Town Clerk and Receiver of Taxes: Elected or Appointed?
March 31, 2015 Whether to change the elected positions of North Castle’s Town Clerk and Receiver of Taxes to appointed positions was the topic of the Town Board’s March 25 work session.
Although Supervisor Michael Schiliro says the operations and administration of the two departments work well, he wanted to have the discussion at this time because Town Clerk Anne Curran has announced that she will not seek re-election in November. Schiliro says the important issue is how to maintain the highest efficiency for the people who hold these jobs in the most fiscally responsible way.
He asked former Councilman Gerry Geist, who served on North Castle’s Town Board for 24 years, and former Supervisor Bill Weaver, who served on the Town Board for 18 years, two years as Supervisor, to speak on this matter.
Geist now serves as the Executive Director of the Association of Towns of New York that includes 932 towns. He says that New York State towns are diverse with the smallest town consisting of 34 people and the largest town with 820,000. The Association want its members to decide their own fate within the laws. Geist says the home rule allows local officials to legislate in the best way to make a difference in their community.
Schiliro wants to know what were the results of recent referendums in other towns that considered the switch from elected to appointed Town Clerk and Town Receiver? “Why do people vote for or against it?” asked Schiliro.
Most of the time, Geist says, towns that have the decisive referendums to switch from an elected to appointed Town Clerk position failed. No more than 5% of New York towns have appointed Town Clerks.
North Castle Town Clerk’s office has a great tradition of being an elected position, says Geist. He urged the Town Board to continue that tradition.
According to Town Board member Barbara DiGiacinto, the report of New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency & Competitiveness says appointed positions would allow for more flexibility in terms of shared services as opposed to elected official. So if we want to perhaps share the Receiver of Taxes, for example, with the Town of Bedford, it would be easier to do so if we had an appointed Receiver, than if we had an elected official.
While this discussion might be disconcerting to some people who hold the elected positions, DiGiacinto says, it’s the type of discussion that has to be held in public with transparency. The NYS Commission report says town governments, as well as school districts, should take a hard look at being efficient, fiscally responsible and consider how best to do that. “We can’t continue operating the way we have for decades,” she says. “Financially, it can’t be done.”
Town Clerks serve as a great resource and voice for the public. Geist asks, “Is it more important to have an independent voice elected by the people, or someone who is appointed by the Town Board, and therefore may not be independent?” If we don’t have a good Town Board, then an appointed Town Clerk who is indebted to the Town Board may present problems for the entire community, Geist says.
Working with three elected Town Clerks--Annmarie Kelly, Ann Leber and Anne Curran--Geist says the Town Clerk’s office should be an elected office as it has been an independent voice that has served as a “check and balance” of the local government. “The Town Clerk acts as a conduit for the public, a gateway to information that takes politics out of the decisions of the Town Clerk’s office because the decisions are for the betterment of the people. It’s less political if you have an independent Town Clerk because she makes decisions in the best interest of the people who elected them, the public.”
The independence of the office is essential, says Geist. The character of the people who have served as North Castle’s Town Clerks, going back to Joe Miller, who served for 35 years, and Kathleen Ann Baroni, has always been stellar. We’ve never had a situation where there was not a qualified person who ran for the position. “The public has made wise decisions about who they entrusted to serve.”
There is no fiscal impact on the Town’s finances if these positions are elected or appointed, says Geist, because either way the Town Board sets the salaries.
Geist, who ran for six terms, said one of the best things to do in public service is to run for office, meet with people and talk with them. If the Town Clerk were appointed, she wouldn’t have to do that because she wouldn’t be obligated to the people.
Town Clerk Anne Curran agrees with Geist. She says the Town Clerk’s position should be elected. “The obligation is to the office, to the public and to work with the Town Board…. But it’s a different position because it stands as a gateway to the public.”
As a matter of note, there is currently no sitting Deputy Clerk because Barbara Pesquera, who works in the Town Clerk’s office, is not a North Castle resident. Although she is qualified for the job, says Curran, she can’t serve because she is not a resident.
A letter written by Ann Leber, the former Town Clerk, says the Town Clerk position should remain elected in order to maintain the integrity and independence of the position. “As an elected official, the Town Clerk serves without regard to party affiliation and this is essential to the proper function of the office that has worked successfully in North Castle. Even during contentious years of the previous administration, the Town Clerk was able to protect and defend, and to speak in the best interest of the residents without fear of losing her job. The performance of the Town Clerk is judged by the public who elects her.”
In the last 75 years, North Castle has had only five Town Clerks. Leber goes on to say, “Appointing Town Clerks can remove the stability of a long serving Town Clerk… The office would be harmed by a revolving door of occupants.”
Bill Weaver says he does not have an opinion either way, but asked, “If the Town Clerk were appointed, is that person more beholden to the Town Board who appointed them?”
As the Town Clerk’s position is up for election in November, Weaver asked if the sitting Town Board were interested to change the positions to appointment, would they hold an election for a referendum after the general election? Or would the Town Board consider to hold a special election before the general election this year? Weaver suggested that the Town Board not waste the money on a special election, as was done on the Ward election, but rather call for a referendum at a same time as the regular election.
Schiliro said an election for Town Clerk or Receiver of Taxes doesn’t preclude this board, or any board in the future, to evaluate both positions if nothing is done this year.
Geist says he doesn’t want to jeopardize anyone’s job, but he says the Receiver of Taxes is much more administrative than the Town Clerk, and should be considered in the future to change this to an appointed position. The Tax Receiver works hand-in-hand with the Town’s Finance Department. In New York State, Geist says, there are more Tax Receivers who are appointed rather than elected.
Weaver says the Tax Receiver’s office is in charge of calculating the school taxes, town taxes and is important in running the finances of the town and therefore it’s critical to have someone who understands the job. He agrees with Geist, and says the office could be better served by appointment.
The Town of New Castle has the only appointed Town Clerk in Westchester County. She is also serves as the Receiver of Taxes. This is a concept that perhaps we should consider in terms of efficiency, and perhaps there is some fiscal savings, says DiGiacinto.
John Diaconis, resident of Armonk, said he understands that change is hard, as it was challenging for the Town to hire a town administrator. He says North Castle’s Town Receiver is an administrative position that collects the Town’s taxes four times a year. Diaconis asked the Board to consider putting up the referendum to change the election of Tax Receiver to appointed position at the November 2015 election; he also asked the Town Boad to consider to abolish the Tax Receiver’s position and roll it into the finance department after the current term expires in two years.
Diaconis points to other departments in neighboring towns. He says the Village of Pleasantville completely abolished the Tax Receiver position and has an appointed village Town Clerk. Their taxes are collected by the finance department.
He adds that Mount Kisco has also abolished the Town Clerk position and those responsibilities are assumed by the Town Manager. Mount Kisco has converted the Receiver of Taxes to a hired position. Briarcliff converted both positions from elected positions to hired positions.
The North Castle Town Board members concluded the work session in an unanimous agreement that the Town Clerk’s office should remain elected. But the majority of the Town Board members--DiGiacinto, Barry Reiter and Steve D’Angelo--said at a later date they would like to explore the possibility of merging the two offices of Town Clerk and Receiver of Taxes. There will be no change to these positions in the November 2015 election.
Anne Curran says she is happy to speak with candidates who are interested in running for the office.
Retired Officials Challenge Supreme Court’s Decision on Health Insurance Premiums
March 16, 2015 A group of 17 petitioners, who filed and lost a lawsuit against the Town of North Castle and the Town Board members, filed a Notice of Appeal to the Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department on February 25, 2015.
A Notice of Appeal is the legal document filed after a case has been decided to let the other side know you are appealing from a Court’s decision.
In order for a judgment to be appealed, the Notice of Appeal must be filed within 30 days of a receipt of a decision. The decision being appealed was rendered by Supreme Court Justice Lester B. Adler on January 30, 2015. Judge Adler declared that the petitioners’ claims lacked merit and rejected all of their arguments.
The petitioners include North Castle’s current and retired elected officials, department heads, and deputy department heads.
The petitioners’ retiree insurance benefits provided by the Town were either eliminated or sharply reduced in 2012 when the Arden Administration approved an amended “Town of North Castle Comprehensive and Benefits Manual.” The modifications required 100% of contributions for petitioners who were retired Town-elected officials. The petitioners sought to declare the 2012 document illegal.
Judge Adler ruled that the Town Board’s Resolutions of June 27, 2012 were legal and was a legitimate exercise of its legislative authority. Furthermore, he said, the rights to the benefits are purely the result of legislative action taken by the Town Board.
Many of the petitioners had worked for the Town for nearly 30 years and had been promised full benefits to be paid by the Town after working for at least the agreed number of years. Prior to 2012, some of the petitioners, who had retired, received a letter from the Town Clerk stating that they had worked the required amount of years and they began to receive the promised insurance benefits. Justice Adler ruled that the Town Clerk “lacked the authority to bind the Town to the insurance benefit assurances.”
The Notice of Appeal said the Supreme Court ruled that petitioners could not justifiably rely on the retiree health insurance because the Town Board adopted a resolution in 2009 stating that premium contributions were subject to change. However, the petitioners’ Notice of Appeal argues that “the Supreme Court overlooked that the 2009 policy only applied to premium contributions for active, not retired, Town officials.”
The Notice of Appeal enumerates the following issues on appeal:
Did the town unlawfully modify the retired petitioners’ benefits?
Did the Town Clerk, who wrote retirement letters that offered 100% benefits, have the authority to bind a contract on the Town’s behalf?
Were the Civil Service Law and Regulations “violated by the Town, requiring elected officials to shoulder 100% of the premium contribution cost for coverage”?
Was there a violation of constitutional separation of powers by reducing the compensation of a sitting judge?
The health benefit modifications from 2012 required not only that the current and retired elected officials, but future town judges as well, pay 100% of the premium for the health insurance benefits provided by the Town. The sitting judge in June 2012 had retired in December 2013.
The petitioners have six months from the Notice of Appeal to file opening legal briefs. Then the Town has 30 days to respond. The Appellate Division will then hear the oral arguments, and ask questions before they convene to make a decision. A decision is not expected before 2016.
N.Y. Supreme Court Judge Denies Suit by Retired Officials Challenging Increased Health Ins. Premiums
February 12, 2015 Seventeen North Castle employees, including current and retired elected officials, department heads and deputy department heads, lost a lawsuit against the Town of North Castle and its Town Board under article 78 of New York’s Civil Practice Laws and Rules (CPLR) before the New York State Supreme Court on October 24, 2012.
The Town’s prior health, dental and vision insurance benefits program, provided through the New York Statewide Health Insurance Plan (NYSHIP) and other carriers, had paid the entire premium costs for elected officials, department heads and deputy heads. When they retired, the town provided benefits of a “varying percentage of the premium costs based” on fixed number of years of service.
On June 27, 2012, under former Supervisor Howard Arden’s administration, North Castle approved a new “Town of North Castle Comprehensive and Benefits Manual” for town employees and elected officials. The health benefit modifications required that current and retired elected officials and future town judges pay 100% of the premium for the health insurance benefits provided by the town. All employees, including the current department heads, are to pay 30% of their health care premiums, and retired department heads and deputy department heads are to pay 15% of the premiums. Dental and vision insurance benefits were eliminated for any retirees who were not contractually entitled to them.
At the Town Board’s meeting on February 11, Arden said there were about 35 employees and retirees who were effected by the modifications, which provided a significant savings to the town of about $70,000.
The employees argued that by adopting the 2012 health benefits resolutions, the town and Town Board violated the New York State Constitution and regulatory law. The plaintiffs stated that the Town gave oral assurances that they would receive the previous benefits in perpetuity.
On January 30, 2015, Supreme Court Justice Lester B. Adler ruled that the “petitioners’ claims lack merit.” He denied the plaintiffs’ suit under article 78 of the CPLR. Judge Adler declared that the Town Board’s “resolutions of June 27, 2012 were legal and are not null and void.”
“Since the petitioners were non-unionized,” said Judge Adler, they “did not benefit from negotiated contracts that established their employment terms.” Furthermore, he said, “their rights to benefits are purely the result of the Town Board’s legislative action,” including the 2012 amended resolutions. Adler further said that the “actions by the Town Board in June 2012 were a legitimate exercise of its legislative authority.”
The petitioners also claimed that the 2012 actions breached the Town’s contractual obligations set forth in retirement letters written by the Town Clerk.
