mayor has always appointed and the board has always approved in the past, this is the board as the legislative body, appointing people as liaisons to departments or as public information committees,” Fishberg said.

Fishberg further stated that his gave his legal opinion to both sides. “Those committees of the board can be appointed by the board because they are committees of the board,” he said.

Fishberg said he also had a conference call with the counsel to the New York State Conference of Mayors (NYCOM) and Mayor Brudie to get a neutral opinion on the issue and NYCOM counsel confirmed Fishberg’s opinion.

“The mayor has the right to appoint certain statutory positions including the police commissioners, including all the department heads, and the clerk and the treasurer and the assessor and the controller and all those people…subject to the approval of the board of trustees,” Fishberg added.

In a period of citizens’ comments, resident Amy McGoldrick expressed her disapproval regarding the lack of decorum and decency between board members. “I remain concerned that the legality of Mr. Donnelly’s motion to appoint the conspired selection remains in question,” she said.

Perhaps the most poignant comments of the evening came from Thomas Lamberti. A former 40-year trustee, 55-year resident and a 35-year counsel for the school board, he said in all his lifetime, he has never witnessed a spectacle like this.

“We have reached a watershed moment in the Community Agreement or shall I say the Gentlemen’s Agreement, which seems to be the word that has no meaning after witnessing what happened tonight,” he said.

While serving on the board of trustees, Lamberti said he never asked for a position or committee assignment, nor did he ever hear sitting trustees Episcopia, Watras or Brudie complain about any of their assignments.

“The tradition in all the years is the mayor’s appointments, subject to approval by the board, which is essentially pro forma,” he said.

Lamberti called the rejection of the mayor’s appointments by trustees “a revolution in terms of Garden City politics. It never happened before.”