It was supposed to be the first post-St. Lawrence Ramapo Town Board Meeting, but it was more like three meetings than one. Beginning at 7 pm, part one opened with a loaded agenda of 59 items to be discussed in the workshop phase. The hefty backlog was due to not having any meetings since late March. St. Lawrence was a little too preoccupied at the time with questions of his political survival and prison issues to keep to a regular schedule. Then, about an hour later, and after a brief executive session, part two revisited the 59 items, and the board members voted on or tabled each of the decisions. And then, again about an hour later, the public was given its chance to speak in the Public Participation Period. And many did—some expressing hope, some spilling leftover bile, and some presenting specific, concrete propositions as to how the Town should now move forward.
Walking in to the meeting room a little before 7pm, you were met with four news cameras set up on their tripods at the back of the room, Antonio Luciano, familiar East Ramapo videographer, was in the corner readying his camera on its tripod, and Ricky Flores, the Journal News still photographer, was looking over the crowd for some location shots.
At the conference table up front were Deputy Supervisor Yitzy Ullman and board members Michael Rossman, Brendel Logan-Charles, and Pat Withers. On the far left, where you’d usually find town attorney Michael Klein, sat Alan Berman. Alan is the First Deputy Town Attorney, and, apparently, the decision had been made to avoid the legal and political liability of having Klein involved in further board matters. Even though he wasn’t present, in descending order of the those most vilified during the three-hour proceedings, there were, first St. Lawrence, second Michael Klein, and third Mona Montal, the Town’s Director of Purchasing, who was present at the meeting.
The very first items addressed involved setting up public hearings on two critical matters. All agreed on June 28 as the date when the public could participate in a change in town law that would prohibit the supervisor or a board member from also taking on the dual role of finance director, as St. Lawrence had. The second new law to consider will be to initiate a six-month moratorium on issuing temporary modular units (trailers) to be used as schools.
Also mentioned was the plan to find a forensic auditor to examine the RLDC finances in order to get a realistic picture of where the Town stands today.
There was agreement about the need to set up a committee to study what should be done about the Ramapo Local Development Corp (St. Lawrence’s RLDC that built the stadium and the Elm Street condo complex on the backs of the taxpayers), and whether and how it can be eliminated. The three-member board would include John Lynch (finance), Janice Gittelman (town attorney), and Mona Montal (purchasing). Later in the evening Councilman Pat Withers proposed that Robert Romanowski be one of two citizens added to the board.
The Thursday morning time slots added for board meetings, which St. Lawrence used to hide more controversial votes, would no longer be used that way. The meetings would be moved back to the evening time slots that are more accessible for the public, and the Thursday 9 am meetings would only be called to address police matters.
The approval for initiating legal action (authorization to commence an injunction) against three religious schools that were operating with lapsed temporary permits was agreed upon unanimously. The schools are at 93 Highview Road, 97 Highview, and 50-52 Carlton Road.
Several matters from the Purchasing Dept attracted some negative attention. A request to pay for the maintenance of the elevator at Palisades Credit Union ballpark, a fee amounting to $3,000 a year and $30K over the life of the contract, was challenged by Councilman Withers. He wanted the Boulders’ organization to pay more of their share, and he asked that the demand begin with this payment, and be followed by a general review of all expenses currently being paid for by taxpayers. This item was then tabled for later consideration. Deputy Supervisor Ullman has said he wants an investigation into ways to have control of the baseball stadium shifted away from the RLDC and back to the Town.
Withers also complained about and objected to item B1, a request to accept a bid of $50,550 to Supply and Install Wetland Plants for Wetland Mitigation Project at 240 Pomona Road. That’s the ballpark, and Withers explained that when the trees for the project were removed, the wetlands were disturbed, and now we have to pay to fix that foolish and destructive decision.
Another bid of $27,500, for Technical Needs for 2017 Celebration of Liberty and Pride, was objected to and tabled. The money was for the fireworks show on the 4th—one of St. Lawrence’s favorite opportunities for political theater. Self-promotion can be expensive.
A tax certiorari issue with the Minisceongo property elicited a promise from Councilman Withers: As long as I am on this board I will not vote for any downzoning on the Minisceongo property. The applause that followed was from those worrying about high-density development that might be proposed by the new owner.
Near the end of the workshop discussions, Withers called for a general review of the MOU (memorandum of understanding) the Town has with the Boulders organization to see how the Town can shift the burden off the taxpayers to the actual owners. He described an incident when he drove by the ballpark one evening (May 13) and the full lighting for the site was on, even though the exhibition game between the NYPD and Boulders had been cancelled due to weather. When he called Michelle Antosca, Director of Parks and Recreation, he asked why was the whole place lit up, and she explained the team owner had held a private affair that night. Taxpayers paid the lighting bill that night, as usual. (Note: if you check your Ramapo Town Tax bills over the last couple years you will notice that the Lighting Tax portion has been skyrocketing.)
