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Is Rockland Dysfunctional?

I used to have a handle on life in Rockland County but the handle broke and then the wheels came off.


While having a hot cup of coffee this morning I began to wonder if Rockland County has become so dysfunctional that its wheels have come off.  The definition of dysfunction in a society is:

A consequence of a social practice or behavior pattern that undermines the stability of a social system.

Consider this - in what is the relatively trivial matter of running a library, the trustees in New City have run amok in dysfunction.

According to the library board there are two possible tragedies that might befall one - the first is not having a New City Library card and the second is having one from West Nyack.

New City Patch reported that despite complaints from several board members, the New City Library Board appointed Christian Cortelli as trustee to finish the remainder of Aney Paul’s term.  Cortelli, who is a New City resident, has a West Nyack Library card. Trustee Ed Kallen said that Cortelli was not qualified because he did not have a New City Library card.

Now not to have a New City Library card may be regarded as a major dysfunction but to possess a card from West Nyack is obviously an act of malfunction which can not be redeemed by one's wife or child and is 'shameful'.   Patch continued .....

Trustee Tom Ninan said Cortelli’s wife and child were New City library members. While the trustees were arguing over whether Cortelli was qualified or not, several were texting each other and at one point several of them abruptly left the meeting room. After the vote appointing him, Cortelli immediately sat down with the other trustees and Greenberg walked out of the meeting.  A resident and former library employee said she opposed the appointment and believed the board should abide by the library’s constitution and bylaws. Reiter said Cortelli had presented the library with evidence of his residency and the library failed to issue him a card. Kallen said an exception was being made and he thought Cortelli’s presence on the board was “shameful.”

Aney Paul, presumably still in possession of a valid New City card, had recently left the library board to join an equally dysfunctional organization grandly referred to in Rockland County's best patronage salons as 'The County Legislature'.  This is a group that is so dysfunctional it has managed to spend Rockland County into near junk bond status and possible bankruptcy.

The representatives that created this dysfunction have now turned their attention to something apparently more dysfunctional than the fiscal fiasco facing Rockland. They are collectively suing our elected representatives in the Town over which of them has the right to close one of the Town of Clarkstown's minor roads – Samuel Road in Nanuet.

Patch reportsThe county’s lawsuit includes four plaintiffs: the Legislature, the County Executive, District 15 Legislator Patrick Moroney on behalf of his constituents and Charles “Skip” Vezzetti, the county highway superintendent and chairman of the county drainage agency. The lawsuit seeks annulment of the town's two resolutions and claims the action violates state highway law and potentially could impact public safety.

It doesn’t matter who wins or who loses, the taxpayers get to pay the lawyers for both sides.

And where was New City Library card holder, Aney Paul, who sits on the Public Safety Committee when the vote was taken?  She was mysteriously absent – perhaps, if rumors are true, advising “Skip” to get his Pearl River Library card in order if he wishes to challenge Andy Stewart next year for the position of Supervisor in that Town.  

The dysfunction of the County Legislature in asserting its rights over the matter of Town road closures has now extended to asserting its right not to tax citizens for the maintenance of the County roads.  That 'right' is being frantically off-loaded to the Towns. These legislators, who previously billed you for the taxes to maintain your 'county' roads, now want the Towns to collect the taxes on their behalf. Their dysfunction is such that they seem not to have noticed that one member of their body has slipped away to the enemy ……

Legislator and minority leader, Frank Sparaco, who sits in the front row of the very legislature suing Clarkstown over the closure of Samuel Road has accepted a 'part-time job' in the Highway Department of the Town that is being sued.  The Superintendent of Highways of Clarkstown, Wayne Ballard, interviewed 260 people in a dysfunctional process to fill a position (25 hours per week) answering telephone calls in inclement weather (according to Ballard's statements to the Clarkstown Town Board).  Yet the only suitably qualified candidate that could be found was the Republican Minority leader in the County Legislature who has agreed to answer the phone for a 'part-time salary' of $75,000 per year.

