Category Archives: News

Sustainable Playland Inc.’s proposed field house was reduced from 95,000 square-feet to 82,500 square-feet. An access road for parks maintenence abutted the building. In the updated plan, that access road will be replaced by 100 parking spots.

Sack: Field house still an issue

By CHRIS EBERHART

SPI will reduce the size of its proposed field house from 95,000 square-feet to 82,500 square-feet and shrink the size of the field zone footprint from approximately 10 acres to five acres. Photos courtesy Sustainable Playland, Inc.

SPI will reduce the size of its proposed field house from 95,000 square-feet to 82,500 square-feet and shrink the size of the field zone footprint from approximately 10 acres to five acres. Photos courtesy Sustainable Playland, Inc.

Sustainable Playland, Inc., the Rye-based nonprofit chosen by the county administration to renovate Rye Playland, announced a reduction in the size of its controversial proposed field house by 12,500 square-feet and a reduction in the footprint of the field zone by 50 percent in an effort to appease the amusement park’s protesting neighbors at a Tuesday meeting in White Plains.

But Rye City Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, said the reduction is not going to resolve the issues brought forward by residents of his city.

SPI’s proposal calls for the field house, which is the essential, money-making part of the overall plan to redevelop the park, to be built in Playland’s parking lot, which is also a FEMA-designated flood zone, and be located just yards away from a residential Rye neighborhood. Residents around the amusement park say the overflow of floodwaters and traffic will pour into their streets.

But the most scrutinized aspect of SPI’s proposal is the size of the field house, which has fluctuated since SPI responded to Republican County Executive Rob Astorino’s request for proposals to alter the park in early 2011.

Astorino first took office in 2010 and quickly identified revitalizing Playland as a priority of his administration.

Originally, the size of the field house was proposed at 72,000 square-feet, according to SPI’s RFP response in March 2011. The project then jumped to 95,000 square-feet to make it “economically feasible,” according to SPI spokesperson Geoff Thompson.

However, Thompson was never able to confirm when the jump in proposed size was made.

Over the past week, the number changed again, but this time the size was reduced to meet the demands of the neighbors, according to SPI officials.

On March 10, SPI submitted an amendment to its Playland Improvement Plan, which details SPI’s renovation proposals to the county. The plan calls for a downscaling of the field house from 95,000 square-feet to 82,500 square-feet with an overall reduction of the field zone by more than 50 percent from 10.16 acres to 4.86 acres.

Sustainable Playland Inc.’s proposed field house was reduced from 95,000 square-feet to 82,500 square-feet. An access road for parks maintenence abutted the building. In the updated plan, that access road will be replaced by 100 parking spots.

Sustainable Playland Inc.’s proposed field house was reduced from 95,000 square-feet to 82,500 square-feet. An access road for parks maintenence abutted the building. In the updated plan, that access road will be replaced by 100 parking spots.

That’s where SPI drew the line in the sand.

“I want to reiterate; [82,500 square-feet] is the minimum size we can go in order for the field house to be economically feasible,” Thompson said.

By reducing the field zone’s footprint, SPI was able to address the lack-of-parking criticism leveled by the park’s neighbors by adding 100 more spaces to the main Playland parking lot, which will replace an access road for park maintenance between the proposed site of the field zone and the maintenance sheds, which brings the total number of parking spots to 1,460 in the main lot, according to the updated plan, provided by SPI.

With the additional 100 spaces, there still remains a loss of approximately 34 percent of the existing parking spaces in the main lot if the proposed field house comes to fruition.

“SPI has made a lot of changes in response to public complaints, which are all legit,” Thompson said. “The plan is fluid and ever-changing, but the overall vision has not changed.”

Sack isn’t convinced reducing the size of the field house or the field zone will remedy the issues of flooding and traffic overflow area neighbors have raised.

“I look forward to seeing the revised plan, but the truth is that the size of it is still such that the same questions remain in terms of the possible environmental impacts,” Sack said.

Rye resident Mack Cunningham, a former Rye City councilman who has been an outspoken opponent of the field house, said the reduction will actually create more issues for the park’s neighbors because of the location of the added parking spots.

“The changes raise safety issues with the drop-off at the outdoor fields and pedestrians moving from the field house to the outdoor field zones,” Cunningham said. “This will also further quality of life issues [for Playland’s neighbors] because parents will want to avoid the field zone congestion and drop their kids at the Sanford [Street] and Roosevelt [Avenue] gate entrance.” Cunningham said this will increase traffic and illegal parking in the Rye neighborhood abutting the amusement park.

Despite the reduction, Sack said the Rye City Council is taking steps to address the field house. It has hired law firm Arnold and Potter at a starting amount of $10,000. Sack said Arnold and Potter will comb through the PIP and look into finding a way to have the city’s interests recognized and look at legal issues related to the city’s interests.

“We would like to ensure that we’re doing everything we can do to handle the matter and handle it appropriately,” Sack said.

