The typically calm tone felt at some village board meetings quickly turned tumultuous Monday as mayor Don Brudie’s remarks and appointments sent sparks flying amongst trustees and residents alike.
Brudie’s first order of business at the April 2 annual organizational meeting - appointing new commissioners. Newly appointed was trustee John Watras as deputy mayor and fire commissioner; trustee Andrew Cavanaugh as police commissioner and finance commissioner; trustee Nick Episcopia as public works commissioner; trustee Brian Daughney as building and planning commissioner; and trustee Laurence Quinn as Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) commissioner.
A comment made by trustee Episcopia regarding the appointments provided the first sparks of the tension-filled meeting.
“An attempt was made to start a dialogue, to have some sort of discussion about spreading out the positions of chair of the various committees, when last year, this is nothing against that individual, there was one trustee who held every single position," he said. "We do not believe that is correct, it's not correct because it doesn’t train people to rotate around and get familiar with all the different jobs here in the village."
Episcopia added: “In our system we have a rotation of mayors, we have a rotation of various jobs. If this is not the case, no one is given the opportunity to be able to have it, except in this case now there is two people. For those reasons I believe there will not be voting, a majority of the board of trustees will not be voting for this.”
Brudie, who decided the appointments, snapped back: “Last year was last year, this year is this year. These are the mayor’s appointments. This is just a sordid attempt by these five members of the board to take over the village. I told this audience last year, in May, it was an attempt to take over the village by the Estates and by the East POA. People didn’t believe me, that's fine.”
The controversy didn’t end there. Brudie also appointed liaison officers: Board of Commissioners of Recreational Affairs, trustee John DeMaro; Garden City Library Board of Trustees, trustee Quinn; Planning Commission, Architectural Design Review Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, trustee Daughney; business community, trustee Dennis Donnelly; Garden City Historical Society, trustee Watras; Board of Education, trustee Donnelly; senior citizen liaison, trustee Watras; and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) Third Track Committee, trustee Quinn.
A motion to ratify the appointments, however, failed by a 5-2 vote; trustees Watras and Cavanaugh approved, mayor Brudie abstained and trustees Episcopia, Donnelly, Quinn, Daughney and DeMaro opposed. As a result, the trustee assignments should be determined within the next week or two, accordig to village clerk Brian Ridgway.
The atmosphere became increasingly more tense with each new agenda item. Residents were even peeved by the behavior, including former mayor Robert Rothschild.
“My job, sitting in that chair, was to try to figure out how to get everyone to work together,” Rothschild said, referring to his previous experience as mayor. “You have to know where the balance is for what has to be done in this village. No one will deny that St. Paul's is the problem, unfortunately it has been the problem. Your job for the next year is to manage these gentlemen and put them in positions where they are trained, ready to move around that table and sit in the middle chair. How you do that is you assign them to different jobs.”
Annoyed residents also brought up the second deputy mayor position, in which Brudie defended himself, stating, “the law doesn’t call for a second deputy mayor.”
When questioned by a resident on the change in status for trustee Episcopia from second deputy mayor to trustee, Brudie simply replied, “It was my decision, it was very simple, the law allows the mayor to appoint one deputy.” Brudie would not elaborate, stating that it was not for public discussion.
Regarding another resident’s comment concerning trustee Episcopia, Brudie stated, “Mr. Episcopia came to me last year and begged me for certain jobs because he didn’t get any jobs from mayor Rothschild. Mayor Rothschild overlooked him and he sent me some emails and begged me for jobs, and I gave him those jobs.”
Episcopia replied: “I’ve heard an awful lot of things, but that has to take the cake. Over the course of the year there has been a lot of discourse between trustees and people over what jobs they are going to have. I didn’t beg you for anything, I said I would like to do these things ... I have not done these things, I have done certain things twice.
“This is not a cabinet, this is a group of elected officials,” Episcopia added.