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  • Mamaroneck Observer

Transparency Test - Hint: They Flunked

By Kathy Savolt -

Transparency. This word has been bandied about a lot lately in the Village of Mamaroneck. It is held up as a hallmark of democracy, a standard for all public officials. The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.”

The Mamaroneck Observer took a close look at a few topics discussed at the March 13th Board of Trustees meeting with an eye toward transparency.

Village Manager’s New Contract

The meeting began with two community members, Gail Koller and Carlo Reca, expressing their support for Village Manager, Jerry Barberio, who was granted a new four-year contract in an emergency Executive Session meeting on Friday, March 3rd with a 4-1 vote. It was expected that the Board of Trustees would present the contract to the public at this meeting, but it was not on the agenda and the contract was not made public.

Two other residents, Amy Siskind and Stuart Tiekert, questioned the process and its transparency. Although it is usual and customary for public boards to discuss personnel matters in Executive Session, the details of the outcome of these discussions are usually made public and the final vote taken in public. It is the Mamaroneck Observer’s understanding that this issue has been raised with the NYS Committee on Open Government.

See LoHud Article by David McKay Wilson HERE.

After the public comments, Trustee Lucas explained that she voted against the contract because the meeting wasn’t an emergency (the previous contract didn’t expire until January 2024), it was noticed on Thursday for the meeting on Friday night, the process was not transparent, and the Village Manager’s emails were inappropriate so the Board of Trustees had an obligation to discuss them with Barberio but failed to do so.

Other members of the Board stated that they believed an emergency existed and after taking stock of Barberio’s strengths, they voted to offer him a new contract. The Mamaroneck Observer obtained a copy of the new contract through the Freedom of Information Law. SEE HERE

Contract Details

· Compensation – Barberio received a 4% raise at the end of January under his previous contract. The new contract raised his salary another 4% to $235,200, effective immediately. He is guaranteed a 4% raise each year of his contract. He also serves as Executive Director of the Cable TV Board of Control for which he receives an additional $8,500/year. With his Village salary alone, Barberio now makes more than the governor of the entire State of New York ($226,000).

· No change in benefits such as health insurance, vacation time (4 weeks), sick leave (1.25 days/month), enrollment in the retirement fund, or professional expenses.

· No change in the employment security fund started with the equivalent of three months gross compensation and increased annually by the equivalent of 1.5 months gross compensation. Barberio will collect this fund when he leaves Village employment unless he leaves after having failed or refused to comply with lawful directives on at least 3 occasions or, if he is convicted of a crime or, he resigns with less than 30 days’ notice.

· Use of Automobile – the new contract eliminates the local travel mileage limit of 60 miles. Barberio has unlimited use of a village-owned vehicle with all expenses paid by the taxpayers, including fuel.

· Performance evaluations – the new contract stipulates annual evaluations but removes the requirement that they be written.

· Outside employment – the new contract includes a clause that any outside employment must be discussed with the Board of Trustees to ensure no interference with the Code of Ethics or the duties of the Village Manager. This is a new clause that was not in the previous contract. The issue arose when it came to light that the Village Manager has a part-time job in a NJ community. See ARTICLE HERE.

It must be noted that NYS law does not allow one governing body to encumber their successors. Therefore, if a new Board of Trustees is elected within the four-year term of this contract, they are not bound by it and can dismiss the Village Manager.

Public Apology

Towards the end of the meeting, when there were only a handful of people remaining, resident Liam Robb O’Hagan spoke to Jerry Barberio and the Board. He told them that the process with the Village Manager did not reflect well on the Village. Addressing Barberio directly, he said “Jerry, you may have lost people, especially on (the volunteer) Committees. Going forward, you’ll have to work to resurrect that (their support).” Addressing the Board, O’Hagan told them they should have handled the situation better, but the decision was a courageous one. Immediately following these remarks, Barberio gave his Village Manager report and wrapped it up with a public apology to the Board of Trustees for his “harsh public emails.” He said it’s been a tough couple of years, and he was “sorry for things I may have said or insinuated.” Barberio continued that Mamaroneck is a tough place to work and “I do have this flaw that I want to protect our employees” but sometimes “it gets to me.” He again said he was sorry to the Board and promised to try to make it up to them. Mayor Murphy accepted and appreciated the apology, stating that “he, too, has been known to lose his temper a time or two.”