-With reporting by Liz Button

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com 

 
After a non-specific bomb threat to a New Rochelle middle school last week, Albert Leonard Middle School was evacuated. One parent expressed concern over the inconsistency of evacuation procedures among schools. File photo

Middle schools evacuated after bomb threat

By KATIE HOOS

For the fourth time this school year, police have investigated phone calls threatening the safety of students, teachers and faculty in the City School District of New Rochelle, troubling parents and leading them to question evacuation protocols within the district.

After a non-specific bomb threat to a New Rochelle middle school last week, Albert Leonard Middle School was evacuated. One parent expressed concern over the inconsistency of evacuation procedures among schools. File photo

After a non-specific bomb threat to a New Rochelle middle school last week, Albert Leonard Middle School was evacuated. One parent expressed concern over the inconsistency of evacuation procedures among schools. File photo

At around noon on Wednesday, March 5, state police received a 911 call from an anonymous person about a bomb in a New Rochelle middle school. The caller did not specify between the district’s two middle schools, Albert Leonard Middle School, located at 25 Grenada Ave., or Isaac Young Middle School, located at 270 Centre Ave., so school officials evacuated both buildings.

According to Capt. Joseph Schaller of the New Rochelle Police Department, when po-
lice arrived, both middle schools were already conducting an evacuation.

After investigating both school buildings, police officers determined there were no bombs present and eventually determined the buildings were safe to re-enter 30 minutes after the evacuations. Classes resumed as normal for the remainder of the day.

Some Albert Leonard school parents are troubled by the recent bomb threat and say the evacuation was poorly executed.

John D’Alois, whose daughter attends Albert Leonard, is concerned the school district did not properly evaluate the severity of the threat and according to D’Alois, the two middle schools followed different evacuation procedures.

After receiving word of the threat, D’Alois, who spoke to students at Isaac Young, said students at that school were evacuated immediately and the fire alarm went off to signify the evacuation, while Albert Leonard students were given time to put their coats on and were evacuated to the side of the school building.

“I don’t know how [the school district] is evaluating the threat,” D’Alois said. “I’m not comfortable with people taking their time figuring out a plan of action.”

D’Alois also expressed his concerns in regards to where the students and staff were evacuated to.

According to D’Alois, the students were taken to the side of the school building, not far from the building itself.

“If you’re responding to a percieved threat, which could be explosives, why have children stand near school?” he said. “Are protocols actually being followed or are they being waned because they find it more to be a nuisance?”

D’Alois said he and his wife, Barbara, were notified of the threat and subsequent evacuation through the city school district’s electronic notification system, which sends out email and text message notifications regarding school closures, evacuations, PTA meetings and other
information.

The City School District of New Rochelle did not comment when asked about the inconsistencies in the Albert Leonard and Isaac Young evacuation procedures, but provided the following statement on last week’s threat.

“In response to a non-specific bomb threat received by the New York State Police, both CSDNR middle schools were safely and successfully evacuated last week. Both evacuations were completed with the full cooperation and presence of the New Rochelle Police Department, both middle school security teams and middle school administrative leaders. Once students were evacuated at both schools, school security staff and the New Rochelle Police Department did thorough checks of each building and determined within 30 minutes both school buildings were safe for the return of students and staff.”

Earlier in the school year, police responded to three other incidents in which a caller threatened the safety of New Rochelle High School. On Nov. 20, a call was made to the principal and assistant principal’s office, indicating the building would be harmed, leading to the evacuation and early dismissal of students and staff.

Police investigated the building and determined there was no threat present.

The high school was again evacuated on the morning of Dec. 2, 2013, after the school received a call “to get everyone out of the building by 8 a.m.,” according to the school district. Classes resumed around 10 a.m. after police investigators declared the building was safe.

New Rochelle High School received a third threatening phone call the following day, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, but the building was not evacuated.

With four serious threats over the school year, D’Alois hopes the district improves the consistency of its protocols and procedures.

“If I were in their shoes, I would want to weigh on the side of caution,” he said. “The risk is just too high.”

The New Rochelle Police Department continues to investigate all of the threats and according to Capt. Schaller, there is no evidence that the school year’s four threatening incidents are related. “We’ve had them in the past, so this year is nothing out of the ordinary,” Schaller said.

CONTACT: katie@hometwn.com

 
As controversy mounts between the Board of Trustees and critics of the village’s updated encompassing waterfront document, frustration also has grown over proper protocol for village committees and commissions. File photo

Committee policy reinforced

By PHIL NOBILE

Amid heavy criticism of an update to the village’s encompassing waterfront policy, the Village of Mamaroneck’s mayor wants to reinforce proper policy between the Board of Trustees and the village’s numerous volunteer committees and commissions.