Adler ruled that there was no binding contract between the plaintiffs and the town. The letters from the Town Clerk that some of the petitioners received when they retired were not binding because the Town Clerk lacked the authority to enter into any contract on the town’s behalf.
“But you can argue that the Town Clerk had the apparent authority of the Town Board,” says Town Attorney Roland Baroni.
North Castle adopted an “Employee Benefits Handbook” in 2009. In that handbook, the Town Board reserved its right to change benefit terms in the future. Judge Adler said the Board was entitled to rescind benefits that it had earlier bestowed on the retired employees because a municipal resolution is “a unilateral action that is temporary in nature and … does not create any vested contractual rights.”
Arden had sent letters to the petitioners on July 30, 2012. His letters outlined new monthly health-benefit contributions that would take effect on October 1, 2012. He explained that the action taken was an effort to reduce costs and meet the financial challenges facing New York State, Westchester County and particularly North Castle. Arden also said, “we worked hard to create a more sustainable employee benefit package, while maintaining the quality of medical care you are accustomed to.”
Arden said when he came into office the non-union employees were eligible for free medical benefits, which seemed unfair since union employees had been paying for health coverage for about 10 years.
Was the modification in benefits a cost savings measure? asked Ed Lobermann, a North White Plains resident who frequently comments on issues at Town Board meetings. The court ruled that the town had a legal right to change the benefits, added Lobermann, “but that doesn’t mean it was morally or ethically right.”
“You can’t convince me it’s right that someone who has been working for 20 to 30 years for this town, and retired and then it’s decided that the town is going to save a lot of money and say to those retirees, ‘You have to pay 30% of your premium.’” “When they retired,” continued Lobermann, “they retired under the assumption that they were entitled to full benefits. What the town did is put some of these employees in a financial position that is unwarranted. The Town won the court case legally, morally it was reprehensible.”
“Don’t you think at the point you retire, you ought to know what your benefits are?” says Baroni. Adler’s decision will have wide reaching impacts, added Baroni. “Think of all the school district administrators in the state. Everybody who retires and is not protected by a union contract won’t know what their benefits will be going forward. What we will find, if the Adler decision sticks, is that everybody is going to want a contract. Or they are going to find a way to unionize. All the school administrators who aren’t covered by a contract are going to form some sort of union or managerial association.”
Civil service law says insurance benefits through NYSHIP require an employee to pay no more than 50% of the premium. But the 2012 benefits manual requires town supervisors, board members and future justices to pay 100% of their insurance premiums. Aetna Health Insurance Plan was offered as a lower cost alternative for a while to retirees, but Baroni said he didn’t think anybody ever choose that option because the Aetna plan offered fewer benefits. But, he asked, “Why would Judge Adler say the offering of a second insurance option makes the rule that no employee is to pay more than 50% non-applicable? The logic of that escaped me.” Baroni says, “We’ll have to wait and see if someone wants to appeal on this and the other issues.”
North Castle Police Chief Harisch Steps Down to Gain Protection of Civil Service from Town Administrator Goldberg’s Harassment
May 16, 2014 Police Chief Geoffrey Harisch has handed in his resignation as probationary Police Chief after being appointed on August 10, 2013, only nine months on the job. In a letter of resignation presented to the Town Board dated May 15, 2014, Harisch says, “It is with substantial regret and humility that I step back down to my union-protected position of Police Lieutenant.”
Harisch further says the Town Administrator and Town Board have unreasonably hampered him from performing his daily official duties as Chief of Police. Harisch claims the collaborative effort between the Town Board and Administrator Goldberg has prevented him from promoting North Castle Police Officers into positions that the Town Board budgeted for in the 2014. Harisch goes on to say these promotions “would likely reduce the Police Department’s current disproportionate supervisory overtime expense problem.”
Harisch says he anticipates that Town Administrator Joan Goldberg’s “retaliatory harassment and deception will continue in various ways after he resumes his position as Lieutenant;” however, he says the Police Benevolent Association will protect him under the New York State Civil Service Law as a lieutenant against any of Goldberg’s conduct and the Town Board’s apathy. Harisch says his only refuge left is to protect himself in the union position as police lieutenant.
Months after filing harassment charges in a Notice of Claim filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and attempting to negotiate a settlement with Town Board members; Supervisor Mike Schiliro, Steve D’Angelo, and Barry Reiter, Harisch says his attempt to avoid litigation has failed. Harisch’s allegations of harassment and filing a Notice of Claim against the Town of North Castle, Goldberg and the Town Board was made on January 16, 2014. Harisch’s requested the Town Board to not rehire Joan Goldberg. Goldberg was fired on December 20, 2013 by a majority vote of the outgoing Arden administration for supposedly violating rules of conduct. Three weeks after Goldberg's firing, the newly elected Schiliro administration said that, based upon a private investigation, there was “no evidence of any unlawful or actionable conduct” by Goldberg. Subsequently, she was rehired on January 20, 2014.
In the past 18 months, North Castle has had problems retaining a Police Chief. Harisch was appointed Probationary Chief after Robert D’Angelo, who retired as Police Chief in January 2013, after 40 years on the force, was replaced by Lt. William Fisher who was appointed Provisional Chief by the Arden Administration. Three North Castle Police Lieutenants were eligible to take the required Police Chief exam, sponsored by Westchester County. Harisch received the highest score of the three and was offered the Chief’s position and accepted the appointment in August 2013. Lt. Fischer retired from the North Castle Police force last month after 35 years. Town Administrator Joan Goldberg says the Police Examination is held in March 2015 and to her knowledge, Westchester County won’t hold a special police chief exam simply because there is a vacancy.
As one of his last financial duties as Chief of Police, Harisch demands that an outside and independent auditor conduct a review of the compensatory police overtime time records dating back to 2000, when the Department was first accredited by New York State. In February 2014, the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office Public Integrity Bureau responded to the request of North Castle’s Town Board to investigate Harisch’s allegations of abuses in reporting overtime scheduling in the Police Department. The Bureau referred the matter back to the Town for “whatever administrative action is deemed appropriate.”
Normally, Goldberg says, the Town would look at all the available candidates from within the department, but given the circumstance they might want to look in a different direction. The Town Board will evaluate their options in-house or the other options. The preference is not to look outside of the Department, which rarely happens, says Goldberg. When there is no current list to fulfill the Chief of Police position, typically the commissioners, who in North Castle’s case, are the five Town Board members, would appoint someone provisionally until the police exam is taken and passed in March. They may appoint someone as Probationary Chief for anywhere between twelve to 52 weeks. Harisch, by his choice, was appointed as Probationary Chief for one year.
Under the Civil Service law, says Goldberg, any civil service position that has been promoted in a probationary superior position has retreat rights if the position were not to work out, that protects the employee’s lower position, in this case Harisch’s desire to step back to Lieutenant. Harisch has served the North Castle Police Department for 27 years. His request is that his resignation go into effect as of May 31, 2014 to give the Town Board time to replace him. He plans to continue his service in the North Castle Police Department until the age of retirement at full pension until he at 62.
The Town Board will meet in an executive session to discuss the personal issue and consider all the possibilities.
If they were to appoint one commission to replace the five town board members who are now the Town’s Police Commissioners, that does not eliminate the need for a Police Chief, says Goldberg.
Jason Berland, attorney for Harisch, says the Town was a given one last opportunity to avoid a lawsuit filed by Harisch by disassociating themselves with Joan Goldberg and they refused to due so. "Therefore, it was a time for Chief of Police Harisch to step down and take this to the courts," says Berland.
Berland continues that Harisch intends to file a lawsuit against the Town and Joan Goldberg, probably before his effective date of resignation as police chief. Berland is also representing his wife, Faith Berland, in an EEOC claim of harassment filed against the Town and Goldberg; Faith Berland resigned as Town Comptroller in December 2013, prior to filing her suit. Jason Berland also advised North Castle employee, Nancy Hall and her husband, who are black, when they also filed a notice of claim of discrimination with the EEOC against Goldberg and the Town when he was not hired for a Town parks position; Nancy Hall continues to be employed in the Town’s Court Clerk office.
Supervisor Mike Schiliro says, "We thank Geoffrey for his past and continued service to our town and exceptional police department.”
Town Administrator Re-Appointed by New Town Board
January 10, 2014 North Castle's Town Board unanimously re-appointed Town Administrator Joan Goldberg 20 days after the former majority of the prior Town Board fired her. Supervisor Michael Schiliro read a prepared statement at the January 8, 2014 Town Board meeting of the results of private investigations of allegations of harassment and racial discrimination against the Town Board and Town Administrator Joan Goldberg. The findings showed "no evidence of any unlawful or actionable conduct by the Town Administrator. Accordingly, we will now entertain a motion to reconsider re-employment of Joan Goldberg upon the same terms and conditions as her previous contract."
The previous Town Board had initiated two separate and independent investigations after an attorney representing Town Comptroller Faith Berland submitted a copy of a cease-and-desist letter of harassment on November 8, to the Town that had been addressed to Town Administrator, Joan Goldberg. That letter was signed by a partner in Ms. Berland's husband's law firm. On December 24th, a second allegation was made against the Town and Joan Goldberg, based on racial discrimination. The investigations were completed for the new Town Board prior to Wednesday's meeting.
North Castle Town Attorney Roland Baroni said two independent investigations against the Town and the Town Administrator that had been requested by the prior Town Board were investigated by Keane and Bean who interviewed everyone involved, "including the people who were alleged of committing that conduct." The one exception was the claimant of the alleged racial discrimination, Conroy Hucey, who is the husband of a town employee, who was advised by legal counsel, Jason Berland, not to be interviewed.
Jason Berland spoke on behalf of his wife, Faith Berland who resigned on January 6, 2014 as North Castle's Town Comptroller. Berland's law firm, Beys Stein Mobargha & Berland LLP, represents Ms. Berland in an imminent litigation against the Town and Ms. Goldberg.
Baroni said that because the timing was paramount, the request and the investigation report were all done verbally. He said that the investigators found no unlawful or actionable conduct and that the results from the investigations were reported in person by Keane & Bean to the Town Board in an executive session.
"We have been fully apprised that the [United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] EEOC will be conducting its own investigation," said Baroni. "It is clear what the Town Board's action was, based on legal advice that they received from special labor counsel."
Baroni had requested from Jason Berland the actual two-page complaint of racial discrimination filed by Conroy Hucey with the EEOC. Berland, assisting Hucey with the filing of the complaint, said he was advised by EEOC not to deliver the actual complaint to the Town. However, Baroni said it is unlikely that the EEOC advised Berland not to share the complaint.
"The cloak and dagger of who-did-what-to-whom has to stop," said Baroni. "We had to have the facts." No one should be terminated on allegations.
After the January 8th Town Board meeting, Mr. Berland accused both Schiliro and Baroni of misleading the public by stating they had the claim that was filed with the EEOC.
Baroni countered Mr. Berland and confirmed that he was in possession of the complaint. After the meeting Baroni said, "I would not state publicly that I had it, if I didn't. I have it."
On Wednesday afternoon, before the Town Board's executive session prior to the Town Board meeting, Baroni said he had reviewed the complaint that was filed with the EEOC and that it confirmed that they had interviewed the right people for the investigation.
Baroni said Goldberg's new contract will be written the same as the old contract, expiring on September 20, 2014. The one condition of Goldberg coming back is that she waive her conditional entitlement to a $67,500 termination fee.
Schiliro said that when Goldberg's contract expires on September 20, 2014, the Town Board will evaluate the potential vacancy like any other and that they will assess the employee's performance and determine the next steps after that review and evaluation.
North Castle Comptroller Faith Berland Resigns
January 8, 2014 Upon her return from holiday vacation, North Castle Comptroller Faith Berland submitted her resignation. In a letter addressed to the Town Board, dated January 6, 2014, Ms. Berland said, "I cannot in good conscience work in the Schiliro administration due to the lack of conviction, integrity and decency of Supervisor Michael Schiliro and Councilman Steven D'Angelo."
D'Angelo responded, "I'm in a business for 30 years where integrity is paramount. Anyone who knows me well knows that this (Ms. Berland's) is not a true statement."
Jason Berland, an attorney with Beys Stein Mobargha & Berland LLP, representing his wife, Faith Berland, says he received an e-mail from the Town Attorney, Roland Baroni, dated December 28, 2013. The e-mail made it clear that the new Town Board will interview other candidates for the comptroller's job, said Berland. Baroni's e-mail said, Faith Berland will be a holdover as Comptroller.
