Last year serious questions were raised by the Clarkstown Taxpayers Group about Jay Savino's fitness to be appointed to a position in the Town of Clarkstown conducting its tax certiorari work. Throughout the year the Town Board has given evasive answers when questioned about this matter and has sometimes had to rely on word parsing to correct their past statements.
Here is an example of such parsing ....
Tom Nimick, a Clarkstown resident, had previously made several attempts to have the Clarkstown Town Board explain how it has not violated the Open Meetings Law with respect to the decisions that were made to retain Savino in January 2012. At the Board meeting on March 20,2012 Nimick read a statement in which he said:
I regret that I need to be persistent with you regarding Resolution #38-2012 concerning the retention of Mr. Savino and related violations of the Open Meetings Law. Your responses and public statements have resulted in contradictions. When I asked when this decision was made, Mr. Gromack AND Ms. Mele both replied that the decision was made in executive session. When I asked where the minutes reflecting the decision were, as required by the Open Meetings Law, I was informed that there were no minutes. So the resolution was based upon a decision having been made; the decision was made in executive session; but there are no minutes because no decisions have been made in executive session. The contradictions in those statements are the nub of the issue and I am asking for you to resolve these contradictions.
Supervisor Alex Gromack opined mid-way through Nimick's comments that "we have an answer". He subsequently went on to deny the wording of what Nimick had noted during a previous phone conversation with him and the Town Attorney by saying:
I do want to clarify and I apologize if you 'think' or 'heard' that I said that a 'decision' was made; it was a 'discussion'. I just want to clarify that. We had a 'discussion' in executive session.
How quickly Mr. Gromack's ‘decision’ became a ‘discussion’ when under the Open Meetings Law having made a ‘decision’ in Executive Session without minutes would have been a violation of the law. Emerging from this foggy labyrinth, Mr. Gromack then handed the matter off to Town Attorney Mele for further clarification without offering any explanation as to why the issue of hiring a legal firm to handle the tax cert matters for the Town was of such a sensitive nature that it had to be discussed in Executive Session with no minutes being recorded of the meeting.
At the Town Board meeting of June 19, 2012 Ralph Sabatini, 2011 Republican Candidate for Supervisor, addressed the board about its continuing evasiveness:
Sabatini: For the record my name is Ralph Sabatini and I live in New City. Good Evening. Several citizens would like to ask each of you some questions about the decision-making behind the Board’s 4-1 vote on Resolution #38-2012 to retain Bronx Republican Party chairman, Mr. Jay Savino, to handle the Town's Tax Certiorari matters.
1) Town Attorney Marsha Coopersmith, who until December 31, 2011 conducted the Town's tax cert matters, was also Chair of the Independence Party. She controlled that election line and Mr. Gromack ran on that line.
2) Ms. Coopersmith was ousted from the Chair (of the Independence Party) by Debra Ortutay and Ms. Ortutay then controlled that party’s election line.
3) Ms. Ortutay is the mother-in-law of Republican, Frank Sparaco, who is currently serving in the Rockland County Legislature as minority leader.
4) Ms Ortutay resigned from the Chair of the Independence Party after being indicted for perjury and fraud and subsequently served a prison sentence in the Rockland County Jail having pleaded guilty to perjury and falsifying records.
5) The attorney representing Ms. Ortutay at trial was Mr. Jay Savino.
6) Mr. Savino is the Bronx Republican Party Chairman.
7) Mr. Savino contributed financially in 2011 to the Independence Party of Rockland previously headed by Ms Ortutay and Ms Coopersmith.
8) The Board decided not to renew Attorney Coopersmith's contract and then outsourced her tax work to Ms. Ortutay's attorney, Mr. Jay Savino, for an annual 'retainer fee' of $87,000. Mr. Gromack said that the decision was made to save money as part of an ongoing consolidation of government services.
9) On May 1, 2012, in response to Mr. Nimick’s question to Ms. Mele about how Mr. Savino's name came to her attention, Ms Mele replied that she was "not sure whether it was a Board member or the Supervisor who brought Savino's firm to her attention". Mr. Gromack followed up by saying "maybe it was someone that was proactive from his firm that contacted the Town Attorney's office and said if there was ever an opportunity please give me a call". Mr. Gromack then went on to remark: "And that's probably the way it was. It was an outreach from him to the Town".