As controversy mounts between the Board of Trustees and critics of the village’s updated encompassing waterfront document, frustration also has grown over proper protocol for village committees and commissions. File photo

As controversy mounts between the Board of Trustees and critics of the village’s updated encompassing waterfront document, frustration also has grown over proper protocol for village committees and commissions. File photo

While critics of the changes to the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program—a document that serves as a guideline for developers and environmental concerns in the village’s coastal areas—worry about the role of the village’s Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission as laid out in the updated version of the LWRP, Mayor Norman Rosenblum, a Republican, wants to reiterate that he and the other members of the Board of Trustees have the ultimate authority and protocol over the commission and village committees like it.

“The Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission has input, but no jurisdiction, over what is the mandate of the Board of Trustees,” Rosenblum said. “There are always areas of disagreement between trustees and committee members but, as far as I’m concerned, the trustees have the votes and determine the legislation.”

Village officials expressed concerns at a March 3 work session over the proper chain of command for the numerous committees and commissions after a particular incident with Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission Chairwoman Cindy Goldstein.

Goldstein requested further training on the LWRP issue from the Department of State and reached out to Steve Resler, a retired deputy bureau chief for the department and planner for the state’s coastal management program. The chairwoman also requested of the Board of Trustees that the commission have more input into the LWRP update.

Rosenblum said Goldstein and her commission should have had the “common courtesy” to consult the board prior to going to the Department of State. He added Goldstein’s suggestion for the Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission to have hearings to determine the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program’s fate is “egregious.”

“It’s a perfect example of someone disagreeing with policy that is now with the Board of Trustees,” Rosenblum said. “I will not allow any individual or group to try and hijack or kidnap a piece of the administrative and legislative process. It’s very simple.”

Whether or not the Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission broke procedure by contacting the Department of State directly is unclear.

According to village code, the duty of the commission is to “to consult with, advise and make recommendations to the Village Board of Trustees on all matters” within its purview.

But HCZMC’s duties aren’t that limited or clear-cut.

Village code further states one of the duties of the commission is “to maintain liaison and consult with and advise appropriate federal, state and county officials on matters relating to the harbor,” and that the commission must “maintain close communication and dialogue with responsible state and county agencies and legislators.”

Rosenblum argues the commission exceeded its mandate when Goldstein asked Resler to attend the Feb. 24 Board of Trustees meeting and for consultation directly—a claim Resler denies.

“They did exactly what they’re supposed to do, which is request technical assistance from the Department of State,” Resler said. “Whether it is legal, programmatic, scientific or other advice, the department has always provided that.”

According to Resler, members of the village’s HCZMC wanted to understand further all of the consistency requirements behind the LWRP that must flow between each governmental level and involved agency, from the local level to the state level.

“Many governmental [entities] at each level compete with one another. [Consulting the Department of State is] making sure [the updated LWRP] works with every single public policy objective,” he said.

This led to Resler’s appearance at the Feb. 24 meeting, at which he told the trustees the Department of State required substantial public input and comment “all through the process of developing and approving” the LWRP.

When asked for comment, Goldstein declined.

At the March 3 work session, trustees discussed the possible need for a concrete and written policy when it comes to procedure between the board and the village’s committees.

According to Rosenblum, no new policy will ultimately be drafted, but current procedure and policy will be reinforced with the goal of avoiding further conflict.

“This is an attempt to eliminate confusion and duplication and potential conflicts down the line,” the mayor said.

In a Feb. 28 memo obtained by the Mamaroneck Review sent from the commission to the trustees, HCZMC requested an additional two months of public hearings and public work sessions pertaining to the LWRP update to provide “meaningful and constructive suggestions to the Board of Trustees.”

Rosenblum said “absolutely not” in regards to the commission’s suggestions, and described them as delaying tactics.

“It shows their intentions go way beyond their purview,” Rosenblum said. “They are created by the LWRP and the Board of Trustees, not the other way around.”

Trustee Andres Bermudez Hallstrom, a Democrat, echoed Rosenblum’s statements. He thought additional HCZMC hearings on the LWRP would bring “general discomfort” to the process.

“I think it’s inappropriate and beyond the scope of their responsibility,” Bermudez Hallstrom said. “The role of the HCZMC is to define consistency. If they’re doing public hearings about the LWRP, that’s not looking at consistency.”

There will be a Board of Trustees work session on March 31 dedicated to discussion of the LWRP update, according to Rosenblum, which the public may attend but not comment. Once the document undergoes a series of reviews from the Department of State and further changes are made by the trustees, more public hearings will be scheduled.

CONTACT: phil@hometwn.com

 
Eastchester residents say a proposed project for a senior housing apartment building at 151 Summerfield St., currently the home of Ted Hermann’s Auto Body, still has unresolved issues and the Planning Board closed the public hearing prematurely. Photo courtesy Google maps

Senior housing hearing closed

By CHRIS EBERHART

After an 18-month standoff over the Summerfield Garden senior housing proposal, the Eastchester Planning Board voted unanimously to close a public hearing on the matter during its Feb. 27 meeting, which left opposition to the project fuming.