A holdover is a common action taken by an incoming town board before it re-appoints or replaces an appointed position which allows the new board time to see how the team will work together. Ms. Berland had been appointed comptroller by the prior town board and was hired in September 2012. D'Angelo said, "Since we have a new board coming in, we have not been able to talk about any expiring position. In all the cases, starting today at the executive session, we are able to evaluate the positions as a group. Otherwise," D'Angelo continued, "it would have been illegal and wrong to do. The comptroller's position was to continue as a holdover until the person is reappointed or replaced."
Ms. Berland considered the holdover status to be in retaliation for her accusations of workplace harassment of "verbal abuse and bullying tactics" towards herself by Town Administrator Joan Goldberg. A cease-and-desist letter addressed to Goldberg from Berland's husband's law partner was filed with the Town on November 8, 2013.
Ms. Berland's January 6th letter further state, “Ms. Goldberg repeatedly worked on convincing Supervisor Schiliro that I was not qualified for the job due to my lack of municipal experience." Furthermore, "Supervisor Schiliro appears to have valued the advice of a divisive, vindictive and now unemployed woman over the hard facts of my success on behalf of the Town and its residents."
Goldberg was fired on December 20, 2013, without cause, by a majority vote of Howard Arden, John Cronin and Diane Roth, as one of their last actions taken as Town Board members. The trio fired Goldberg, according to a released statement by Arden prepared prior to that vote, for a violation of the Town's Rules of Conduct, specifically harassment, and the lack of performance. The appropriateness of that vote and statement should be reviewed due to possible negligence by Arden in that the rules of conduct had not been distributed to all town employees, according to Joan Goldberg.
At the December 20, 2013 Town Board special meeting, Supervisor-Elect Mike Schiliro and Town Board member Steve D'Angelo were opposed to firing Goldberg. Schiliro has not responded to a request for a comment prior to this publication.
Attorney Berland further stated, "Faith is astounded that she was not reappointed by Supervisor Schiliro based on her accomplishments as comptroller over the past 15 months. But she is not surprised because of her bringing light to Goldberg's actions caused political uneasiness for Schiliro."
In her January 6th letter, Ms. Berland writes further, "It was readily apparent to me after Supervisor Schiliro's and Councilman D'Angelo's unwillingness to back the firing of Ms. Goldberg, that there was absolutely no chance I could work for or with either Supervisor Schiliro or Councilman D'Angelo."
Jason Berland said that his wife felt "undervalued." In an e-mail addressed to Michael Schiliro dated November 6, 2013, Ms. Berland wrote, Goldberg "has made a blatant and public attempt to tarnish my reputation in the eyes of members of the Board."
Leading up to the executive session of December 20, 2013, when there was talk about firing Goldberg, Ms. Berland's husband said that his wife "felt as if she was being forced out."
D'Angelo commented, "Using the term 'forced out' is totally incorrect." Albeit, D'Angelo said that he did not have enough contact with the comptroller's office to make a decision if Berland was "undervalued."
"At this point," Ms. Berland further wrote in the January 6 letter, "Supervisor Schiliro has made it clear that he does not support me and would like me to stay in my job solely until he finds my replacement…. I frankly have no interest in assisting him any further."
Mr. Berland has said that, "without a doubt," he will file a lawsuit on behalf of his wife if Goldberg is rehired. But if Goldberg is not hired back that "will factor into their decision making process to consider not filing a lawsuit."
D'Angelo said that he cannot comment at this point on the intentions of the new Town Board to deal with the Town Administrator position; it will be dealt with tonight. The item appears on the town agenda of the January 8 Town Board meeting under Old Business as “Status of Town Administrator vacancy.”
Mr. Berland further stated, "This was never about the money." Rather, it was that his wife's reputation was "damaged." But he says justice has been accomplished by the "Town's bully being run out of town."
Ms. Berland has asked that her resignation letter be publicly read aloud at the Town Board meeting on January 8 at 7:30 p.m.
Town Administrator, Joan Goldberg, Terminated By Outgoing Board
Updated December 31, 2013 North Castle’s first Town Administrator was fired by the outgoing Town Board at the December 20 Special Town meeting. Joan Goldberg, handpicked by Supervisor Arden in August 2012 at a salary of $135,000 per year, was terminated “without cause” by majority vote of Arden and Town Councilmen Diane Roth and John Cronin. Councilman and Supervisor-elect Michael Schiliro, along with Councilman Steve D’Angelo, opposed firing Goldberg. The action followed an executive session held by the group for over an hour prior to the Special Meeting. Two North Castle police officers stood on watch to escort Goldberg from the meeting after residents lined up to thank her for her service.
During the meeting, Councilman D’Angelo asked Arden to listen to the speakers who requested that the incoming Board deal with Goldberg in two weeks, after the swearing in. “Why are you making the decision to fire Goldberg now, rather than allowing the incoming Board to deal with this?” D’Angelo mentioned the contents of Arden’s latest newsletter, dated December 19, which reflected collaborative efforts with Goldberg, in which Arden touts the Town Board’s healthy financial position with the recent adoption of the 2014 budget with just over a 1 percent increase.
Schiliro, referencing Arden’s frequent vow to “run the Town like a business,” said, “What kind of business would tolerate an outgoing employee to make a last minute personnel change?”
Councilman-elect Barbara DiGiacinto agreed, “There is a responsibility to look at this issue carefully. I don’t think it is fair that you will vote on something and the three of you will exit. It just doesn’t seem right. It will be our problem no matter how you vote on it.”
“You all talk a lot about running this town like a business,” Supervisor Reese Berman said. “In my opinion, to me, government doesn’t run like a business. Government is government, and if you run the town like a business you run it like a bad business.” The Town Administrator position was established by the Berman administration in 2009, but it was determined, based upon public input, that the newly elected Town Board handle the Town Administrator's hiring.
The majority voting to terminate Goldberg refused to answer any questions from residents, instead Howard Arden released a prepared statement at the close of the meeting. The statement began, “Effective today the Town Board has voted to terminate the employment agreement of Town Administrator Joan Goldberg without cause...It is the view of the majority of the Town Board that Ms. Goldberg’s employment agreement should be terminated. The Board has been made aware of numerous instances when Ms. Goldberg appears to have violated the Rules of Conduct as proscribed in Section 2.6 of the Town of North Castle Employment Practices Compliance Manual. These actions are prohibited and would allow for immediate termination of employment.”
The actions referenced in the Manual are Section 2.6.2: Harassing [including sexual harassment], intimidating, coercing, threatening, assaulting, or creating a hostile environment against another employee, Elected Official, resident of the Town, or any other person…
According to Schiliro, [The Compliance Manual] “should affect all employees where applicable. It is not clear if it was distributed by Supervisor Arden to all employees after its adoption. If Supervisor Arden failed to distribute this document to all employees, as it appears to be, then it cannot be in effect.”
Arden’s statement further alleges that “it is the view of the majority of the Board that [Goldberg’s] performance has been lacking. Project management, interaction with residents, and information provided to the Board are among the areas in which Ms. Goldberg has fallen short of expected performance…. The majority of the Board feels this action is absolutely correct from a performance standpoint and will also put the Town in the best position to defend itself in the event that one of more of Ms. Goldberg’s subordinates chooses to pursue an action against the Town based on her conduct.
“The timing of [Goldberg’s] termination is not ideal with a brand new Board coming in. While the concerns regarding Ms. Goldberg have existed for some time, there was a belief that Ms. Goldberg would accept a position in New Castle following the election there, thus providing a tidier solution. That election did not go as expected and forced us to act affirmatively.”
After the meeting Goldberg explained that she had been approached for the position of Town Administrator for New Castle. “There are not many Town Administrators, so whenever there is movement--known as the Westchester Shuffle--there are not many experienced appointed government officials, so there was a possibility [in New Castle]. I never said I was going to take it. I was being courted for the position, but nothing was decided and if the other candidate won, there would probably have been an offer and we would have had a discussion.”
At least three North Castle employees have come forward with claims of harassment by Goldberg. They are considering filing various lawsuits including, but not limited to intentional infliction of negligible emotional distress caused by Goldberg. At least two of the legal actions depend on Goldberg’s future employment status in North Castle, according to an anonymous but reliable source.
In a letter addressed to Goldberg, dated November 8, the law firm of Beys, Stein, Mobargha & Berland demanded that all illegal behavior toward Town Comptroller Faith Berland cease and desist. The letter claims that “verbal abuse, bullying tactics and material misrepresentation to the North Castle Town Board have not only caused Ms. Berland great mental anguish and emotional distress, but have also irreparably harmed her professional reputation.”
After the meeting, Jason Berland, a partner in the law firm and the husband of Comptroller Faith Berland, stated that two other employees are claiming to have been harassed by Goldberg and have asked his firm to represent them as they consider a class action.
Goldberg was hired in tandem with Berland through a process in August 2012 that many in the town saw as unorthodox and suspect. Goldberg, the only candidate interviewed, had served as Comptroller for the Town of Yorktown when its newly elected Town Board voted in favor of a resolution for her to resign. She resigned under allegations that she had inappropriately written herself an $43,000 severance check, after taxes. That case is now in the State Supreme Court.
Berland, who was hired at a salary of $85,000, had no municipal experience. Her background included 12 years as a director of finance at Thomson Reuters in the IT and services industry, working there with John Cronin. Jason Berland said that his wife did not seek the Comptroller position, but was approached. At the time of the hire, Supervisor Arden said that Goldberg could teach Berland the requisite skills to function as a Town Comptroller.
When hired, Goldberg signed a two-year contract with North Castle which expires in September 2014. A severance clause in the contract triggers a six-month termination fee if she is terminated without cause. The termination fee amounts to $67,000. “It’s an expense to the taxpayers that Supervisor Arden failed to budget for,” Schiliro said. “If added to next year’s budget, it would raise homeowner’s taxes by approximately ½ of 1 percent to pay an individual not to work. It calls into question the fiduciary responsibility of the three individuals who made this decision as they are leaving office in less than ten days.”
As North Castle’s new Town Board is not yet constituted, dealing with the issues of the Town Administrator will be done in 2014, Schiliro noted.
Goldberg commented that since there has been no discussion yet of what the new Town Board will do, she has not decided on any legal action. Arden’s released statement and comments from others “have no merit,” according to Goldberg, “so I don’t think this action damages me professionally. I stand on my reputation and the work that I’ve done.”
The Special meeting was opened when Arden, Cronin, and Roth entered the Town Hall meeting room without Schiliro or D’Angelo, who both arrived late.The three huddled in the corner and quickly made a motion to open the Special meeting and then immediately adjourned it to go into private executive session where they were joined by the two remaining Councilmen for over an hour, when they returned and announced Goldberg’s termination.
Questions have been raised about Arden, Cronin, and Roth coming to a decision about Goldberg and preparing a statement in private, not at a public meeting as required by New York State’s Open Meetings Law.
Supervisor Arden Bids Farewell
December 12, 2013 As his only term comes to an end on December 31, 2013, Supervisor Howard Arden closed the last Town Board meeting of that term on December 11, 2013 with the following statement:
"I want to say thanks to all who have expressed kindness to me and support in my efforts and hard work. This has been one of the best experiences of my life and one of the reasons is that I have gotten to meet so many wonderful residents in North Castle. It has reinforced my belief that North Castle is truly a great place to live.
"I need to offer some special thanks to all the town employees for whom I have had the pleasure of working with during the past two years, especially my department heads. I believe that North Castle is in very capable hands as I step down. Most of all, I would like to thank my retiring fellow Town Board members, John Cronin and Diane Roth. Without their advice, support and votes, I could not have brought North Castle to the 21st century.
"I am proud of our accomplishments and know they will benefit the town residents for many years to come. Thank you all and God Bless you. And have a very, merry Christmas."
Arden and Cronin were defeated in the town-wide election on November 8, both by a wide margin; Ms. Roth was defeated earlier in the Republican primary on September 10th and did not appear on the November ballot. Arden, Cronin and Roth were also defeated in primaries to appear on the Independence and Conservative lines.
Michael Schiliro, Barbara DiGiacinto and Barry Reiter take office on January 2, 2014 as North Castle Town Supervisor and Town Councilmen, respectively.