Legislator Sparaco is reported to be a protege of Rockland County Republican Chairman Vinny Reda who had some minor personal dysfunction when it came to the simple task of returning a coat to a Macys department store.  Mr Reda was arrested and charged with shoplifting. Eventually, he obtained an "Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal" which meant that in six months the charge would be erased if Reda committed no more legally dysfunctional acts during that period of time.

Last week Reda was re-elected Republican Party Chairman for another two year term by a third-world-country’s dysfunctional 'voice' vote despite a motion and a second for a secret ballot to be held in accordance with normal procedures followed in the more advanced democratic nations.   

Reda’s principal dysfunction is that he has an apparent predilection to support and cross-endorse candidates for political office who are members of parties other than his own. He didn't support the last Republican candidate to run in 2011 for Clarkstown supervisor, Ralph Sabatini. His control of the Democratic party seems to be such that the head of the Republican Party in the Bronx, Jay Savino, was given an $87,000 per year patronage job in Clarkstown by 'Democrat' Gromack to perform the Town's Tax certiorari work - a job any of the numerous town attorneys that are presently employed by the taxpayers should perform but are apparently considered dysfunctional by the Town Board in matters tax certiorari. 

Savino's ability to function in his patronage job may be esteemed in Clarkstown yet when the Palisades Mall went to court to challenge its tax  assessment Clarkstown hired a different outside law firm to handle the litigation saying that "Mr. Savino just sat in on the proceedings but did not charge anything extra".

Sometimes dysfunction in Clarkstown comes without cost.

Frankly, I'm beginning to believe that I am becoming dysfunctional myself trying to figure out who it is that really runs the Town of Clarkstown. Is it Vinny Reda, Frank Sparaco, or Ed Lettre?  I'm coming to believe that it is the latter, but I don't remember the voters of Clarkstown seeing his name on a ballot for one of the elective positions in the Town. 

Yet, recently the whole of the Clarkstown Town Board including the Town Attorney and the Town Clerk attended 'House of Horrors' meetings called by Lettre to help him remain as Chairman of the Conservative party. Councilwoman Lasker, a liberal Democrat, stated that while she had not attended the meeting she had "listened in by phone" because she appreciates receiving the Conservative Party endorsement. 

Liberal democracy in Clarkstown is in a dysfunctional state if the principles of the Liberal Democrats now appeal to the conservative party run by Ed Lettre. 

The Conservative party, which has about 3,500 members or should I say ‘followers’, runs no candidates of its own.  By rendering the other 80,000 residents of Clarkstown impotent, most of whom are Democrats and Republicans, the Conservative Party controls who the majority can vote into office. The only person that the Conservative Party seems to actually vote for is its own leader.

But even there its ‘followers’ are manipulated into whom they may choose. When it came to holding the party's convention this week to vote on its leadership, it chose Yom Kippur, the highest of Jewish holy days, notwithstanding the fact that one half of Clarkstown's population are members of the Jewish faith as is the one candidate running for leadership against Lettre and some 50 of his supporters.

The Journal News reported that: Ed Lettre of West Nyack would neither confirm nor deny that the convention had been scheduled for Wednesday. When asked if the date was a secret, he replied, “Yes. Until the legal notices go out, it’s a secret”. Lettre also would not specify when the notices would be sent, except to say “in the near future”. 

It was also unclear where the convention might be held.  Although it has only 3,512 registered members in Rockland, Conservative Party voters have made the difference between victory and defeat for some candidates. Those seeking political office have eagerly courted the party’s line, which has in turn upped the influence of the party.

According to the Rockland County Times Longo, the former chairman of the party, said the move by Loeffler and the party’s executive director Ed Lettre was unconscionable. “I know this is a hotly contested fight, but to be so blatantly anti-Semitic is frightful. Throughout the country voter suppression in the presidential primary is all the rage, but stopping over 50 Jewish elected committeemen from attending is either a stupid oversight, blatantly anti-Semitic or simply just a tactic to retain power at all costs.

At a press conference called Tuesday afternoon at the county courthouse Rabbi Justin Schwartz blamed Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack, a close ally of the pair, who had asked Town Board members to support Lettre and Loeffler by helping them recruit committee members.