After the entire agenda was revisited to take the votes on each issue, the Public Comment section of the meeting was opened.
Bruce Levine was the first speaker, and he opened up with, “I hereby offer my services to you as supervisor for the balance of the year.” And then he qualified the offer with, “If appointed, I will not run.” Characterizing this as a moment of great opportunity to reset, Bruce has experience in municipal governance as one-time County Legislator and Spring Valley Village Attorney. “I am making this offer to you to try to use these next 7 months as a time to put forward ideas and policies to change our direction and heal our town.”
Judah Lerer then offered his thoughts on the political future of the Town. He spoke of speculation about the candidacy of David Fried or Mona Montal for Supervisor. Nice comments about David, and torching remarks about Mona. He then told the Board members they should stop listening to Patrick Farm developer Isaac Lebovits because he’s actually broke. He finished with damning remarks about a Clarkstown politician.
Scott Goldman then asked the Board to bring in an outside auditor, and he spoke of his vision of limited development for Minisceongo. He thanked Pat Withers for his current positions, and he announced his intention to run for supervisor.
Rudy Dent then reminded the panel that their past association with St. Lawrence has tainted them all. More than anything, we now need transparency, he said, and the code enforcers in Ramapo have to be allowed to do their job. Having gone to the trial proceedings, Rudy then attacked St. Lawrence, Michael Klein, and Mona Montal. He thanked Pat Withers for the evidence he provided against St. Lawrence and for withstanding the personal attack he faced from St. Lawrence’s attorney. He finished with: The real hero here is Melissa Reimer. Bring her back. She’s proven her integrity and the court has vindicated her.
Bob Romanowski then provided specific details from the trial of Michael Klein’s complicity in St. Lawrence’s crimes. He asked the Board to pass a resolution to remove Klein from the legal department.
And then a frequently heard critic, Camille, got up and briefly offered her condemnation: This board should have overruled St. Lawrence after people voted not to bond the stadium. We need to remove every single crook on this board.
Bill Weber offered a more hopeful group of suggestions. He commended Councilman Withers for his conduct at the trial. He reminded everyone that the Town of Ramapo will be on the hook for a substantial SEC fine in the near future (the next trial). He also said the budget has a $900K windfall for collecting the school taxes for Ramapo Central and he wondered how the remainder of the salary for the removed supervisor will be used. He ended with a request for the long overdue financial statements for the Town.
Deb Munitz expressed thanks for the initial list of reforms released by Itzy Ullman on the day the verdicts were read. She then suggested a number of specific changes to encourage transparency. These include: Provide public notice for meetings 11 days in advance. Record board meetings with digital media, and set up playback online on a timely schedule. Post transcripts of all meetings online. On posted agendas include names, numbers, prices, and bids—details. She reminded them that this is the job, and it is work. She also thanked Withers for tolerating what happened to him at the trial.
Shani Bechhofer called for a pause in the frenetic number of building applications, and she warned about an upcoming possible change in the zoning code related to floor ratios in plans submitted.
By the time the public comment period was closed, there seemed to be a cautious optimism that was now emerging in the post-CSL era. If a scorecard was to be marked and handed in for this meeting, the three losing factions would have to be Christopher St. Lawrence, Michael Klein, and Mona Montal. Emerging favorites would be Melissa Reimer, Pat Withers and the Deputy Supervisor, Itzy Ullman.
In the Council members’ Comments that traditionally end meetings, Pat Withers called for a number of resolutions to be drafted and considered in upcoming meetings. He called for the immediate reinstatement of the suspended Supervisor of Fiscal Services Melissa Reimer. He called for the removal of town attorney Michael Klein. He endorsed Robert Romanowski to be added to the three members of the panel to investigate the future of the RLDC. He called for an overhaul of our Building Planning and Zoning Codes, and asked that two members of the public be added to this Zoning review group, including Deb Muniz. He asked that the resolution for money being paid to attorneys defending those facing the SEC charges be rescinded and that the payments end immediately. And finally, he said that they had been lied to about the transfer of the property at 301 Pomona Road to the RLDC, which promptly sold it to a developer. He asked that everyone attend the New Hempstead meetings regarding any plans for the development of this property, which sits across the road from the ballpark.
Certainly, this was one of the most significant Town Board meetings of the year. And if the new directions suggested by both the board and public begin to take shape, it could be the most significant in a decade. One sad thought occurred leaving Town Hall after 10 pm. This would have been a very good time for Daniel Friedman, the Council member who tried to initiate meaningful change before St. Lawrence turned on him and, effectively, ended his career on the board.