Long-time North Castle Employee Wants to Set Record Straight
December 11, 2013 A full-time employee for North Castle's Building Department for 33 years, Linda DiFiore retired on August 2011, receiving customary retirement benefits from the Town and the New York State Retirement System. For the 25 years preceding her retirement, she served as the Senior Office Assistant. She also served as secretary for the Architectural Review Board (ARB) and Zoning Boards for Appeals (ZBA).
Shortly after retiring, DiFiore was recruited by Rich Fon, then head of the Public Works Department, to work for the Town on a part-time basis. She received $41 per hour for the 21 hours per week she worked fulfilling similar responsibilities to those she had during her full-time employment. After one year, a majority of the Town Board, including Supervisor Howard Arden and Town Board members John Cronin and Diane Roth, voted to eliminate DiFiore's position. Shortly afterwards, the Town Board hired a part-time employee at $26 per hour for 17 hours a week with an additional $300 per month for ARB and ZBA secretarial responsibilities.
After DiFiore was terminated, she filed two lawsuits against the town: the first was an employment discrimination complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights (SDHR), and the second was filed under Article 78 of New York Civil Practice Law. A third lawsuit, filed by the Town’s Civil Service Union, was decided in favor of the union, with the court finding that a union employee cannot be replaced by a non-union worker. The new employee must become an union member and the Town must adhere to the guidelines set for a union worker.
In August 2013, Arden said, "the SDHR dismissed her complaint, finding no evidence of discrimination by the Town." The second lawsuit, still awaits judgment.
DiFiore has written a letter in response "to all the misinformation and omissions of information Supervisor Arden has taken the liberty to state in a public forum about me. First and foremost, you must know that I am a dedicated Town of North Castle resident; and a dedicated, committed, and former Town of North Castle employee." DiFiore requested that her letter be read aloud at the Town Board meeting on December 11, 2013.
In the letter, DiFiore stated that Supervisor Arden had approached Fon and two members of the ZBA to sign affidavits confirming DiFiore's "poor job performance." According to DiFiore, "Mr. Fon flatly refused his [Arden's] request." Fon now works for the Town of Greenburgh.
The two members of ZBA, including the board’s president, resigned when asked to sign affidavits stating that DiFiore was doing an inadequate job in her capacity as Secretary. However, within a few days both of the ZBA members had rescinded their resignations without signing the affidavits and no further explanation was given.
In the Town Board meeting revised agenda notification dated December 10, the letter from Linda DiFiore, former employee of Building Department, was removed by Supervisor Arden after it appeared as an attachment to the Town Board's December 11 meeting agenda.
August 16, 2013 Geoffrey Harisch, a 26-year veteran of the North Castle Police force, has been appointed North Castle’s Chief of Police. His appointment, announced by the Town Board at its August 14 meeting, is effective as of August 10, 2013. At the meeting, dozens of fellow officers, friends, and family of Harisch came to show support for the appointment.
According to Supervisor Howard Arden, Harisch has done practically every job on the force as he has risen steadily through the ranks of the North Castle Police, "Geoffrey Harisch is taking the reins as our new Police Chief and we all look forward to working with him."
Harisch is filling the position vacated by Chief Robert D'Angelo who retired in January 2013. D'Angelo worked his way up the ranks as well and was named Police Chief in 1991. Lt. William Fisher was appointed as Provisional Chief following D'Angelo’s retirement.
In March 2013, three department lieutenants were eligible to take the Police Chief examination. After the Police Chief test results were received, Lt. Harisch was the only officer eligible to become Police Chief.
Harisch said, "I'm looking forward to serving the town and have covered every aspect and done every task. A lot of people know me in this town and I intend to do my best."
Harisch started as a patrolman for the North Castle Police Department in April of 1987. About four years later, he was promoted to the rank of Detective, at which he served for three years. During his tenure as a detective, Harisch was named youth officer beginning in 1991. He was then promoted to Sergeant, while retaining the youth officer title with those duties for five years.
During the time he was Sergeant, Harisch revamped the Department’s property management system of evidence and other items that were taken into the department. He also revamped the police candidate hiring investigation with the assistance of Sergeant Dennis Murray. Harisch ran the tours around the clock as all patrol sergeants do.
Harisch was involved with the first North Castle Police Department vehicle enforcement unit to safely move trucks within a five mile radius of North Castle. The truck enforcement officer has to be well versed in transportation law and tax law, said Harisch. “We still currently have a vehicle enforcement unit, but it hasn't been active,” according to Harisch. He commented that he would like to get the vehicle enforcement unit up and running again. This would involve working with a certified person from the New York State Department of Transportation and using weighing scales from the State Police, County Police, or Yorktown Police.
In September 2004, Harisch became Lieutenant and one of the administrators of the police department. As Lieutenant, he was both the patrol division commander and youth division commander.
As the new Police Chief, Harisch's main goals are to focus on enhancing the overall proficiency of every aspect of North Castle's police department. He wants to reduce as much redundancy in police work as possible. He said, “I am trying to find ways to reduce the overtime compensation and work with the departmental budget.”
"I'm an advocate of participative management, holding staff meetings with all my supervisors and brainstorming. I want suggestions from every officer. Brainstorming with your staff periodically is a lot more effective than trying to come up with all the answers on your own."
Harisch seeks to keep the police officers trained in all current situations, recalling recent events in Columbine and Newtown, "A lot of things have changed over time, the rapid deployment and waiting for tactical teams is no longer effective. The focus has been to train the beat cop, not an in-depth tactical training, but it's basic training. The officer still contacts the tactical team to respond to a call, but in the meantime, an officer would have to take immediate tactical response." According to Harisch, that requires up-to-date training of the latest tactics and techniques. He will try to keep the training local and might possibly try to work with the Bedford Police Department in doing a joint tactical training for rapid response.
The town has been very receptive to the equipment requests, said Harisch, noting that the Town Board recently approved a couple of new police cars as well as the new Records Management System (RMS). "We went back to the enhanced Police Pro System that is the main dispatch system for when people call in. The call is recorded and everything is done through the RMS. The RMS system is also in the patrol cars to generate reports.” Harisch added that he would like to add everything into Police Pro, including the evidence and property management. The goal is to try and go paperless as much as possible.
In 2008, North Castle's Police Department had 40 officers; today there are 31 officers. Harisch said that he would like to see an increase in the department's police officers to 35 or 36 officers to address the overtime and safety issues. But he understands the determination has to be made with the cost concerns of benefits and other monetary aspects of hiring new police officers.
Harisch was pleased by the amount of support shown by fellow officers, along with family and friends at the Town Board meeting. "I'm very happy about that,” Harisch said. “The members of the department are supportive and it is appreciated. I'd like to thank God, family and loved ones, friends, and all of my co-workers for the positive encouragement."
At the August 14 Town Board meeting, Supervisor Howard Arden said that it was his pleasure to announce two personnel promotions within the same family. Police Chief Harisch's younger brother Matt Harisch was promoted to Lead Mechanic of North Castle's Highway Department. Matt Harisch has been a mechanic in North Castle's Highway Department garage since 2005. Arden said Matt has a great deal of interest in automating the process to improve the town's motor vehicle fleet and to get the vehicle maintenance records online.
“I managed other fleets,” said Matt Harisch, “and I look forward to improving the town's vehicle equipment, along with a wonderful crew who have been doing this job for a long time.” He joked that he will try to get the fleet into the 20th century. Harisch's appointment as lead mechanic will go into effect as of August 19, 2013.
Discrimination Complaint Against North Castle Dismissed
August 13, 2013 In an email on August 12, 2013, Supervisor Howard Arden said that the New York State Division of Human Rights has dismissed a discrimination complaint against the town by Linda DiFiore, a former employee of North Castle's building department.
Last year, DiFiore retired after having worked in the building department for over 30 years. DiFiore was asked by Rich Fon, who at the time was both North Castle's Building Inspector and its head of the Public Works Department, to stay on part-time. Linda retired under an agreement made with the Weaver administration and was appointed to a part-time position.
At the North Castle Town Board meeting on August 15, 2012, Supervisor Arden said that he wanted to eliminate the senior office manager position that DiFiore had held in the building department. There are two office managers with the same titles, said Arden at the time, and that did not make sense. "So we are abolishing one of those positions. We can hire an entry level clerk with no benefits at $26 per hour compared to $41 per hour with sick days and vacation pay even though it is a part-time position."
DiFiore, filed an employment-discrimination complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights (SDHR) after she was terminated. In the recent email, Arden said, "the SDHR dismissed her complaint, finding no evidence of discrimination by the Town."
Even though the Civil Service Employee Association representative supported the union member as best as she could, said Arden a year ago, "we felt DiFiore had no grounds for suing the town."
Councilman John Cronin also says that the town government has the flexibility to make staffing decisions.
Does North Castle Need a Police Commissioner? Editorial by Michelle Boyle
Updated July 24, 2013 On July 10, 2013, North Castle Town Board had a public hearing scheduled to "consider a local law to amend the Town Code to establish the position of Police Commissioner." The agenda item was pulled at that Town Board meeting and the leadership role of the North Castle Police Department will be readdressed either at an August or September Town Board meeting.
The proposed law said the purpose of establishing a Police Commissioner is to provide an efficient, thorough and responsive administration of the Police Department in the Town of North Castle. The Commissioner was to replace the five Town Board members who are the existing Board of Commissioners.
North Castle's Police Department's three lieutenants took the police chief exam on March 23, 2013. The three lieutenants are William Fisher, a 30-plus year veteran in the department, Geoffrey Harisch, a 26-year veteran and Lieutenant Peter Simonsen, a 23-year veteran. At the North Castle's Town Board meeting on January 9, 2013, Supervisor Howard Arden proposed Lieutenant William Fisher to serve as Provisional Chief of the North Castle Police Department after the retirement of Police Chief Robert D'Angelo, who served 41 years on the force.
The eligibility list from the Department of Human Resources Recruitment & Selection Division says that the Police Chief exam for North Castle that was taken in March 2013 was passed by only Geoffrey Harisch. The written police chief test is an unusually challenging exam with multiple-choice questions and a difficult reading section with three reference passages accompanied by questions.
The proposed law makes the Commissioner the overall hands-on executive to direct and administrate the activities of the Town's police department. The Commissioner's duties are to include making appointments, promotions, and removing employees. The Chief of Police, under the direction of the Commissioner, would have command responsibilities for the day-to-day operations of the Department.
Only one lieutenant of North Castle's Police Department is eligible to be police chief, said the Assistant Director of Communications at Westchester County's Department of Human Resources.
Did the fact that only one of the lieutenants passed the police chief exam prompt the Town Board to create the position of Police Commissioner? Why would the Town Board want to appoint a Commissioner of Police, who is to serve at their pleasure, which creates another layer of administration in the Police Department?
Councilman Steve D'Angelo said the Town Board's consensus was that a police commissioner would not serve the Police Department well and there would be no benefit to the town. North Castle Police Department has never had a Commissioner.
A phone call to the Supervisor's office was not returned.
Citations Recognize Emergency Response of Armonk Fire Department and Emergency Medical Responders, as well as North Castle Police and Highway Departments
April 11, 2013 On October 29, 2013, Hurricane Sandy hit North Castle hard, taking down many trees and leaving 98 percent of residents without power. During the height of the storm, two Windmill Farm residents were injured by fallen trees on Evergreen Row. Both residents, who had been in critical condition, have since recovered and attended the North Castle Town Board meeting on April 10.
During the meeting, Luci Labriola-Cuff, who recently finished her two-year service as Armonk Fire Chief, said that the units who responded to the 911 call found trees and electrical wires blocking all access routes. Fortunately, Police Officer Joseph Horesky was coming from another call on the northern side of town and was the first to arrive on the scene.
Two North Castle Highway workers were also able to get to the scene to assist: Thomas MacInnis, also a member of the Armonk Fire Department and an EMS for almost 30 years, and Robert Lombardi, another active EMS member of the Armonk Fire Department.
An all-terrain vehicle/ emergency medical unit was taken by trailer from the Armonk Fire House, enabling them to come as close as they could to the scene, said Labriola-Cuff. Two members of the Fire Department, Ron Macellaro and Bill Wallerstein, drove the Fire Department's UTV about four miles to get to the patients. Additional members of the North Castle Highway Department assisted to the response by cutting a pathway through falling and downed trees. "These crews truly went above and beyond the call of duty to get to the patients," said Labriola-Cuff.
"This is what we do at the Police and Fire Departments, it's not what the Highway Department is expected to do," Labriola-Cuff said. "They were phenomenal, being by our side and getting us to that scene."