Eastchester residents say a proposed project for a senior housing apartment building at 151 Summerfield St., currently the home of Ted Hermann’s Auto Body, still has unresolved issues and the Planning Board closed the public hearing prematurely. Photo courtesy Google maps

Eastchester residents say a proposed project for a senior housing apartment building at 151 Summerfield St., currently the home of Ted Hermann’s Auto Body, still has unresolved issues and the Planning Board closed the public hearing prematurely. Photo courtesy Google maps

DELV Development’s proposal calls for a five-story, 92-unit apartment building for seniors 55 years or older to be built at 151 Summerfield St., which is the current location of Ted Hermann’s Auto Body. The proposal would sit in a one-to-three-story, commercial neighborhood and would require 11 zoning variances; among the most scrutinized are three height variances—maximum building height, maximum number of stories and maximum number of units.

Under Eastchester’s current zoning code, a building in the area can’t be larger than four stories and 45 feet with 46 units. The developer is proposing a five-story, 55-foot building with 92 units.

Residents of the neighborhood say the proposed building would be too large for the area and sanitary sewer pipes underneath the proposed site wouldn’t be able to handle the stress of a 92-unit apartment. Residents have held steadfast to their position that the developer should have to adhere to the town’s zoning requirements and should not be permitted to build the project.

Frank Sweeney, opponent of the project and the president of the North Eastchester Civic Association, an informal group of north end homeowners, questioned the marketability of the site.

“I ask myself, could I put my mom and dad in this apartment? And the answer is no,” Sweeney said. “It’s a tough area to get around. The quality of life would not be good. Where can they get exercise? It’s just not a senior-friendly area.”

David Steinmetz, the attorney for the developer, disagreed.

“I think the project is a terrific project because this is precisely what Eastchester needed in its community,” Steinmetz said. “This is a niche type of product that’s not being built elsewhere in the county. There’s data that says there is a large market for this type of housing.”

At the board meeting, Steinmetz called for the closing of the public hearing and requested a determination on the project, citing SEQR law, which states the agency, in this case the board, “must expedite all SEQR proceedings in the interest of prompt review.”

“I think, after 18 months, it’s time for a determination of significance,” Steinmetz told the board. “New York State law says you cannot make a decision based on generalized community oppositions.”

Although the Planning Board closed the public hearing, it made no determination of significance, which concludes whether the impact of height and infrastructure will have a significant effect on the environment. Therefore, the proposal will remain in front of the board until the time that such a determination is made.

Town Planner Margaret Uhle believes a decision will likely be made either during the March 27 or April 24 Planning Board meeting.

But Sweeney said the residents felt the public hearing was closed prematurely.

The issues unresolved in the eyes of some area residents revolve around the height of the proposed builiding and the pipes underneath the site.

During the Feb. 27 meeting, the developer drew the line in the sand and said it couldn’t lower the height of the building any further for fear of the project becoming economically unviable.

Yet, the current dimensions of the proposal exceed zoning limitations.

“It’s like trying to fit 20 gallons in a 10-gallon hat,” Charles Galanek, an opponent of the project and vice president of the North Eastchester Civic Association, said.

As for infrastructure, John Meyer Consulting, which studied the area’s sanitary sewer system for the developer, said the sewage pipes that flow from Montgomery Avenue, which is the proposed connection site, is nearly full at certain points.

According to the study, the pipes running from Ewart Street down Harney Road are at 85 to 90 percent of its maximum capacity now, and in times of rain, “the system seems to be at its maximum capacity.”

And that percentage will reach closer or exceed capacity with the replacement of Ted Hermann’s Auto Body shop for a residential building.

According to the consultant’s study, which was obtained by the Eastchester Review, the auto body shop produces approximately 675 gallons of water per day, while the proposed project is estimated to generate approximately 14,650 gallons per day, which would increase the flow by about 2 to 3 percent.

Uhle said the consultant’s numbers have not been confirmed by the town’s Civil Engineer, Evans Associates Environmental Consulting, Inc., which is currently conducting its own study of the sewer system below the proposed site and will provide an independent analysis of the sanitary system prior to the March 27 Planning Board meeting.

When talking about the numbers provided by the developer’s consultant, Sweeney said, “Is it reasonable to assume these storm and sewage lines, which are already almost filled to capacity, are capable of handling 92 units? I don’t think it is.”

Sweeney added, “I’ve been living here for 44 years. I see the manholes by Woodruff and Scarsdale avenues bursting every time there’s a heavy rain.”

Hector DiLeo, Eastchester superintendent of highways, confirmed that the area Sweeney referred to—the intersection at Woodruff and Scarsdale avenues, which is down the road from the proposed site and part of the route that the sanitary sewer pipes follow—is a trouble spot for the town Highway Department during a heavy downpour because the manhole covers pop off.

