There is so much more to Alan Simon’s questionable tenure as judge and head of Planning, Building and Zoning at Ramapo that we decided to reprint a story we ran on Mr. Simon five years ago in the middle of his campaign for Ramapo Town Justice. It includes some insight into his judicial philosophy and his relationship with the builders and Supervisor St. Lawrence.
September 5, 2011 Alan Simon, candidate for Ramapo Town Justice, told the Monsey Advocate in a front-page interview that he was capable of handling 170 cases a day in the Spring Valley courtroom where he serves as village justice. He offered this astounding claim in response to those who have pointed out that it’s unwise to have one judge serving on two courts, both with very busy schedules. By reassuring the public that he can deal with landlord-eviction cases, small claims lawsuits, even criminal matters in even less time than it takes to prepare a two-minute egg, Simon has redefined the term “judicious” for us all. A carefully considered and weighed legal opinion is, apparently, available to all who appear in his Spring Valley court in an average of less than two minutes per case, no matter the nuances, evidence or complexities. If you prefer your judicial renderings loose and runny, you probably couldn’t do better than this short-order judge. Our objections to Mr. Simon’s candidacy, however, also include his controversial tenure as head of the Ramapo Building Planning and Zoning Department when he was the highest paid official at Town Hall. (More)
Simon has been a Village Justice in Spring Valley, and he has said he will remain there if he wins the Ramapo Town Justice position in the upcoming democratic primary and the fall general election. He told The Advocate, “Some of my opponents are trying to use my schedule against me, claiming that I am taking on too much responsibility. What people do not understand is that this job is not 9-5, it’s one day a week, and even though I can hear up to as many as 130 cases in a morning, and around 40 in the afternoon, it’s all on a Thursday.” The interviewer continued, “Simon is confident that he has allotted enough time for the Town of Ramapo, as he plans on closing his law office to dedicate his time to both the Spring Valley and Ramapo Courthouse.”
Professional time constraints have not seemed to be a problem for Simon in the past. What the newspaper doesn’t mention is that while he was a judge in Spring Valley with daytime hours, he was also an employee of the Town of Ramapo serving as the Director of the Ramapo Building Planning and Zoning Department (a full-time position at Town Hall), and he had a private law practice. On Thursdays, when he was in court in Spring Valley, he was not available for his duties at Town Hall, for which he was pulling down a full-time salary of $150,491. Incidentally, that is the highest salary paid to any civilian working at Town Hall in 2011. Supervisor St. Lawrence makes $142,720.
Nor have professional certifications bothered Mr. Simon. His position at Town required that he pass a Civil Service qualifying exam for the position. The first time he took the exam, several years ago, he failed. He had to retake the exam on December 11 of last year, and the County Personnel Office said at the time that his remaining in the job depended on his score on the retake. They did not publish his results before Simon resigned from the position. Results we received in March showed that exam #63-496 in December to qualify for the position of Director of Planning and Zoning Administration showed only one qualifier, a female. He had apparently failed again.
The Exam Was the Least of It
On February 11, 2011, The Journal News summed up the damage created by Mr. Simon in his tenure as the Director of Planning and Zoning. They wrote in that day’s editorial:
Fresh start in Ramapo
Ramapo Planning and Zoning Administration Director Alan Simon has issued his resignation, which takes effect March 4. The date represents an opportunity for Ramapo, where land-use issues and zoning enforcement are the spark of fiery politics. It is time to turn around the town’s legacy of ever-bending zoning regulations and lax enforcement that has fostered an attitude among some developers that it’s easier to seek forgiveness than ask permission. By choosing someone who will enforce zoning laws and sniff out building violations, Ramapo can stem a dangerous tide of developers who choose to ignore building codes until they get caught.