Sewer Rent Fees

All customers of the Westchester Joint Water Works currently pay a sewer rent fee to pay for the operation and maintenance of the sanitary sewer system. (This is separate and apart from the County Sewer Tax which funds the operations of the sewer treatment plants.) This sewer rent fee is on every water bill as a separate line item.

The Village Manager proposed a 90% increase in this fee with the unusual procedure of presenting it to the Board of Trustees and the public just days before he requested the vote. Backup material was a memo from Deputy Village Manager, Dan Sarnoff, to Barberio that appeared to link the increase to funding recent staff raises, including the Village Manager and new positions of Village Engineer and Assistant Engineer. This action would generate over $850,000 annually and that new source of revenue is reflected in the just-released Tentative 2023/24 budget. SEE HERE

There was no explanation as to why this vote could not wait for the public budget process and had to be taken immediately. There was also no data to back up any of the claims Barberio made at the March 13 work session when he explained why this was needed. Essentially, the sewer rent fees, which are accounted for in a separate Sewer Fund, have been used to pay the staff of the sanitary sewer maintenance department for years. In 2020 after the Save the Sound lawsuit, sewer repair work began, and expenses increased. The management of the repair project moved in-house with the onset of the pandemic with the Village Manager’s office taking responsibility until a Village Engineer was hired this year. Barberio reported the Sewer Fund is depleted but presented no data.

Barberio clarified the impact of the increase stating that the bulk of the costs will be borne by commercial customers; the average residential customer should see an increase of about $8/month starting in April.

The Board voted to approve the increase in this fee 4-1 with Trustee Lucas voting no because of the lack of time and information. She stated that the idea of using the sewer rent fee in this manner may be a good idea but rushing the vote was not. Trustee Yizar-Reid requested that when new ideas such as this are presented that the Board and the public be given at least a month to be educated about the issue.

New Fee for Zoning Board Appeals

Mayor Murphy indicated that he initiated this new fee to protect the taxpayers. He made it clear that certain residents file appeals to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) when they believe the Building Inspector has made a mistake. Filing with the ZBA is the first step and required before any appeal can be filed with the courts.

Murphy further explained that these appeals are costing the taxpayers and that those using the service of an appeal should pay.

No data was presented regarding costs that have been borne by the taxpayers, number of appeals or outcome of said appeals (how many were successful – proving the Building Inspector erred and the appeal was justified).

The proposal included a $1,000 cap for an appeal by any person owning property or residing within 400 feet of the property in question. It appeared that all agreed that that sum would be quickly met. Anyone living or owning property outside that radius would have to pay for all related professional fees when filing an appeal which could be significant.

Several members of the public, including both a previous and current member of the ZBA and some previous appellants, spoke on this matter – all against it. The Board was reminded that previous Boards had considered similar proposals but backed away after public outcry. Several commentors stated that an appeal is not a service, it is a right guaranteed by the Constitution and the only available legal avenue in New York State. The need for professional consultants was questioned by former ZBA member Meg Yergin, as the ZBA has quasi-judicial powers and gets its authority from the State, has its own attorney, and should not need the Village to assign any outside consultants to assist in any appeals. Yergin also stated that the “imposition of this fee was a social and economic injustice to the residents wanting to exercise their constitutional right.” Current ZBA member, David Neufeld, a land use attorney, cited case law from the NYS courts striking down fees such as this.

These comments did not seem to matter as the Board voted 4-1 to enact the new fee. Trustee Yizar-Reid appeared to hesitate but voted in the affirmative, Trustee Lucas voted no.

Transparency does not appear to be a top priority in the Village. Looking closely at just three important issues shows that the public did not have complete information. More troubling is that it appears that neither did the Board members.


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