During the two-hour call, the patient care was provided by Armonk Fire Department and EMS, the North Castle Police, the North Castle Highway Department and a neighbor, who fortunately, is also a physician. There are many town employees who volunteer their time to serve the town's fire departments and emergency services in North Castle. Supervisor Howard Arden said he is honored to recognize several town employees who performed outstanding jobs in this emergency.
Labriola-Cuff also recognized members of the ambulance crew: Captain Carlos Cano and Captain of EMS Sue Macellaro. The Bedford Police Department was also called upon to clear Route 172 to enable the patients to be transported to Northern Westchester Hospital.
"The cooperative efforts of the responders of each agency insured the best possible outcome for the patients involved in this accident," said Labriola-Cuff. The Westchester Regional EMS Council officially acknowledged the response to the call. They awarded unit citations to the Armonk Fire Department, the North Castle Police Department and the North Castle Highway Department for all the people who helped respond to this urgent call.
Police Chief William Fisher said the residents of North Castle should be proud of the work of all the local fire departments in Armonk, Banksville and North White Plains. Through the big storms, Fischer said, they are always available to provide support with road closures, site safety, and anything else needed. "It's a pleasure to work with everybody."
On May 22, a Meritorious Service Award will be issued to Police Officer Joseph Horesky, North Castle Highway Department's Thomas McInnis and Robert Lombardi, and Armonk Fire Department members Bill Wallerstein and Ron Macellaro. They will be recognized for their valiant efforts in getting to the scene of the accident and caring for their patients. The award ceremony will take place at Sleepy Hollow High School at 7:00 p.m.
Recreation Superintendent Gives Notice of Resignation
Febraury 12, 2013 North Castle Recreation Superintendent Susan Snyder has officially given her notice of resignation. Snyder was hired in February 2011 to replace Bruce Barnard, who resigned as Parks and Recreation Superintendent after working for the town for over three decades.
When Snyder was hired, she waived the town's medical benefits, since she had access to insurance coverage from her spouse. In lieu of that, Town Administrator Joan Goldberg said Snyder received $500 each month, on top of her $90,000 annual salary. The savings to the town was about $12,000 since her payout was $6,000, and a family medical plan costs the town about $18,000 annually. When the new medical benefits package went into effect in October 2012, Snyder lost the additional monthly payment of $500. The new town policy does not offer medical benefits if comparable benefits are available from another source, such as an employee’s spouse.
Goldberg said she asked Synder to formally take on the additional title of parks department superintendent. There were no additional responsibilities, said Goldberg, since Synder was already performing the duties; the title was simply a formality, acknowledging the work she was already doing. The parks department superintendent oversees the administration of North Castle's 350 acres of parklands, while the recreation department superintendent oversees a wide range of recreational activities that serve North Castle residents, from preschoolers to seniors.
Goldberg said she plans to meet with the staff of both the Department of Parks and the Department of Recreation to determine how to proceed with replacing Synder. She added that Synder said she has another job, but Goldberg did not have any specific information about the job. Synder's voice mail said she was out of the office observing President's Day, and she has not returned our call, as of this publication.
Supervisor Howard Arden said Snyder’s departure would be a loss, but life goes on. "In the cycle of life, people come and go, yet no one is indispensable, including me."
North Castle Appoints Provisional Chief of Police
January 11, 2013 After 41 years on the force of the North Castle Police Department, Chief Robert D'Angelo has handed in his letter of retirement. At the Town Board meeting of January 9, 2013, Town Clerk Anne Curran read the letter from D'Angelo, effective as of January 11, 2013.
Supervisor Howard Arden said Chief D'Angelo was a great asset to the department and deserves to retire. "We appreciate the hard work he has put in all these years."
Arden said he feels comfortable passing the baton to Lieutenant William Fisher as Provisional Chief. According to Town Administrator Joan Goldberg, Fisher will take the required police chief examination given by Westchester County on March 23, 2013. After taking the exam, Goldberg says, Fisher’s appointment to police chief will be probationary and the salary is subject to negotiation. Only those with the title of lieutenant are permitted to take the promotional exam. There are currently three lieutenants in North Castle's Police Department eligible to take the exam.
Fisher said he is honored with the proposed appointment to the position of the Chief of Police. "I was hired in 1979 and to think back then that I was in the position to become Chief wasn't even on my mind." Fisher said he was the youngest member of the police department back in 1979 and he is now the oldest member of the force.
D'Angelo worked his way up the ranks and became Chief of Police in March of 1991. He observed that his most important accomplishment was to ensure that the department become an accredited police agency in the State of New York in 2000. Fisher concurred, "The accreditation developed our police department as a professional agency with highly trained members and brought it up to the current standards in the police field." D'Angelo said the accreditation would not have been possible without the dedication of then Lieutenant William Fisher and now retired Emergency Officer, David Lander. Fisher said the department has been accredited twice and will apply again in 2015.
Fisher said he was proud to be included in the impressive list of North Castle's former Police Chiefs: Robert D'Angelo, Fred Gambino, Al Stipo, and John Hergenhan. Fisher added that he hopes to do as well as they have done.
Fisher said Chief D'Angelo was consistently supportive and confident as his supervisor. Chief D'Angelo points to his introduction of the DARE program into the Byram Hills middle school, the first bike unit, the first emergency unit, an accident investigation unit, and a first-time youth officer's position as his proudest accomplishments in the department.
In the next few months, Fisher said he will meet with his command staff to develop the Department's yearly goals and objectives. He says they intend to put some policies in place to accomplish these goals. "Bob [D'Angelo] made this look easy; it really wasn't, and I learned a lot from him. The position of chief is the biggest challenge of my career and I am looking forward to making the department even better," he concluded.
Police Chief Robert D'Angelo on his Retirement Updated January 8, 2013
Q. When did you join the North Castle Police Force? A. I joined the department on January 1, 1973. I was 21. I remember my first day my mother told me, "You better start thinking about saving because 20 years are going to go by so fast." I said, "20 years is an eternity." Well, the first 20 years went fast, and the second 20 went faster. 2013 will be my 41st year on the force.
On my first day, I worked the 4 to 12 shift. I had to ride with someone, I don't remember who, to learn the roads. Al Stipo was Chief. I started at the police academy in April.
Q. How long have you lived in North Castle? A. I was born in Florida but raised in North White Plains since I was about five or six. I grew up in North White Plains, my mother is still there and I have a lot of family there.
I got married in 1977 and we moved to White Plains, right over the border, and lived there for seventeen years. Then we moved to Armonk and stayed here for ten years. Finally, I moved to Dutchess County and have been there for nine years now.
Q. Have you set the record for years as police chief? A. According to the State, Jimmy Bradley from White Plains and I are the longest-sitting chiefs now. There was a guy, Joe Marsic from Hastings-On-Hudson, who had everybody beat in Westchester, but he retired years ago.
Q. You were with the department for twenty years before you became chief. When did you know that you wanted to be chief? A. I didn't. [He laughs.] I was happy as a lieutenant. The Town asked me to take the test, so I took it. I went through the ranks: Patrolman, Sergeant, Lieutenant and Chief.
Q. What is the policy for replacing you as Chief? A. Usually what happens is that they will call for a chief's test in North Castle and then pick one the the top three scorers. It is usually the lieutenants who take the test. They don't have to, but I hope the three lieutenants here will take the exam.
Q. Is the chief's test tough? I was a lieutenant when I took it. Usually the civil service tests are all multiple choice. When I took the chief's test they had just changed the format. There was multiple-choice but there were also a lot of reading with scenarios, and you had three reference books. You had to read the passage --(a page, page and half long)-- and then you had to use the reference book to answer questions about the passage. If you mess up one of the questions, you would screw up a couple of other questions too. It was a tough test, but you got to do what you got to do.
Q. The Town Board plans to promote one of the department's three lieutenants up to chief, but there is no plan to replace the third lieutenant. Will the department be fine with that? A. I was talking with (Lieutenant) Buffy (William) Fisher about that the other day, about the three lieutenants going down to two plus a chief. He said we are just going to have to divide up the work differently now. It was nice with three lieutenants because each one had a specific job to do. Now we are going to have to do that with two lieutenants instead of three. [Lieutenant] Peter [Simonsen] is busy, [Lieutenant] Geoffrey [Harisch] is busy, but they are going to have to do a little bit more.
Q. What does the Chief of Police oversee? A. Budget, discipline, stuff like that. It is like second nature. My daughter said, "I can't believe you are retiring." I said, You don't understand, when you are standing outside the door and looking in, it is a piece of cake. But when you are in here looking out, it is not the same feel anymore. You are responsible for everything that goes wrong with the police department. You are also responsible for everything that goes right with the department, but you hear more about what's wrong than what's right. It's frustrating.
Q. What about the detectives? How many are there in the department, and do we need that many? A. There are three detectives in the department and we really do need them. We had four at one time years ago and that was even better because when they do surveillance, which we do quite a bit, you have two and two. They worked together as teams. Down to three, they are really busy.
Back in September there was a burglary on Sterling Road in North Castle, and kind of late. The detectives did their investigation. They went door-to-door canvassing, but no one had seen anything, and they were frustrated. Finally, one of the Detectives saw a surveillance camera hanging in the street. He secured the tapes from the camera. He sat in his office for hours looking at the tape and there was nothing there except black. All of a sudden this white streak came along, but he really could not make it out. So they had the video enhanced. We got a plate number. The plate number came back to these guys from Dutchess County who were really bad. Don't know if you remember the dinnertime burglaries in the 1970's. They were part of that family and that is where they learned their trade.
Everything started to move, because Harrison had burglaries, one of about 13 jurisdictions suffering from burglaries. We tied it into this videotape that Detective Brant Sammann found. We got a search warrant for the car. We started following them. We did surveillances. I shifted the detectives' hours so it would not cost so much in overtime. They were basically working from 11 to 11. The burglars only hit at night and only hit high-end houses. The surveillance went on for quite a while. My guys were getting tired.
So right before I went to Florida, in October, I called them in and said, listen this has got to stop because you guys are tired and you are not seeing your families. They were relieved because they were working so many hours. Harrison was still doing the surveillance. If something happens in this town, you guys do what you have to do. As soon as you see them coming to town, mobilize and take care of business.
As I'm getting off the plane, I got a call, "Did you hear what is going on in Harrison?" They had followed them and caught them that night. It was a lot of man-hours. The detectives do a lot of good work; a lot of people don't realize what they do. They think they just go on a burglary call or a criminal mischief call every once in a while. The detectives make drug arrests, and a whole litany of things. Maybe not as many as in White Plains, but we have the same types of calls they have, and we investigate them.
Q. We are a safe town because we have a good police department that takes care of us and does their job. If we cut back, how would that affect the effectiveness of the police department? A. It would affect it tremendously. If we have fewer cops, they will not be able to get to one place and then another place as fast as we do now. Our response time is unbelievable. The men are really good. But if you cut back and have fewer people, a police officer is going to be stuck on one call when another call comes in, and he won't be able to go. We will have to tell people to wait.
Q. What are some of the experiences that stand out during your service? A. I got shot at once when I was a patrolman. There was a dispute between neighbors on the top of the hill on Hunter Avenue. There was a common driveway and Larry Labriola and his neighbor were always feuding. I was working 4 to 12's. It was my last night before I was getting married, a Saturday. We were out for a drink at Pars Steakhouse. Larry was there too. I had known Larry for a long time. He talked with me and then left. I stayed a little bit longer with the guys and then I left to go home. We had one guy on the desk and two on the road. I saw two police cars going up a street at the same time with the lights on. So I called headquarters and asked them what was going on. "Get up to Labriola's right away. He is flipping out." I go up and meet the two cops up there. Someone shot at the house at the bottom of the hill with a shot gun and hit the windows, siding and everything. We start an investigation. We knew who it was, we know it was Larry. So we drove up to his house to try to talk to him. Everything was dark and we had the desk call the house first. We were banging on the door, but he would not answer. We could not break in without a warrant, so we went down to finish our investigation. But as we were talking with people, we saw a car coming down the driveway. It had to be Larry because there was nobody else up there. As he came down, we decided to try to contain him inside the car, because he was huge. Well, that didn't work. He got out and was yelling and swearing at us. I figure, I know him really well, I'll calm him down. I had only been on the job a couple of years. So I went over to him and said, "Larry why don't you calm…" And that was the last thing I remembered. He hit me so hard, and I was only 160 pounds. My feet left the ground and I was out, unconscious. Larry took my gun and he put it to another cop's head. Then he took their guns. One of the cops found a rock and hit Larry over the head with it and tried to knock him out. But Larry shook it off and said: "Now you have really pissed me off." And that's when he started shooting my gun. He emptied it. One of the bullets landed six inches from my head as I was unconscious. He picked me up, started crying, and put me in the back seat of a police car and said, "I can't believe I did this to Bobby." Then he tried to drive down to headquarters to turn himself in. Some of the cops got on the radio and said Larry was coming in. The guy that was working the desk got on the hotline and said that we needed help. The whole world came, Greenburgh, White Plains, the County and State Police. We locked Larry up and went to trial. He did six to seven months in jail for that.