Now it is hard to believe that the Town Board is simply imititating the gang that couldn't shoot straight. Savino is Chairman of the Bronx Republican Party. He is also a lawyer and therefore he is an 'officer of the court'. Yet he was apparently caught on an FBI wiretap saying things not helpful to a judge of the Federal court. This occurred during criminal proceedings against Mr. Guy Velella, former Chairman of the Bronx Republican party. The proceedings introduced wiretaps that included statements by Mr. Savino. A federal judge had demanded the presence in court of several Republican campaign workers. The wiretaps picked up Mr. Savino talking about how he wasn't going to look too hard to find the campaign workers. Savino was heard telling another party aide on the wiretap: "I would do what the Boss said. I would, I would call them, and if you reach them, you reach them; if you don't, you don't. You know, you might not reach them because your phone clicks off. I, I, I guess do what he says, I don't know what to say. That's what I would do, I would just forget about it maybe."
In numerous public meetings over the past year the Town Board has been questioned about the bidding process the Town followed to retain Savino to conduct the Town's Tax Certiorari work. It was revealed that Town Attorney Mele did not conduct a proper bidding process and that Mr Savino's appointment was an appointment of pure patronage. Through Freedom of Information requests to the Town one law firm 'invited' to bid already knew of Savino's oral bid and refused to bid itself saying that the work could not be performed for the amount Savino was claiming. The dates of the email correspondence from this firm and one other law firm were strangely both dated January 3, 2012, the same date that Mr Gromack announced Savino's retention nearly one year ago.
Which brings us to a Journal News article of December 21, 2012 entitled 'Clarkstown rehires party chief, praises Jay Savino for tax-certiorari work' which stated:
The Clarkstown Town Board voted unanimously to rehire Jay Savino, the Bronx Republican Party chairman, to handle tax certioraris for the town, reigniting criticism from some residents who opposed his appointment earlier this year. Town Board member Stephanie Hausner, who cited “baggage” in voting against hiring Savino in January, said her concerns had been resolved. The vote gave Savino a $1,740 raise, up from $87,000 in 2012.
Savino was hired on January 3, 2011 in a 4-1 vote of the Town Board to fill in for the work previously performed by Marsha Coopersmith, the deputy town attorney whose position was terminated after 15-plus years with the town. Coopersmith was the Rockland County Independence Party chairwoman before she lost her position in 2010. She was replaced as party chairwoman by Debra Ortutay of Valley Cottage, who resigned in December 2011 after pleading guilty to perjury and forgery charges. Savino was her attorney. The town later hired Frank Sparaco, Ortutay’s son-in-law and a Rockland County legislator and minority chair, for a part-time position that pays $75,000.
Much of the criticism against Savino comes from local blogs that suggest he was recorded on a wiretap during an FBI investigation into Guy Velella, his political boss at the time, who was charged with taking a bribe. That issue came up again Thursday when Michael Hull asked Town Board members whether they were voting to rehire him despite these concerns.
“Is it your position that there are no law firms or lawyers in Rockland County capable of doing tax-cert work for this board who do not have what might be charitably called a ‘cloud’ associated with their past behavior?” said Hull, a Bardonia resident.
“I found nothing that told me he was under investigation or faced charges,” said Frank Borelli. George Hoehmann agreed. “There are a lot of things out there in the Internet. There are a lot of things out on blogs,” he said. “There is nothing that is of a factual nature.”
Savino said the criminal charges were against Velella and he was in no way involved.
During the Town Board meeting described by the Journal News the leader of the 'gang that can't shoot straight' Town Attorney, Amy Mele, shot herself in the foot when she produced a resolution showing that the Town apparently can not keep its own fabrications straight.