No dysfunction here - despite the withering condemnation that what they (Lettre and Loeffler) did is anti-semitic”, the convention was scheduled for Yom Kippur and the venue was announced to be in Lettre’s town hall, known to the ‘publicly ignorant’ as the 'Clarkstown Town Hall'. 

Chairwoman Loeffler opined to the Rockland County Times "At the time we picked it, we thought Yom Kippur was the day before".  

Seemingly Loeffler would clearly prefer to be thought “stupid” than ‘tactically dysfunctional' which may not be the best of the two options given that ‘tactically dysfunctional’ is temporary while ‘stupidity’ is permanent.

Lettre, however, cleared matters up by simply confirming that as to the dates of the Jewish holy days the Chairman of his party was indeed dysfunctional.  He, on the other hand "had checked with Jewish 'friends' who told him the holy day ended at sunset Wednesday and the convention starts at 7:30 p.m. Lettre said his mother-in-law, brother-in-law, daughter-in-law and a granddaughter were Jewish. “I know the Jewish faith,” Lettre said. “I love Jewish people." 

Between friends and family it appears that advice as to wisdom of the date of Lettre's convention was not sought from anyone in his immediate family.

On the bright side, Lettre's conservatives may be the party in Rockland County which is least politically dysfunctional.  It does this by behaving as what might best be described as a 'cuckoo party’.  Like the cuckoo bird, the 'cuckoo party’ lays an egg in another party's nest by simply endorsing one of the other party's candidates. 

The mother parties, dysfunctional Democrats and Republicans, feed and care for the ‘cuckoo party's chick'.  And that is how Democrats and Republicans alike are turned into ‘puppets on a string’ beholden to a party most residents in Clarkstown probably don't even know exists nor know that it controls what they refer to as the ‘Clarksown Town Hall’. 

Lettre's responsibilities including his present job title put the Town's planning board into several minutes of dysfunction last week when his position as Head of the Architecture and Landscape Commission led to a discussion which explored if Lettre understood the responsibilities and authority of those appointed to the planning board. Several minutes were consumed figuring out which grandiose title Lettre now held in the Town with the choices being Clerk of the Works, Superintendent of Works and/or Public Works Administrator. But, like the foster mother of a cuckoo bird who has some difficulty in figuring out if the cuckoo is really a member of its own species, the chirping in the planning board subsided after a few minutes and everyone returned, feathers ruffled, to the job of tending to the mess being created in the nest. 

Lettre's behavior in handling ‘matters fiscal’ was on display during a dysfunctional appearance in front of a Town workshop. Lettre attempted to explain how he arrived at his cost figures to fix some of Clarkstown's Community Centers which are in a state of disrepair through neglect. After appearing to plead, cajole, beg and, God knows, even pray that the Board would just shut up and give him the money, my mind drifted off to the comedian Lewis Black, who appears frequently on Jon Stewart's Daily News T.V. show. Black had remarked: 

"I took economics and I'd explain it to ya, but I flunked that course. Not my fault. They taught it at 8 o'clock in the morning. And there is absolutely nothing you can learn out of one bloodshot eye."

Councilmen Borelli and Hoehmann expressed concern about giving Lettre approval to spend $600,000 (which would be bonded) to do 'repairs' which may in the end may escalate massively cost-wise if left under Lettre's management.  Hoehman ruminated about what would happen once the fees were in and said, "This could be a $900,000 price tag for these community centers.  I think we need to look at an overall plan that makes sense.”  Councilwoman Lasker, who admits appreciation for the Conservative party’s endorsement, felt that the work just “needed to be done” despite all of the ‘non’ sense she had just heard.

Not surprisingly given Clarkstown's nepotistic employment practices, Lettre's son was a Town employee in the Highway Department but his dysfunctional behavior resulted in resignation earlier this year after he burglarized property while on the job and using the Town's equipment.

Meanwhile the 'happy talk' from political gatherings in front of press conference microphones continues unabated.  Recently, a 'gaggle of political geese' honked about how Rockland, and particularly Clarkstown and Ramapo are some of the best places to live in the United States according to CNN. Clarkstown came in at 35th and Ramapo at 59th.  “We are so proud of this wonderful honor,” said Supervisor Alex Gromack. 