Q. As an officer of the law, do you potentially expose yourself to violence every day? A. That's what a lot of people don't understand. You never know what is going to happen. I'm watching the news the other night and got an email from the State Association of Chiefs. I had to go to a Board of Governor's meeting a couple of weeks ago and the Chief from Webster, NY is on the Board with me and is a good friend of mine. Since then, they had a shooting there. A guy set a house on fire, called the fire in and shot dead one of the lieutenants who was a fireman too. You just don't know. People say, it's not New York City. But it doesn't have to be New York City, that wasn't New York City.
Once, when I was a new cop, I locked this guy up for DWI in North White Plains. He was pretty big, and I put the handcuffs on him behind his back. In the car, he said, "Can't ya take these handcuffs off me?" I said, "No, it's procedure. We have to do it this way." He said, "They are really tight, can't ya just loosen them up for me." So being a goodhearted person, I slowed down and I was going to take them off. Then I said, "Ya know what, we'll be in headquarters in just a couple of minutes."
We get to headquarters and the desk officer asked if I patted him down. I said, "Yeah, but real lightly." The desk officer told the guy to put his arms up on the desk, and then he patted him down. And what does he pull out of his boot, but a fricking-knife, a switchblade knife. He said, "If you had taken the handcuffs off of me, I was going to stab you right in the back."
Q. Is the stress of the job always there? A. I think it is in the back of the mind of every cop. My daughter said, "You made it look so easy." In the beginning it wasn't easy, but as you keep doing it over and over, even being Chief almost gets to be routine. But when guys go on calls, nothing can be routine to them. Even if it is only a bulgar alarm. They teach you in school what happens you go on call after call. Some cops get lackadaisical and then when the real one comes, they just think it is another burglar alarm.
Q. What are some of your police affiliations outside of the North Castle Police Department and how does your retiring affect them? A. I was President of the Westchester County Association of Chiefs of Police for two years, and I am still involved with the County Chiefs as Secretary.
I was President of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police for one year and am on their Board of Governors. I will have to give that up. But I will still be actively involved because I'm a past President. I'll still go to their conventions.
Q. Now what? A. I've been here since I was 21. My career has been pretty good to me. I'm 61, that is forty years, more than half my life. Sometimes enough is enough. It is a good time to leave and what makes it so easy to do is the cops that work here. They are very professional, they take pride in what they do and they care about the people in town.
I'm going to play golf, visit Florida, go fishing and continue singing. And my wife said she would like to hear emp lay the drums again. I'll also spend some time with my grandkids; we love to go to Disneyland.
Updated Jan. 4, 2013 After serving on the North Castle Police force for 40 years, including 21 years as police chief, Chief Robert D'Angelo negotiated his separation agreement and resignation with Town Administrator Joan Goldberg. As of January 11, 2013, D'Angelo will retire.
Goldberg said that D'Angelo signed an agreement and submitted his resignation. "It was his decision and he was not forced out. He has five grandchildren and wants to spend more time with them," added Goldberg.
D'Angelo worked his way up the ranks, from police sergeant to lieutenant to chief, after Al Stipo, who also resigned as police chief after serving North Castle for many years.
Chief D'Angelo negotiated his post retirement benefits based on the town's Employee Benefit Policy Manual for employee and retirees not covered by its labor union agreements, said Goldberg.
The North Castle Town Board will consider promoting one of the three lieutenants who currently serve the police department: William Fisher, Peter Simonsen and Geoffrey Harisch. Goldberg said the Town Board will interview the three lieutenants and determine who will replace Chief D’Angelo by a vote. The Town Board does not intend to replace the lieutenant who may become chief. The 2013 budget calls for $154,000 in salary reductions from the promotion within the police department.
Assuming the lieutenants meet all the qualifications necessary to serve as chief, the chosen candidate will be required to take an examination for police chief. "Under New York State Civil Service Law, individuals seeking employment in the competitive class of civil service must compete in an examination for selection by merit and fitness," according to the Westchester County Department of Human Resources.
D'Angelo grew up in North Castle and lived in North White Plains, where some of his family members still live. He and his wife later moved to Armonk and were part of the community for many years before moving to Northern Westchester.
"We have a fine police department and he will be missed. I'm sorry to see him go," said Becky Kittredge who also grew up in North Castle and served as a North Castle Town Councilwoman for three decades, before retiring in 2011.
Highway Foreman Keeps His Job
December 2, 2012 Early Saturday morning, North Castle Town Administrator Joan Goldberg said that she sent North Castle Highway Department head Jamie Norris a letter on Friday November 30 confirming his permanent status as General Foreman, effective November 29, 2012.
Norris confirmed that he received the notification of the letter from Goldberg confirming that his status as General Foreman of the Highway Department was forthcoming. Norris also said that he never received the initial letter of the denial of his promotion before the one year probation period ended on December 1, 2012. He said he is not sure why he would have been demoted, since there is not a blemish on his record in all 23 of the years he worked for the town. The first notice that Supervisor Howard Arden said was to have been hand delivered to Norris by a North Castle Police Officer on Friday November 23, 2012 was also to have included a salary reduction.
After the new decision was made for Norris to remain as General Foreman, Arden said that the Westchester County Personnel Office had previously asked who was to replace Norris as General Highway Foreman and that no replacement had been chosen yet. Arden said the Westchester County Personnel Office recommended that Norris stay as Foreman since his job as Assistant Forman would have the same responsibilities and no one new was hired as Foremen. The vote to demote Norris to Assistant General Foreman and to lower his annual salary by about $10,000 at the special meeting on November 23, 2012 has been reversed.
This personnel issue should never been made public said Arden. Still, one hopes that Arden and Norris can work to serve the public well.
Highway Foreman's Promotion Rescinded in Day-After-Thanksgiving Meeting Editorial by Michelle Boyle
November 29, 2012 The Town Board sent notice at 2 p.m. on November 21, the day before Thanksgiving, of a Special Executive Session of the North Castle Town Board at 3 p.m. on Friday November 23, 2012 at 3 PM, the day after Thanksgiving and a town holiday. The only item on the agenda was personnel.
At the public comment period during the next Town Board meeting, on November 28, North Castle resident Sharon Tomback, who served as a secretary to Supervisor Reese Berman and Supervisor Bill Weaver, said "I'm absolutely speechless that you gave notice of a special executive session the day before Thanksgiving and then held the meeting on a town holiday."
"We wish you were," responded Supervisor Howard Arden presumably meaning that he wished she were speechless.
Supervisor Arden, Councilman Diane Roth, and Councilman John Cronin attended the special meeting, on November 23, while Councilman Michael Schiliro and Councilman Steven D'Angelo were not in attendance due to the short notice before the meeting during the holiday.
Ms. Tomback asked if minutes were taken of the meeting. Town Clerk Anne Curran read the minutes. The three councilmen in attendance went into executive session and afterwards, all three unanimously voted that General Highway Foreman Jamie Norris was not to be awarded the General Foreman status before the probation period expired, and that his title would revert to Assistant General Foreman, with a lower annual salary, about $10,000 less, or $109,491 effective December 1, 2012. Arden said he would arrange for the notice of the denial of the promotional before the probation expires, which was to be hand delivered to Norris on November 23, 2012.
Norris has worked for North Castle's Highway Department for 23 years. His appointment as General Foreman was effective December 1, 2011. It was one of the last recommendations of Supervisor Bill Weaver at the November 30, 2011 Town Board meeting when Weaver, Councilman Michael Schilro, and Councilman Becky Kittredge voted in favor of Norris' promotion while Councilmen Diane Roth and John Cronin voted against it. Roth and Cronin had asked that the appointment be deferred until the beginning of Howard Arden’s term as Supervisor in early 2012. Roth said there will be a lot of changes in the titling of town employees at different departments. "Maybe it is a perfect spot for Norris to be, but it should be reviewed. With all the organizational changes we are hoping to make, we need to do some interviews," added Roth.
Tomback said she did not think that Norris' probationary period lasted an entire year. Arden said he checked with the civil service rules and that they dictate a one-year probation. Hence Arden's urgency in calling a special meeting before the one-year probationary period expired. Arden had sent a notice to the Westchester County personnel office in April 2012 to change Norris' probationary period to one year.
Tomback asked if there were some infraction explaining why Norris was demoted. "Something outrageous enough to demote an employee, a sitting department head, and we don't learn what the infraction might have been?" Supervisor Arden said that it is not proper to go into personnel matters in an open forum. It has been the Town Board's policy that town employee personnel matters not be discussed in public.
We learned through the minutes about what occurred at the November 23 Special Meeting. But when did the three Town Board members, Arden, Cronin and Roth, discuss why Norris was to be demoted? The Open Meeting Law requires that the public have knowledge about the municipal decisions underlying the performance of the government. Under some circumstances discussions may be held in executive, or closed, session and these would not be part of the meeting minutes that Curran read.
Tomback asked if there were any proper forum to explain why Norris was demoted. Arden said he would have to refer to legal counsel.
Councilman Michael Schiliro emailed Arden after the executive session, asking why Norris was demoted and why he received a reduction in salary. Arden responded that he could not put the reason in an email. Schiliro said that he expects to have a conversation with Arden about the reason for the decision about Norris.
If the Supervisor has demoted Norris based upon some resident's complaints about Norris' behavior, as suggested by an observer who asked not to be identified, then it would be only proper for Arden to demote himself and all the members of the Town Board, as well as reduce their salaries, since residents have complained about all of them, including one resident who has brought Councilman Cronin's actions up for review by the Ethics Board because Cronin hired a Fareri company to renovate his home.
If Supervisor Arden has demoted Norris based upon his language or supposed rude behavior, as suggested by the same observer who asked not to be identified, then Arden should demote himself and Cronin for the rude screaming matches they had during the North Castle Republican meetings prior to Arden's election, when Cronin was serving as councilman.
Another possible reason why the Supervisor may have demoted Norris is retaliation. On several occasions in 2009, before Supervisor Weaver asked developer Michael Fareri along with Howard Arden and Bob Greene, to review the plans for the Westwood Organic Recycling Center, Norris had physically blocked Fareri from trespassing on the Highway Department's property on several occasions to observe Westwood's activities. During some of these incidents the North Castle Police were called.
As long as Supervisor Arden is not transparent about the private actions he has taken concerning public matters, we can only speculate about the reason for what has happened. With transparency lacking, Arden will not have the privilege of being trusted by the people he serves. Perhaps he does not care about his constituents' trust, since at this time it does not appear that he will seek reelection next year. But it was not long ago that Arden stood up in front of the prior Town Board asking difficult questions. Both then and now, it is important that the public be fully informed.
New Financial Team Hired to Manage North Castle’s Finances
September 4, 2012 A special meeting of the North Castle Town Board was held on August 28, 2012. The Town Board approved hiring both a town administrator and a town comptroller. Joan Goldberg, who has been hired as town administrator, and Faith S. Berland, who has been hired as town comptroller, will begin working together on the Town's Budget for 2013 in the mid-September.
“Knowing the job as Supervisor, it is my opinion that a financial consultation is not the job of a town administrator. The town budget director should be responsible as the chief operating officer working with the town administrator, ” Supervisor Howard Arden said on an earlier date.
The hiring of a town administrator is a special day in the history of North Castle as it marks a transition to a more professional government. Supervisor Arden commented that we will become a much more consistent, fair and professionally managed town.
Mr. Arden had appointed a group of six people to a committee whose members he thanked for assembling the final job specifications and interviewing the candidate.