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com

 
Record snowfall has caused Harrison to exceed its snow budget for the year already. Photo/Bobby Begun

Town exceeds snow budget

By CHRIS EBERHART

Harrison’s town budget continues to feel the effects of the barrage of snowstorms from this past winter.

Record snowfall has caused Harrison to exceed its snow budget for the year already. Photo/Bobby Begun

Record snowfall has caused Harrison to exceed its snow budget for the year already. Photo/Bobby Begun

A snow season that has seen record snowfall in areas of lower Westchester and New York City has created 10-to-15-hour work days for Harrison’s highway crew as they plow and salt the town’s streets and remove the mounds of leftover snow.

Harrison Mayor Ron Belmont, a Republican, said the cleanup from the previous snowstorms has finally concluded, but so far this year it has cost the town $215,000 in overtime for snow removal, which is $15,000 over the allotted snow removal overtime budget.

To make up the deficit, Harrison’s commissioner of Public Works, Anthony Robinson, requested a $50,000 addition to the overtime snow budget, which was passed in a unanimous vote during the March 6 council meeting.

The $50,000 transfer was reallocated from the highway fund balance, which currently has a balance of $845,672 as of 2012, to the overtime snow removal budget, which provides the town with $35,000 to plow the streets after a possible snowstorm throughout the remainder of the entire year, including November and December.

Harrison Comptroller Maureen MacKenzie said the town won’t have an updated number for the highway fund balance until the end of March, when the auditors report is finished but she said she’s expecting to add a substantial amount to that number for 2013 as a result of approximately $700,000 that was received in 2013 from FEMA for Hurricane Sandy aid.

The $35,000 transferred will fund any overtime needed to clear the streets after future snowstorms from now until the end of the year. MacKenzie admitted that might not be enough to cover the rest of the year and said she “may have to go back to the board for additional funds.”

Belmont described this past winter through his observations by saying, “This was the worst winter I’ve ever seen. We were breaking records all over the place.”

MacKenzie described this past winter by putting the season’s expenditures into context.

In 2012 and 2013, MacKenzie said Harrison spent $51,515 and $198,261, respectively, for overtime snow removal as compared to the $215,000 overtime expenditure this year, which doesn’t even include the rest of the year or even next winter come November and December.

As for Harrison’s salt costs, the town spent $258,450 of its $300,000 salt budget so far this year, which compares to $92,462 and $257,595 in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

Originally, the Town Council agenda included an item for a $100,000 transfer to the salt budget from the highway fund, but Belmont said that request was withdrawn because the town still has ample salt left in storage.

According to Robinson, there’s currently enough salt in the storage for “a couple of small storm events” and the town is currently waiting on a 2,000-ton shipment.

Although snow removal efforts have concluded for the moment, potholes remain causing significant damage to vehicles.

A representative from Adelphi Auto Works on Grant Avenue in Harrison said the auto body shop has fixed between 15 and 20 cars with damage ranging from blown-out tires to cars that have lost control because of a pothole and crashed.

Belmont said the highway crews have “been out there every day and every weekend” filling the cracks in the streets.

As of now, he said there is no estimate to how much the patchwork will cost.

Robinson did not return calls for comment as of press time.

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com

 
The Board of Education commissioned a review of allegations made by board member Edward Fox that the agreement to reinstate a suspended teacher was not reached in a fair manner. The review, which was commissioned behind closed doors on Jan. 28, exonerated board president Laura Slack of a conflict of interest in the negotiations. File photos

School district’s firm: No conflict for Slack

By LIZ BUTTON

A legal review commissioned by the Rye City Board of Education following accusations of a conflict of interest involving board president has, in the majority of the board’s view, exonerated her.

The Board of Education commissioned a review of allegations made by board member Edward Fox that the agreement to reinstate a suspended teacher was not reached in a fair manner. The review, which was commissioned behind closed doors on Jan. 28, exonerated board president Laura Slack of a conflict of interest in the negotiations. File photos

The Board of Education commissioned a review of allegations made by board member Edward Fox that the agreement to reinstate a suspended teacher was not reached in a fair manner. The review, which was commissioned behind closed doors on Jan. 28, exonerated board president Laura Slack of a conflict of interest in the negotiations. File photos

However, concerns over the integrity of the review have been brought forward by one board member who said the law firm hired to provide a legal opinion has its own conflict of interest and only interviewed the board president and vice president Katy Keohane Glassberg about the matter.

School board president Laura Slack came under fire from board member Edward Fox on Jan. 27 after a settlement was reached with Osborn School third grade teacher Gail Topol that paved the way for her to return to the classroom following a lengthy suspension over allegations of improper coaching on state tests that surfaced last May.

Controversy ensued after the Topol agreement was announced when Fox accused Slack of inappropriately being involved in negotiations with the suspended teacher. Topol was legally represented by Kerri Ann Law, wife of Mayor Joe Sack, who, along with the City Council, had recently appointed Richard Slack, husband of the school board president, to an open council seat.