Clarkstown was credited for its low crime rate, numerous parks, lakes, and trails and... proximity to the Hudson River and the fact that New York City is an hour away. Residents can catch a show at Nyack's Elmwood Playhouse, attend a Little League game in Zukor Park, or hit the largest mall in the tristate area, West Nyack's Palisades Mall.

CNN’s dysfunctional approach to rating communities as top places to live appears to have looked no further than the nearby mountains and the Hudson River.  It failed to see that Clarkstown has the highest paid police force in the nation that is resulting in dysfunctional deficit spending by the Town and that Ramapo has become dysfunctional with a religious divide that threatens to destroy its school system which is on the verge of collapse and wracked with litigation.

Nor did CNN take into account the dysfunctional state of the Clarkstown School Board which resulted in the removal of the School's Superintendent and three School Board members.  Residual problems remain since the wife of the current school board president is involved in litigation against a former board member who is being defended at taxpayers' expense. 

Clarkstown's Town Board even succeeded in rendering the budgeting process of the Town’s school boards dysfunctional when a 'surcharge' to raise $1.5 million for the Town was added to school tax bills this year so that residents could, according to Supervisor Gromack, get savings through "tax relief".  The feathers flew and the Town Board was forced to announce that its dysfunctional action would be 'rescinded' which will be a 'savings' to the taxpayers in September 2013 even though the fee they were forced to pay in September 2012 is not going to be 'refunded'. 

Like the New City Library Board, last week the gaggle of political geese went beyond dysfunction to malfunction when only a few fluttering feathers were seen in front of the microphones as it was announced that Rockland had now moved up in rankings to become the third highest county in property taxes in the whole of the United States. Nowhere could anyone be found to declare: “We are so proud of this wonderful honor”.

 Yet while taxpayers are being bled white, Clarkstown continues to 'happy talk' its Triple AAA bond rating which permits it to continue with the dysfunctional policy of deficit spending and yearly depletion of its reserve fund account soon to be continued when it reveals its 2013 budget in October.

In my book the definition of dysfunction in a society is: taxes that are sky-high; home values that are depressed by increasing taxation, union employees that are over compensated, schools that are crumbling, patronage jobs that are handed out to political allies, libraries that are involved in more machinations than they have books and Town Boards that in their budgets hide ….…..

Damn it, my coffee is cold and without it I am completely dysfunctional.


Michael N. Hull
 is a member of the Clarkstown Taxpayers the goals of which are to reduce local taxes and local government expenses and make local government and local public officials more responsible and accountable to the citizenry.  