Simon’s tenure has been one of overstepped boundaries and bullying behavior. He’s pitted his department against the rest of Town Hall, and stirred internal strife, as well. Most worrisome: Simon, who is a lawyer and not an engineer, has signed engineering reviews, inspections, certificates of occupancy and other development-related documents, even though he doesn’t have state certification to do so. His actions could expose the town to “significant civil and criminal liability,” Ramapo Town attorney Michael Klein has said.
Simon’s decision-making has played a role in the ongoing legal fight with Mosdos Chofetz Chaim, the town and four neighboring villages over the yeshiva’s construction of adult-student housing. At one point, a state judge ruled that the yeshiva could house 16 families on a humanitarian basis if the site met zoning and safety standards. An inspection turned up numerous violations, but Simon issued certificates of use anyway. Simon, who once represented Chofetz Chaim as a private attorney, did not have the authority to issue such certificates. The yeshiva has since been accused of moving more families into the facility without town approval and in violation of a judicial order.
Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence has said Simon has overstepped his authority. Deputy Supervisor Fran Hunter also expressed concern about Simon’s signing of documents. “God forbid something happens to a house approved by Alan,” she told The Journal News in November, adding, “This has got to stop.”
Simon has tendered his resignation before, but, this time, the Town Board accepted it. Now, the board needs to show a commitment to the health, safety and well-being of residents by hiring a replacement who will make clear that when it comes to zoning and building enforcement, Ramapo means business.
A Journal News editorial
“The People’s Judge”
In the interview in The Advocate, Alan Simon is referred to, several times, as the “People’s Judge.” In the numerous documents that Preserve Ramapo has managed to collect documenting Simon’s career at the Planning and Zoning office that is not how we would characterize his public service. Here’s an example of one of the less than stellar moments in his career. (The two documents cited appear at the bottom of the page, after the narratives.)
Public Money for a Developer’s Court Costs
Supreme Court Judge Francis Nicolai ordered the eviction of 16 families from a controversial Adult Student Housing complex [on the old Nike Base] called Mosdos Chofetz Chaim when the builder failed to follow the court’s order to post a $75,000 surety bond (see: Journal News Israeli families being evicted from yeshiva housing in Ramapo). On the same day that the developer, Rabbi Aryeh Zaks, received the final order from the court, he sent a letter addressed to Alan Simon stating, “I received this early this morning and I am trying to find a solution for the $75,000 cash requirements that needs to be put up before the end of this month.” In the letter, the developer, Zaks, then directly appeals to the Ramapo Director of Building and Zoning to “please help us find a solution for this immediate crisis.” Zaks then asks for a meeting “to discuss what exactly this order means for a new planning review as the negative deck was reversed.”
In a hand-written memo that we were able to obtain, Alan Simon sends the following message to Ramapo Supervisor St. Lawrence on July 13, 2010: “As per your instructions informed Alan Berman of the town attys office to place on Agenda for town bd meeting Resolution authorizing the town of Ramapo to pledge the $75,000 necessary as per Justice Nicoli (sic).”
The matter never made it on to the agenda for the Town Board meeting. The Town Attorney’s Office decided this was not a proper course for the Town of Ramapo to take—that is, to pay court costs for a builder who, according to the NYS Supreme Court, had showed Contempt of Court for his failure to obey the Court’s Order pursuant to Judiciary Law Section 573.
It is certainly worth noting that here we have the highest paid employee of the Ramapo taxpayers acting as a direct agent of the developer who had gotten himself in trouble with the State Supreme Court.
It’s also worth remembering, as we approach the primary and November elections, that Supervisor St. Lawrence was apparently willing to support Rabbi Zaks by having the taxpayer’s pick up the surety owed by him to the court. In The Journal News coverage of this story lead town attorney Michael Klein said he blocked the item from the Town Board agenda because it would have been an “inappropriate use of public money.” More than inappropriate, it would have been an illegal misappropriation of funds by Simon and St. Lawrence. That they both seem to clearly announce in these documents the intention to give this money to the developer speaks volumes of the so-called public service of both of these officials.