Fox has maintained that the other six school board members were never made aware Slack’s husband was being considered for a City Council position by the mayor while negotiations were taking place.

At the special board meeting on Jan. 27 that was called to vote on the agreement, Fox also said the public might suspect the settlement, which requires the Osborn School teacher to pay $2,500 to the district but not to admit wrongdoing, was conceived as a “sweetheart deal.”

A legal opinion was drafted on Feb. 4 by attorney John Gross, a partner at Ingerman Smith, the district’s law firm on retainer. The letter states that anything that can be called an “interest” must be financial or material in nature, arguing that Laura Slack had no duty to recuse herself from the negotiations and that there was no conflict of interest or appearance of such.

The Rye City Review did not obtain the legal opinion until Feb. 26, when the school board voted to waive attorney/client privilege. The Rye City Review first submitted a FOIL request for the document on Feb. 4.

The opinion references New York General Municipal Law 800 and Rye School Board Policy 2160, titled “School Officers’ and Employees’ Ethics” to support its conclusion. The opinion states the agreement with Topol also does not qualify as a contract within the meaning of conflict of interest laws.

Fox said he was not satisfied with the findings of the review and argued the opinion addresses issues and reaches conclusions that are based, at best, on state law, rather than Board Policy 2160, which is broader than state law.

“Although New York General Municipal Law 800 limits ‘interest’ to a [financial] or material benefit accruing as a result of a contract, Policy 2160 contains no such ‘contract’ limitation,” in its prohibitions against conflicts of interest, Fox said.

Slack said state law always takes precedence over board policy and Gross used both in reaching his conclusions. She said Fox is well aware of the fact that technically, board policy refers to a different statute of conduct when it comes to students, board members and employees.

With school board policy, the district can go broader in defining what it classified as right and wrong, she said. For example, a child may do something harmful to another child that the district deems worthy of suspension but that does not rise to the level of a criminal act. Even so, the district cannot write a school board policy that contradicts state law, she said.

As he questions the substance of the opinion, Fox also contends the way the review was commissioned was itself inappropriate.

Since the district employs Ingerman Smith attorney Gus Mountanos as its regular lead counsel, Fox argued it was inappropriate for the district to have Gross, Mountanos’ colleagues, write the letter. The fact that Gross wrote it proves the review was not an unbiased undertaking, he said; Ingerman Smith is the equivalent of a “hired gun” with incentive to exonerate its client.

Fox also claims the opinion was not written based on an independent review since the only facts Gross used were provided to him via one source, the board, in a series of phone calls with Slack and vice president Katy Glassberg.

The decision to seek the opinion was done in an executive session at the board’s regular meeting on Jan. 28, according to Slack, on the night following Fox’s initial accusations regarding the settlement negotiations.

According to New York State Open Meetings Law, which is echoed in school board policy 2330, a public body may conduct an executive session for a set of enumerated purposes, provided that no action by formal vote shall be taken to appropriate public moneys.

While Fox said the decision to authorize the independent review wastes taxpayer money that was not authorized to be spent, Michael Conte of Syntax NY, the public relations firm retained by the district, said there is no additional cost associated with the lawyer’s written opinion since the letter was produced under the existing retainer agreement with the firm.

The manner in which the review was commissioned still remains somewhat of a gray area, however, with the administration stating that no vote was taken by the board during the closed door meeting on Jan. 28 and, instead, the board asked Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez to reach out to Mountanos to have Ingerman-Smith prepare a legal opinion.

This action by the superintendent is routine and appropriate and does not require a vote by the board before the public, according to Conte.

Since Alvarez requested the opinion in a conversation protected by attorney/client privilege, this makes the decision exempt from New York State’s Open Meetings Law, according to Committee on Open Government Assistant Director Camille Jobin-Davis.

Despite the district’s defenses, Fox maintains Slack should have at least disclosed to the board the circumstances under which the settlement negotiations in which she participated took place, if only to be scrupulously compliant with policy for the public’s benefit.

Topol was one of four teachers implicated in the testing scandal that led to four suspensions. Another teacher, Shannon Gold of Milton School, has since resigned from her position with the school district, while the other two teachers, Carin Mehler of Osborn School and Dana Coppola of Milton, remain suspended awaiting resolution.

CONTACT: liz@hometwn.com

 
Whitby-Castle-3

Insurance won’t cover Whitby suit

By LIZ BUTTON

City officials have confirmed the city’s insurance carrier will not provide coverage for the millions of dollars in damages sought by employees at Rye Golf Club’s Whitby Castle in their lawsuit to recover what they say are unpaid overtime wages and stolen tips.

The City Council authorized City Manager Scott Pickup at its Feb. 26 meeting to hire Manhattan-based law firm Harris Beach to defend the city and the golf club against what could turn out to be a class action suit initially filed by nine former and current waiters, kitchen workers and bartenders, all of whom were hired by RM Staffing. Harris Beach employs City Attorney Kristen Wilson, who is on retainer with the city.