Picture - 'Wheels Coming Off' courtesy of http://djysrv.blogspot.com/


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Brenda M September 28, 2012 at 10:57 AM
Your article is very timely! You have a friend in the New York Times who has an equally damning article of the dysfunction of government in Washington.  See "The Unraveling of Government" in the this morning's Times. http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/27/the-unraveling-of-government/ I found the following two comments to the national problem parallel your opinions at the local level. 1) "Because activists can use closed primaries to deny ballot access to people they deem insufficiently pure, the majority of voters — many of whom would prefer the candidates who have been eliminated — simply lose the ability to make that choice. Why we would allow parties in a democracy to limit voter choice is simply beyond me." 2) "The dysfunction – the maneuvering for party advantage derives directly from the power we have given parties to shape who sits in office and how they function - every single piece of that rotten puzzle can be undone by the people themselves. Voters must remember that the ultimate power rests in their hands. This is not a spectator sport; our system requires an engaged citizenry, willing to confront elected officials and demand the changes that are required. Our current system, with parties controlling who gets on the ballot discourages cooperation. If we allow that system to continue, it is we who must share the blame for a government that can no longer function." AMEN!   Come out to your local town board meetings everyone!
Smitty Chesterfield September 28, 2012 at 11:33 AM
excellent piece. what about aron weider, the former east ramapo school district vp who was arrested for allegedly blocking the entrance at a voting location. Isnt he also in the legislature?
JLeo September 28, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Great article!...Talk about dysfunctional, I have been following the Rockland Transportation Bid for 2 years now. The Legislature has so destroyed the whole process that they can only blame themselves if the county looses federal funding. Seems like Sparaco had his hands in this to, when will it end, it does not matter who you vote for anymore.
Clarkstown life September 28, 2012 at 01:34 PM
And don't forget the wisdom of Michael Hirsch......that "government should be run like a business" (hopefully not his business); and the ever popular "do as I say and not as I do".........dysfunction indeed!
Tom Truth September 28, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Very interesting piece you wrote. I don't agree with all the individual assertions, but the overall picture can't be denied. I still find it amazing that the Conservative convention was held at the technical end of Yom Kippur but in fact anyone following that holiday was still engaged in holiday rituals and not able to attend the convention; that it could be held with virtually no notice to its members or the public; that 2 days later I can't find a single news article that lets me know that the convention was in fact held and the results of the convention. People such as yourself keep trying to bring the issues to light, but our local media, including the Patch, seem content to ignore the uncomfortable realities associated with the issue.
Ralph Sabatini September 28, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Brilliant but very sad analysis of our local situation. And as factual as any blog I've seen. I think attacking Mr. Hirsch is a cheap shot and a little premature since he hasn't been found guilty of anything yet. But if that's the only argument Clarkstown Life can come up with, then you shoud be even more proud of yor article.
anna September 28, 2012 at 10:47 PM
Beautifully done! Between Clarkstown and Ramapo, Rockland County has become a pit of greed and low class politicians, none of whom will ever be bright enough to go beyond the messes they created.
frankie g September 29, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Michael, you couldn't have been more clear on the topic of dysfunction with all levels of the syndicate It permeates the federal,state and in your face, local level What can we do,to change this ? not much when these syndicates,along with their political allies, continue dismissing any critics at every turn and have created an atmosphere of apathy of dysfunction with the electorate it seems as if the only way we can get any change ,is for the ship to sink first That's when the dysfunctional apathetic voters will finally get off their rear-ends
donna September 29, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Michael, you hit the nail on the head telling it like it is! Kudos to you!
Clarkstown life September 29, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Mr. Sabatini.....I have great respect for you because you put yourself 'out there' and ran for public office.....you just did not realize who you were 'backed' by......'attacking' is what disgusteds do best......and outside of that bubble people are tired of it. if you were put off by my comments then so be it but I am just stating the facts......
Mary Beth September 29, 2012 at 07:40 PM
The New City Library Board of Trustees is unquestionably dysfunctional, but your appraisal of the issue of a trustee without a library card is incorrect and misleading. Mr. Cortelli does not have a New City library card because he didn't go to the library to get one. The library hadn't "failed to issue him a card"--he just didn't go there to get one, which he easily could have done. Nobody really cares which library, if any, Cortelli uses. The board's bylaws require that a trustee have a card for at least 180 days prior to election to the board. The majority of the trustees were more than willing to disregard the bylaws. THAT IS THE DYSFUNCTION. Cortelli wasn't the only applicant for the vacant seat, but he is the one Ninan and Reiter wanted on the board because he is their ally. Their desire superseded the bylaws. THAT IS THE DYSFUNCTION.