The job description for North Castle's first Town Administrator position include multiple responsibilities under the general supervision of the Town Board. The specifications are to coordinate activities and functions of the Town; attend all Town Board meetings and participate in the Board's discussions and deliberation, but without any right to vote; supervise the Town's acquisition of materials, equipment, supplies and services; oversee and manage the work of the Town's department heads and coordinate the work of all Town employees; act as the Town's chief negotiator in regards to the Town's collective bargaining obligations; hire, terminate, discipline, and determine the compensation of all Town employees; be responsible for the submission of the Town's tentative budget; quarterly report the financial condition of the Town; and to serve as the Town's liaison with other governments and agencies.
The committee included members of the community from Supervisor Bill Weaver administration's task force, Alex Green and David Grove. Supervisor Reese Berman’s former administration had passed a resolution in 2009 calling for a future administration to hire a town administrator, as recommended by her task force, including member Don Gregg, who was the only group member who served on both committees. Two out-of-town administrators were also on the committee: Stephen Altieri, town administrator of Mamaroneck and Jerry Faiella, who is a retired town administrator of New Castle. Assistant Superintendent of North Castle's Water and Sewer Department Sal Masiti and Supervisor Howard Arden served on the committee.
Joan Goldberg is qualified and has a good skill set, said Councilman Mike Schiliro. "All of the Town Board members support the appointment." But he added that he would have preferred that the committee had gone through a formal process by taking a more significant role in interviewing other candidates, before making a recommendation to the Town Board.
The committee met twice over the summer; however, due to summer vacation schedules, only two of the members attended both meetings in which Joan Goldberg was interviewed as a candidate and the job description of town administrator was revised. Committee members anticipated that the committee would reconvene in September for a final meeting. During the committee's mid-August meeting, it was pointed out that hiring a town administrator was one of the most important actions to be taken by the North Castle Town Board; furthermore, the person hired for the position had to be well qualified because if not, the need to have a town administrator would be questioned.
Joan Goldberg emerged as a strong candidate. If the committee had interviewed a group of candidates, Supervisor Arden said Ms. Goldberg would be among the top four. But she was not endorsed by the committee because due diligence was not performed and no one else was interviewed by the group. The Town Board chose not to delay the hiring and it appeared as though hiring Ms. Goldberg's was a fait accompli, according to one of the committee members.
Councilman Steve D'Angelo interviewed Joan Goldberg for the position as town comptroller. Ms. Goldberg has a strong finance background. "I was impressed and found her capable and bright, and she comes across as a good manager." He said he was aware of some issues that Ms. Goldberg had occurred in her previous position as Yorktown town comptroller, in which she had been asked to resign in May. But after speaking with her for two hours, her problems appeared to be more political than anything else. "The biggest problem she had was that she was very tough on the purse strings, she controlled the money, and took care of things. There appeared to be a personality conflict with the Supervisor and some of the board members of Yorktown's new administration. I am very happy with hiring her and that concern should be tossed away as she starts on September 17th. The town will be better off for having her." Mr. D'Angelo said he did not speak with any Yorktown board members, but did receive a positive review of her performance from the state auditor's office; they said she was very capable in her 16 years served as Yorktown town comptroller.
The Town Board unanimously voted in favor of hiring Ms. Goldberg. But Mr. D'Angelo remains opposed to hiring a town administrator because he feels the position is unnecessary.
The Town Board wanted the town administrator and town comptroller to be hired at the same time, since the two individuals will be working closely together, said Councilman Diane Roth. This is the second most important thing we have done for the Town, other than health care and the employees’ manual, she added.
"I'm very happy with the appointment; she is extremely well qualified. We could have elongated the search, but I'm not certain if we would have gotten anyone better," said Councilman John Cronin.
Supervisor Arden emphasized that we had been interviewing for three to four months for the position of town comptroller. “ During that process, Joan surfaced and we realized Ms. Goldberg's professional financial experience qualified her as a town administrator. We would have liked to have had the luxury of prolonging the experience. However, there are items that have to be attended to for the current town audit,” added Mr. Arden. The combination of the talent of the town administrator and town comptroller, said Mr. Aden, is unusually difficult to find and we agree that this is an opportunity to provide professional management for the town.
Joan Goldberg has an employment agreement for a two-year term at an annual salary of $135,000. Faith Berland has been hired as town comptroller for $85,000 annually, effective September 10.
Several members of the North Castle Town Board emphasized that the pool of applicants applying for the town comptroller's position was weak. Faith Berland lives in town and has three young children. She has no municipal or government experience, but the Town Board unanimously supported hiring her as town comptroller.
Supervisor Arden said, "We felt that the combination of hiring people that are smart and hardworking who will work together will get the town through the budget season and audit. This puts us in the position to have the strongest team that I know of, in any town around. The position of a comptroller can be learned if a person is smart and has a financial background."
Faith Berland's LinkedIn page says she served for 12 years as Director of Finance at Thomson Reuters in the information Technology and Services industry. Her resume says that she was senior financial analyst from 1999 to 2001. She "supported NYC sales force by driving forecasting process and integrity, analyzing and presenting sales trends to senior management, writing financial business commentary, and assisting with telecommunication outsourcing."
Councilman Cronin disclosed that he and Faith Berland had worked together over 10 years ago at Thomson Reuters. "She has an excellent finance background and has done reporting at the highest level of corporate America. She'll be able to provide us the kind of analysis and information that we as a group have been lacking to make decisions, in capital projects, outsourcing services or combining functions. She will make an excellent complement to Joan Goldberg."
Between now and the end of the year, the two new individuals will be working almost exclusively on the town's budget, said Mr. D'Angelo. "I look at this situation where we will have a dual comptrollership for a period of time."
Notices of Claim Filed against North Castle
August 19, 2012 Attorney Ronald G. Dunn, an attorney with Dunn, Walsh & O'Shea of Albany, New York, filed a Notice of Claim against the Town of North Castle and Town Board of the Town of North Castle on July 25, 2012.
Dunn represents 19-named claimants who are both current and former town employees or elected town officials. The claimants are William Weaver (former Supervisor and Town Councilman), Gerald Geist (retired Town Councilman), Robert McGoey (current Town Justice), Robert D'Angelo (current Chief of Police), Norman Anderson (former General Foreman of the Highway Department), Bruce Barnard (former Superintendent of Parks and Recreation), Anna Maria Marrone (retired Tax Assessor), Craig Useted (retired General Foreman of the Highway Department), Jamie Norris (current Highway Department General Foreman), Ann Leber (retired Town Clerk), Annemarie Kelly (retired Town Clerk), Mildred Wago (retired Tax Collector), Rebecca Kittredge Rotondo (former Town Councilman), Edward Ahneman (former Town Engineer), Shirley Brown (former Director of Finance Department), Marion Woods (former Tax Assessor), Leonard Kaplan (former Town Engineer), John Moore (former Town Attorney), and Kay Towndrow (former Deputy Town Clerk).
A second Notice of Claim was filed against the Town of North Castle and Town Board on August 14, 2012, by Attorney Zachary Shimer, who represents claimant Susan R. Shimer. Ms. Shimer is a former elected town official who served as North Castle Town Justice for 28 years.
The claimants of both notices allege that the Town Board "unilaterally modified the terms of the claimants' health insurance benefits and that is a breach of the claimants' vested rights to continued health insurance benefits.” The terms for the health insurance benefits for current and retired employees and elected town officials were modified. The reference to the unilateral modifications are changes that were made by the Town acting alone in modifications made to the Compensation and Benefits Manual by the Town of North Castle; the manual was adopted at the North Castle Town Board meeting on June 27, 2012.
The Town Board, as policy makers, have been reviewing for the past two years the town employee handbook, employment compliance manual and the compensation and benefits manual, with the Town's Labor Relations Consultant, Michael Richardson. At the Town Board work session on February 24, 2012, Mr. Richardson advised town board members that they can make changes to the healthcare benefits for non-union town employees and retirees. Resident and attorney Linda Trummer-Napolitano said the Town's labor consultant cannot render a legal opinion to contractual obligations. While she understands the need to achieve cost savings, she also recognizes that the process must be done in a legal manner.
At the Town Board meeting on June 27, 2012, Councilman John Cronin said that although the compensation and benefits document is not perfect, it is a starting point. He emphasized that it is a better solution for dealing with the growing costs of employee health benefits than asking the taxpayers to assume the burden or having to lay off workers. The manual, which was recommended by a paid consultant and vetted by outside legal counsel, should have been adopted earlier, added Mr. Cronin.
Supervisor Howard Arden said the modifications are projected to save $17 million in medical expenses over the lifetime of town employees. (Link to North Castle Employee OPEB)
Some of the changes made to the manual for healthcare benefits are as follows: healthcare benefits are no longer available to part-time employees, (all of the Town Board members are considered part-time employees); non-union employees (all department heads are nonunion employees) will pay 15 percent of their healthcare benefits this year and 30 percent next year; dental and vision benefits will be eliminated for retirees; retirees will pay 15 percent of their healthcare benefit costs; and retirees will not be eligible for town insurance coverage, if they have comparable insurance available to them from another source, such as their spouses. The retirement age has also been increased from 55 to 62 years of age.
The Notices of Claims states that North Castle employees and former town officials retired with the understanding that they would receive pension and health care benefits in retirement. The Notices of Claims says, "Each claimant who is a retired employee was explicitly provided an offer by representative of the Town and the Town Board to continued health insurance benefits upon retirement with a fixed contribution rate, provided that they each continued to work for a specified period of years."
The first claim indicates that department heads were repeatedly given written assurances by the Town Board, as stated in the Town Board's Policies and Procedures Manual, that their health insurance benefits, as well as continued health insurance benefits upon retirement, would remain the same as the health insurance benefits agreed to in the collective bargaining sessions.
The Compensation and Benefits Manual that was adopted was not unanimously approved by the Town Board. Councilman Michael Schiliro and Councilman Steve D’Angelo were in the minority who were not in favor of all the changes. Councilman Schiliro explained that some retirees might not be able to afford the increase for their healthcare benefits.
Town Justice Robert McGoey is currently serving his 39th year as an elected official for the Town of North Castle. In a letter addressed to Supervisor Arden and Town Board members dated April 23, 2012, Judge McGoey said, "New York Constitution Article Vl, Section 25 known as the ‘Compensation Clause’, prohibits the diminution of the compensation of judges during their term of office." He further stated, "In the event that this Board does not recognize and implement the prohibition against demising my compensation during my term in office, I shall have no recourse but to seek an order of the court annulling any provision of law that so affects my compensation."
The first Notice of Claim filed says, "The Town Board's unilateral modification of health insurance benefits relative to Mr. McGoey constitutes such a diminution, and is therefore ineffective and void."
The Notices of Claims state that unless the Town of North Castle and the Town Board cease and desist from the implementation of the modification in the terms of the benefits within forty days of filing the claim, "It is the intention of the Claimants to commence suit against the Town of North Castle and the Town Board of the Town of North Castle.” They also say the claimants will seek to recover any incidental damages they incur as a result of modifications in the monthly amount of premiums paid for contributions to healthcare benefits.
We have to find some savings to help fund the healthcare benefit liability, said Supervisor Howard Arden. Yearly employee benefit corrections comprised $28,000 and there is an additional $78,000 savings in Town Board member's benefits. "Nothing we have done in the change of policy is unfair. Fifteen percent is very gentle and we believe that the legal advice we have received is on firm ground."
July 13, 2012 The benefit changes approved in the Compensation and Benefits Manual during the June 27 meeting apply to nonunion employees, department heads, part-time workers and a few retired non-union workers, totaling about 30 people, at a savings of about $90,000 for the first year. North Castle’s non-union employees and retirees will pay 15 percent of their medical benefits this year and 30 percent next year; retirees will no longer have vision care and dental benefits, and part-time employees will not receive healthcare insurance.
The report of the savings estimate resulting from the changes in the benefit policies contained in the new Town of North Castle Employee Benefits Manual says the methodology used "a series of economic and actuarial assumptions, seriatim (person by person) estimates of total benefit costs were made over the projected lifetimes of each of the employees subject to the policies in the new manual." The major changes demonstrates the savings to the town of $17 million dollars over 20 years of employees' service.
Kerry Lutz spoke at the June 27, 2012, Town Board meeting; he mentioned that he had been an unsuccessful candidate for the Town Board. It was during his campaign that he had pledged not to receive benefits. In reference to the changes in the Compensation and Benefits Manual, Mr. Lutz said, "Taking lifetime benefits, especially for a part-time job, is being a parasite; it is that simple. The taxpayers don't owe you lifetime cradle to grave coverage.”