RM, one of the shell staffing companies set up by former Rye Golf Club general manager Scott Yandrasevich in 2007 and hired by the city, allegedly served as the key company in Yandrasevich’s financial scheme to defraud the city, which was uncovered in 2012.

Wilson and her fellow Harris Beach colleagues Douglas Gerhardt and Mark McCarthy, who are billing the city $215 per hour outside of the city’s retainer agreement with the firm, are currently in the process of evaluating the suit’s causes of action and deliberating whether it makes sense for the city to file a motion to dismiss the case, either in part or in full. This decision will be made soon, McCarthy said.

The lawyers for the city, which has hired Harris Beach in the past to defend it in other matters outside of the firm’s retainer, are meeting with members of the club’s staff to discuss possible options, after press time.

The lawyers’ recommendation to the city will be based on reconciling the fact that, while the city’s insurance carrier, Travelers Insurance, does not define the city as an employer under its policy—leading them to deny coverage of the claims—state labor standards do.

The RM employees’ lawsuit, filed on Dec. 23, 2013, pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law, defines employer in a much broader way, even more so than labor codes in other states do.

The city maintains these waiters and bartenders were employees of RM Staffing, not the city, so the city is not defined as their employer.

“Our definition under [the city’s] policy is very narrow,” Wilson said. “The definition of employer for labor purposes is broad…it’s meant to capture many more situations.”

The lawsuit also holds other entities accountable—RM Staffing & Events, Yandrasevich, and the Morris Yacht and Beach Club in the Bronx, where RM also supplied hourly employees—but it does not specify a dollar amount for damages.

The former club manager of the city-run Rye Golf Club allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in members’ dues by submitting falsified invoices to the city manager’s office starting as early as 2007. Yandrasevich is currently facing second degree grand larceny charges and will be in court again on March 18; meanwhile, the Westchester County District Attorney’s office is preparing a case to bring before the grand jury.

McCarthy said the issue of whether or not Rye is an employer is still open at this point but needs to be decided “before we get too much further.”

Time is ticking, since plaintiffs’ attorneys, Manhattan-based unpaid overtime litigation firm Pelton & Associates, are attempting to have the suit declared a class, or collective, action, which is when a group of people sues another group of people or a person.

If the action is designated a class action under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the plaintiffs will be authorized to send notice to other plaintiffs who are eligible to join the suit, said Brent Pelton, an attorney representing the plantiffs.

“We think the liability is in the millions but, until we have more of the underlying employment records, we’re not able to immediately find that out,” he said. “I don’t see how the damages could be less than [in the millions of dollars-range] on the volume of the business conducted throughout those six years.”

Six years is the statute of limitations on this case as defined by New York labor law.

From the city’s point of view, Wilson said, millions of dollars in damages is unrealistic.

Currently, the city’s hired counsel is looking at the RM wages, salary and tips dispersed in the last year and prior to that, according to Pickup, but this activity is complicated by the fact that some of the staff who worked at Whitby were supplied by other staffing agencies besides RM. Another complicating factor is that calculating the tips the employees are owed is a difficult endeavor, Pickup said. Yandrasevich, as manager, admitted at an Oct. 9, 2012, Rye Golf Club Commission meeting that all employees’ tips went to the restaurant to “offset labor costs.”

Pelton said, under New York Labor Law 196d, it is clear gratuities belong to the service employees.

Given the possibility some of the potential plaintiffs may be illegal workers, opting for a class action to recover stolen tips and unpaid overtime is prudent since identification is not necessary to participate, according to one club member who has spoken with some of Whitby employees.

Rye resident Ted Carroll has urged the City Council to investigate the original hiring of RM Staffing and hold those public officials and city staff who allowed the hire accountable. Carroll, who is not a club member, and Rye Golf Club Commissioner Leon Sculti both said the club’s members were irate when it was revealed at the Oct. 9, 2012 commission meeting the workers’ tips were going directly to the club.

Sculti said what allegedly might have happened to the staff as far as tips goes is unjust.

“If they have to sue everybody and they feel like that is the right thing they need to do, then so be it,” he said.

CONTACT: liz@hometwn.com

 
Rye-Golf-Club-9

City submitted $2.1M claim for golf theft

By LIZ BUTTON

According to city documents obtained this week, the City of Rye filed a $2.1 million insurance claim last August to recover money allegedly stolen by former Rye Golf Club manager Scott Yandrasevich.

The number is viewed as larger than expected when compared to a February 2013 investigative report commissioned by the city, which said the theft was believed to have only amounted to “many hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The city hired the law firm Brune and Richard in October 2012 to conduct the probe, which was vague on the total of the alleged theft.

City Attorney Kristen Wilson filed the claim on Aug. 15, 2013, with Travelers, the city’s insurance carrier, for $2,154,106.16, according to the claim letter. The company has not yet made its coverage determination, Wilson said.