Ken McQuade September 29, 2012 at 11:26 PM
Yes Rockland has its problems but so do a lot of places. In a bad wreck or your house is on fire dont worry the county will still send the bravest. Need a trip to the hospital dont worry the county will send its EMS squad right to your door. Yes things are bad but we still have a lot to be thankful for.
Maureen September 30, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Here is more dysfunction.  The Journal News tells us 1) Pension costs for the police union and CSEA increased $900,000 in 2013 for a total of $10.8 million.   That's a 9.1% increase in one year. 2)  Is it proposed to lay off 9.1% of the police and CSEA employees?  NO. 3) Health-care costs rose from $12.7 million to $13.4 million.  That's 5.5% 4) Is it proposed to lay off an additional 5.5% to cover this expense?  NO. 5) There is a 2% tax cap in place.  Will the Board honor its responsibility to the citizens with respect to the tax cap?  NO. 6) Why not?  Did Gromack propose a deficit budget for 2013?    YES. 7) Do you know who is going to pay for the police, the CSEA, and the deficit?   YES. People like Teresa Mastropolo, 81, a Valley Cottage woman and her husband, Carmine, 88, a World War II veteran will tap their life's savings while the Town gives a $75,000 part time job to Frank Sparaco from the county legislature to answer the telephone and $84,000 to the head of the GOP in the bronx to fill out tax cert forms. http://www.lohud.com/article/20120929/NEWS03/309280097/Clarkstown-may-defy-tax-cap-blames-Rockland-County
Michael N. Hull September 30, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Tom, i hope you can agree with this. In this Patch article on the 6.2% Town Tax increase http://newcity.patch.com/articles/clarkstown-2013-proposed-budget-raises-taxes-6-2 it was noted that Mr Gromack puts a Panglossian face on the Town's fiscal situation quoting the CNN/Money report about the desirability of living in Clarkstown.  The Town of Clarkstown was named in CNN/Money Magazine’s Top 100 Places to Live in America.  It's #35 in the list. Clarkstown is also named in the list of "Top 100 counties with the largest number of people moving OUT compared to moving IN.    It's #10 on that list. http://www.city-data.com/city/Clarkstown-New-York.html Why are people moving OUT?  Rockland County is #3 in the whole of the United States in median property taxes http://www.lohud.com/article/20120920/NEWS02/309200059/Westchester-leads-U-S-property-taxes-hits-10G-median-Rockland-ranks-No-3 6.2% more property tax is now proposed but senior citizens can take in boarders to pay for these taxes.  "A Proposed Local Law entitled:  “A Local Law Amending Chapter 290 (Zoning) of the Local Laws of the Town of Clarkstown with Respect to Accessory Apartments." http://town.clarkstown.ny.us/cgi-bin/public_notices_new.pl?action=show_cat&id=13 I hope people come out to this Tuesday's Town Board meeting and watch all of this slide through. Incidentally, following Lettre's anointing at the "Yom Kippur convention" guess who was present at the celebration?
Michael N. Hull October 01, 2012 at 10:42 AM
I had a meeting with Andy Stewart of Orangetown last week to dicsuss the fact that he has a duty to present his constituents with all of the options to keep the tax rate in Orangetown low and allow the Orangetown taxpayers to discuss options such as layoffs and reducing services. I discussed this article with him from Patch at his open office hours that he held at the Pearl River Library last week in which it is obvious that there are numerous options in preparing his budget http://pearlriver.patch.com//articles/orangetown-tentative-budget-close-broadacres-raise-taxes-9-19 Mr Stewart has held numerous open meetings on his 2013 budget .... Mr. Gromack has held none.  This is the difference between a supervisor who wishes to follow the spirit of the open meetings law and one who does not.  Here is Stewart's comments in this morning's Patch which shows the openness of Stewart to the budgeting process and to the inputs from the public.
Michael N. Hull October 01, 2012 at 10:43 AM
Continued ..... Andy Stewart, Orangetown Supervisor 10:56 pm on Sunday, September 30, 2012 Interesting discussion going on here! Budgeting in this time of economic austerity raises basic questions about the scope of local government services. I think I will put on the table the options that I think the Town could take to actually get to a 4% tax increase and we will see how many people line up in support of these measures. If we rule out a tactical bankruptcy that would enable to the Town to throw out its labor contracts and start over, but would most likely damage our credit rating in the extreme, the only way to reduce the budget is to lay off employees and to cut services dramatically. I wonder if the good people of Orangetown are ready to accept the real consequences for public safety, quality of life and property values of a dramatic reduction in taxation, all to reduce a part of their tax bill that is small in comparison to other taxing entities, such as school districts and the federal government. Nonetheless, we must leave no stone unturned in our effort to identify savings.
Think4urself October 03, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Substitute the words corrupt and corruption for dysfunction and the article makes more sense.

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