During the comment period of the following Town Board meeting on July 11, 2012, several residents spoke about Mr. Lutz's comment. Lifelong residents and sisters Linda Herbst and Charlene Decker took offense with the reference of the term parasite. They spoke of their mother, Mildred Wago, who had been an elected official and served as the receiver of taxes for North Castle for more than 40 years. She was mentioned as one example that encompassed former and current town employees who volunteer and give back to our community. Linda Herbst said, "To call retired North Castle employees parasites because they receive benefits that were part of their retirement package was a vicious attack, and for members of the Town Board to allow such attacks, in my opinion, is totally unacceptable."
She added, "In taking away benefits from retirees, Supervisor Arden and Councilmen Roth and Cronin showed no compassion or appreciation for the people who served this town for many years. Supervisor Arden and Councilmen Roth and Cronin represented the majority who voted in favor of the manual.
“How much of a reduction should I expect in my tax bill as a result of taking away health benefits for retirees and at the same time hiring a town administrator?” asked Ms. Herbst.
Charlene Decker said she too was offended by the term parasite used as a reference to retirees. She expressed her disappointment when the Town Board responded with silence. “If you want to change the rules and take away benefits, which by the way, I don't agree with at all, because these retirees have dedicated their working lives to the town, then do it from this point forward. This gives people an opportunity to save now for their medical benefits upon their retirement."
Alluding to Mr. Lutz's expression of disapproval, "Pejoratives are out," said the Honorable Sue Schimer. And she added, as it applies to the rule during public comments, that it should apply to all comments. Addressing the Town Board, she said, "You should stop and correct all pejoratives. It is not right."
Sharon Tomback worked as an assistant in the Supervisor's office for six years during Supervisors Reese Berman’s and Bill Weaver’s administrations. Ms. Tomback said, "Good employees are like gold and we should guard them well." Employees deserve our gratitude and respect,” Ms. Tomback added. “Department heads have not taken a pay increase since 2008. They should receive pay raises that reflect the reduction in salary that was imposed upon them with a reduction in benefits, as they pay a higher percentage of health benefits,” stressed Ms. Tomback.
In tough economic times, he understands that the Town Board is trying to institute a policy that will save the town some money, said Sam Morell, resident and producer of Small Town Theatre. "But let the town employees know that we value what they do and we are not going to let comments like that go by."
The comments that were made tonight were dead on, said Councilman Michael Schiliro, “and I am sorry for the families and employees that had to hear something like that. How you can ever connect the term parasite to individuals (who work for the town, past and present) is beyond me."
Former Supervisor Bill Weaver said he was appalled by the reference to town employees as parasites. Mr. Weaver said it was deplorable and he would like to see an apology. "And after everyone's comments, I was shocked that Supervisor Arden condoned what was said by saying Mr. Lutz was talking about part-timers."
"It was a terrible thing to say, rude, arrogant and totally out of place. It was taken out of context. It wasn't directed at the employees, but it was said in the context of part-time employees that collect lifetime benefits," said Supervisor Arden.
Town Board Adopts Compensation and Benefits Manual
July 2, 2012 One of the benefits of a job working for a municipality such as North Castle has always been health care insurance. But that benefit is no longer guaranteed with the Town Board's adoption of the Compensation and Benefits Manual at the North Castle Town Board meeting on June 27, 2012. The manual was adopted by a majority vote of three to two, with Supervisor Howard Arden, Councilmen Diane DiDonato Roth and John Cronin voting in favor of the manual; Councilmen Michael Schiliro and Steve D'Angelo voted against adopting the Compensation and Benefits Manual.
Supervisor Arden said the Town of North Castle received outside legal advice indicating that they could change non-union, part-time and retirees' benefits. He said the Town will save 17-million dollars over the next 20 years with the new policy, but he did not explain how he arrived at that figure. The calculations most likely include savings from future retirees and future hired replacements, including part-timers.
The Town Board worked on the Compensation and Benefits Manual with the Town's Labor Relations Consultant Michael Richardson for the past two years. At the Town Board work session on February 24, 2012, Richardson advised Town Board members that they could make changes to the health benefits for non-union, Town employees and retirees.
The changes include the following:
there will be no health insurance benefits for part-time employees, (all of the Town Board members are considered part-time);
non-union employees (all department heads are non-union employees) will pay 15 percent of their health benefits this year and 30 percent next year;
dental and vision benefits will be eliminated for retirees; retirees will pay 15 percent of their health benefit costs;
and retirees are not eligible for town insurance coverage if comparable insurance is available to them from another source, such as their spouses.
The Honorable Susan Shimer is a retired North Castle judge. She and many other people commented before the Town Board voted. She said forcing retirees to forgo their dental and vision coverage, and to pay 15 percent of their other health benefits, is unfair. In some cases they worked for considerably less money than wages offered by private employers, said Shimer. "Upon retirement they received a letter that said they were to receive the health benefits without any contribution on their part and would pay 30 percent of dental and vision coverage." Shimer said that although she has a vested interest in the matter of retirees, she believes that some retirees have less means, and at their age, cannot find a job to make up the shortfall. "Cutting benefits is not fair to them and that is why when most employers make changes to benefits, they do so for future employees only."
North Castle's employees retired with the understanding that they would receive pension and health care benefits upon retirement. Our oldest retiree is 104-years-old, said Councilman Schiliro. Some retirees might not have the means to pay for a small percentage of their health benefits; therefore, he said he can't make the assumption that they can afford it and he is not comfortable putting that burden on any retiree.
Schiliro stressed that if there are members of our community who need help with dental and vision benefits, it is surely our seniors. He agreed with Shimer that cutting dental and vision benefits would not be fair.
"I believe acting as you are in respect to past employees, you are buying litigation," said Shimer. She said there is a case law that would support a decision against the town if they proceed. She added that a trial would be time consuming and expensive and would probably make the litigation cost of Westwood seem trivial. "Don't let short-term savings create longer-term costs and don't do so on the backs of your existing employees."
Attorney Ronald Dunn of Gleason, Dunn, Walsh and O'Shea of Albany, New York said he is representing a group of more than two dozen, non-union current employees, retirees and retired-elected officials. Dunn said the highly motivated group of people plan to take steps that will protect their promised level of benefits.
Dunn's June 6th letter outlines the legal problems on the basis that is illegal to modify benefits of non-union employees, retirees and retired, elected officials, regardless of fairness. He said it is clear under New York State law that a schedule for employee benefits who work for a specified number of years and who receive a letter from the town indicating that the town will provide paid retiree benefits, including health insurance, is as binding as a contract; therefore, upon retirement, the health benefits become vested and once a benefit becomes vested, it becomes a contract. Basic contract principles require both parties of the contract to agree before it can be modified. It is clear under New York law that one party cannot unilaterally modify a contract, Dunn said.
To listen to the attorney say that everyone is entitled to benefits, regardless of what occurred afterwards, is the reason we have courthouses, said Armonk resident Kerry Lutz (Lutz was unsuccessful in the Republican primary race for Town Council in 2009). He thanked employees for their dedicated services, but said, "You have to put in too. We, the taxpayers, are fed up with watching the state bleed, which is mired in debt related to pensions and employee, post-retirement benefits." Lutz said there is a limit to taxpayers’ generosity and this law is the first step to getting it under control. "A $250,000 lawsuit is a good bet if you can make 17-million dollars on it."
Shimer said the community appreciates the Town Board's efforts to save the taxpayers’ money. But "governing a town is not the same as running a business. The Town has devoted employees.” She had explained this thought process to the administration in 2009 when they were thinking of cutting positions: "Think of the human factor when considering cutting positions." She said her words are applicable today: even though they are not laying people off, they are cutting their compensation. Current employees are required to pay 15 percent for health benefits this year and 30 percent next year, which is equivalent to a pay cut. Shimer said, “The savings to the town is spread among 12,000 people. But, she added, it is less money to the employees for the same work.
Kerry Lutz said he is against providing health benefits for the part-time work of the Town Council. He said private companies do not provide health insurance to part-time workers, and therefore, why should members of the Town Board receive them? "The taxpayers don't owe you lifetime benefits. A lot of the people that are griping now are going to get six-figure pensions. They can easily afford to pay a substantial part of their health benefits. There is a limited amount of money available to pay these benefits and something has to give."
Charlene Jacobi, resident of Banksville and President of Concerned Citizens of North Castle, disagreed with Lutz and said businesses, such as Trader Joes, offer part-time employees (of twenty hours or more per week) health insurance benefits. In fact, Councilman Michael Schiliro, who does not accept health insurance benefits from the Town, said statistics indicate that 31 percent of all companies offer health insurance to part-time employees.
Schiliro said that councilmen should not qualify for health benefits. But he also said that the Town Supervisor, who works full-time at a part-time job, should qualify for health insurance, perhaps at a higher premium.
"There are those who can afford to work as Town Board members and don't need the benefits," but Jacobi asks, "Who are you going to get to serve the town, if you take away the perks?" She said people who can't afford their own health benefits, but want to serve the town, won't be able to do so; as a result, our Town won't have the same level of service.”
John Junker is a civil service worker for Westchester County who lives in North White Plains. He says civil service workers aren't making a lot of money. The average Westchester County worker makes about $63,000 a year. He asked how many people could afford to live in North White Plains or Armonk on that salary."Years ago, jobs didn't pay much, but you had the promise you were going to be covered in your retirement. Perhaps a better way to handle this situation is to start with new hires, as the state has." But that doesn’t justify taking away the benefits from people that started 20-years-ago at lower salaries in exchange for benefits. "As you cut these benefits, what type of person are you going to be able to hire in this area to provide your services? Don't punish the people that retired; don't punish the people that are working in the Highway and Parks Department."
Shimer asked, "You do not seriously believe that the union employees of the town will agree to these cuts when you begin negotiating their expired contracts in the fall?" If they do, it will probably be for much higher salaries, eliminating any achieved savings. "How will that impact the morale of your non-union employees?"
Shimer also said the Town Board did not receive a mandate from the people of North Castle to reduce health care benefits for retirees or employees.
Even though Lutz said he believed they had the required votes to pass the new law, he thought Councilman Steve D'Angelo should not vote on adoption of the law, since he receives $22,000 in annual benefits; this could present a conflict of interest.
Councilman Steve D'Angelo says he will pay 100% of his benefits. He said the changes in the benefits’ package for the six current non-union town employees will amount to a total savings of $21,500 annually. The changes for the 22-current retirees will save $31,500, while the difference in the Town Board members’ benefits would save $37,000: that would represent a savings of $90,000 per year.
"We are a small town. How can we continue to pay 17-million dollars that has been costed-out," said Councilman DiDonato Roth. "Our whole budget is 30-million dollars a year. The percentage that goes toward health care is astronomical: 60 percent of our general funds goes toward health care."
Lutz said, "One of the reasons Supervisor Arden got elected is that he pledged not to take benefits. Arden didn't want his pension either and sent a letter to the State saying that. He got a letter back stating: 'You have to take the pension.' This is the kind of madness the taxpayers are facing."
Schiliro said that some changes must be made by employees, including sharing some of the costs, to help us get through the next 10 to 30 years. The burden of future benefits should shift. Fifty years ago, a town employee's wages were 90 percent of their compensation, he said. What has changed is the cost of benefits, which have gone up dramatically. He calculates that now between 65 to 70 percent of the North Castle's town employees’ compensation is wages. It costs more to carry the employees because of the pension contribution and benefits, even if the town employees don't see it in their paychecks, said Schiliro.
Councilwoman DiDonato Roth said she does not receive health insurance because she doesn’t think it is fair. "As an elected official working part-time, I am not entitled to healthcare. It is these types of decisions that we have to make in order to not put the burden of our lives on the future of our children and the future of this town. But these are the tough decisions that have to be made every day in our municipalities." She said if we don't do it, we will end up like other municipalities that raise taxes 30 percent. "We are looking to make some adjustments. When we worked on the manual and came to the part of elected officials, we stopped because it was difficult to make these changes. We now have the votes, and I hope that between all of us these changes happen. Anyone who says that we don't care about the employees is wrong; we do care about them, we just care about our future more."
Councilman John Cronin said the manual is not a perfect document but it is a starting point for investigating other plans to reduce costs. He said he understands retirees are on fixed-income and the changes may create a level of hardship, but the new policies of the manual are a better solution to balance the budget than burdening the taxpayers or laying off workers.