Agenda item #8 was a resolution indicating that the Town had put the Town's Tax Certiorari work for 2013 out to bid, as it had claimed it did before Savino was hired in January 2012. The resolution stated that Town Attorney Mele had interviewed numerous firms and that Mr Savino's bid had again won with the lowest bid of $88,740 a $1,740 increase over 2012.
The date in the resolution was correct, the amount to be paid to Savino in 2013 was correct, but everything else in the resolution was a lie.
Here is the exact text of the Resolution that the Town Attorney placed before the Town Board, published on the Town's website and which the Board members were asked to vote on when none of them had obviously even read the document they were being asked to approve.
Resolution Authorizing An Agreement With The Law Office of Joseph J. Savino To Handle Tax Certiorari Matters.
WHEREAS, the Town Board, in its continuing effort to reduce costs, has explored whether it would be more cost effective to retain the services of an outside firm to handle tax certiorari matters; and
WHEREAS, the Town Attorney has researched and interviewed law firms with experience in such matters and has requested rates and proposals from said firms; and
WHEREAS, the Town Attorney has received a proposal from the law office of Joseph J. Savino to provide said services for and annual retainer of $88,740, which proposal is the most competitive of those received; and
WHEREAS, the Town Attorney recommends acceptance of said proposal;
Now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the Supervisor is hereby authorized to enter into an agreement, in a form approved by the Town Attorney, to retain the Law office of Joseph J. Savino, 399 Knollwood Road, White Plains, New York 10603, to handle all tax certiorari matters on behalf of the Town for the year 2013 for an annual retainer of $88,740, which retainer shall be remitted on a monthly basis.
Dated: December 20, 2012
During the question time about agenda items my colleague, Tom Nimick, asked a very simple question.
Did the resolution that the Board was about to vote on represent the facts?
The Board initially disregarded Nimick's question and were about to proceed to vote but Nimick interrupted their process and raised the issue again.
Here is the discussion that followed:
Nimick: Mr. Gromack there remains the question about the selection process that is indicated in the resolution which has not been addressed.
Gromack (dismissing Nimick's concerns): I think we have handled that numerous times .....
Nimick: I'm sorry but the resolution says that the selection process was done again. I am asking for clarification on the selection process followed this year in the light of what we learned about the process for selecting Savino last year (See Who Watches the Watchmen).
There then followed a prolonged and whispered conversation between Mele and Gromack which Nimick eventually interrupted ....
Nimick: I am asking about agenda item number 8 (the resolution to retain Savino). Is the resolution in error?
Mele: You raise a good point Mr. Nimick - We retain these resolutions on our system and when we redid them I think this paragraph is just a left-over and if it is OK with the Board I think the second 'WHEREAS' should be struck. I did not engage in an additional interview search .....
Gromack then cut Mele's comments off.
Gromack: OK, let it be noted that when we get to resolution 8 the second 'WHEREAS' will be stricken as amended.
The Board then proceeded to unanimously approve the resolution above in which the second 'WHEREAS' was "stricken" yet the third 'WHEREAS' which reads "which proposal is the most competitive of those received" was not stricken.
Regrettably, the members of the Town Board and its attorney have fallen so low that they no longer seem capable of reading their own resolutions that they are voting upon as representatives of the people. When the lie contained in the resolution used to retain Savino for 2013 was exposed they did not even seem to care if 'striking the second WHEREAS' would bring the resolution they were voting on into conformance with the facts or not.
So one year later, after a flawed process used to retain Savino for 2012 and following a second flawed process to retain him for 2013, Savino has again been approved as a patronage appointee and the Town Board has voted to retain him adopting a resolution in which the third 'WHEREAS' remains intact as a legal lie.
Frank Sparaco, protégé of Vincent Reda, and recent recipient of a patronage appointment himself, was present with his mentor, Reda, chatting amiably with the Town Board after adjournment of the meeting.
Has "The Town That Cried", while raising property taxes 6.2% on senior citizens who will get a 1.7% increase in social security next year, and which voted itself a 2% salary increase at the meeting in which it handed out a patronage job to the Head of the Bronx Republican Party, now become the "The Town That Lied"?
Michael N. Hull is a member of the Clarkstown Taxpayers Group 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 courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org