The letter was obtained on March 11 by Timothy Chittenden, a former Rye cop, through a Jan. 13 Freedom of Information Law request that was denied by the city multiple times.

Chittenden questioned why the amount of the claim was not publicized earlier as many residents requested the information for months after the investigation concluded.

The claim of $2.1 million over six years appears to run counter to the Westchester District Attorney’s assertion that Yandrasevich owes the city $271,120 from the period of Jan. 21, 2008, to Aug. 16, 2012. So far, the DA’s office has investigated only that four-year portion of the six-year period the city initially identified in its investigation.

Republican Mayor Joe Sack, who took the office in 2014, asked Wilson about the claim’s status on multiple occasions as a councilman during 2013. Sack said he found out the actual amount around the end of November 2013, when he approached Wilson about it and was given a binder of background material used to construct the claim.

Wilson said the entire City Council, which included former Mayor Douglas French and Deputy Mayor Peter Jovanovich, both Republicans, was eventually made aware of how much the city was asking for. However, she said, she does not recall the exact date the council was informed of the amount.

Yandrasevich, who resigned from his position with the city in January 2013, was arrested and charged with second-degree grand larceny on Nov. 19, 2013. He is accused of creating shell companies like RM Staffing to falsify purchase orders he submitted to the city. The bulk of the claim, Wilson said, are fraudulent transactions based on these invoices.

Wilson said there is still no coverage determination because the insurance carrier is not finished evaluating information, which she, interim City Comptroller Joe Fazzino and forensic accountant Bill Breen of Breen & Associates, continue to provide.

Breen’s company was hired by Brune and Richard to aid in the investigation and stayed on to work with the city.

CONTACT: liz@hometwn.com

 
The preliminary school budget, which falls within the state tax cap and results in a 2.16 percent tax rate increase, aims to maintain all current staff positions within the district as well as support smaller class sizes. File photo

2.16% school tax hike proposed

By KATIE HOOS

The City School District of New Rochelle released its preliminary budget for the 2014-2015 school year, preserving all existing programs and staff positions in the district and coming in under the state mandated tax cap.

The preliminary school budget, which falls within the state tax cap and results in a 2.16 percent tax rate increase, aims to maintain all current staff positions within the district as well as support smaller class sizes. File photo

The preliminary school budget, which falls within the state tax cap and results in a 2.16 percent tax rate increase, aims to maintain all current staff positions within the district as well as support smaller class sizes. File photo

On March 6, Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeffery Korostoff and Assistant Superintendent for Business Administration John Quinn presented the preliminary budget of $244.5 million—a $5.1 million spending increase over the 2013-2014 budget—before members of the Board of Education.

The preliminary budget stays within the state mandated tax levy cap, coming in at a 1.41 percent increase, and would result in a tax rate increase of 2.16 percent, compared to a 3.73 percent tax rate increase in the current year’s budget.

White creating the preliminary budget, the district took into account feedback from the Community Advisory Committees—community groups created two years ago to review the district’s finances—including the desire to maintain current staffing levels, preserve smaller class sizes, continue current educational programs and improve school security.

Superintendent Korostoff said these factors were important in shaping the budget.

“We believe that this preliminary budget, which the administration would characterize as a ‘maintenance budget,’ is responsive to all of these interests,” he said.

Occupying a combined 75 percent of the preliminary budget’s total expenditures, the district expects to shell out nearly $185 million toward salaries and health benefits alone.

Twenty-five teachers are expected to retire this year and the district will replace these positions to maintain the same number of current total positions.

Additionally, the district will hire five teaching positions in reserve in case class sizes—which the district has limited to a threshold of 25 students per class for grades 1 through 5 and a threshold of 30 for middle school and high school classes—are higher than projected.

“The overriding goal in developing the 2014-2015 budget was to maintain educational services with the primary emphasis on core instruction,” Quinn said.

While all staffing positions are expected to be maintained in 2014-2015, nearly 200 positions have been cut in the last five years.

The district is also required to contribute to staff members’ retirement, accounting for $23.1 million, or 9.5 percent of the 2014-2015 budget. Over the last six years, the mandatory retirement contributions have increased by $15.6 million.

Another expenditure included in the preliminary budget is the effort to increase safety and security within district schools, particularly since the December 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 children and 6 staff members in a mass shooting. Since then, school districts around the country are focusing on improving building security.

Last year, Vigilant Resources International, a security assessment company, audited district safety procedures and facilities, yielding recommendations to improve school security.

Following the recommendations from the audit, the district has included a total of $260,000 in safety improvements in the 2014-2015 preliminary budget, including keyless entry systems and cameras at the main entrances of the Campus Alternative High School and Albert Leonard and Isaac Young middle schools, window shades, door locks, a student identification system and a visitor management system at New Rochelle High School, chairs to assist with evacuating students and staff with mobility issues, and new P.A. systems at Jefferson and Daniel Webster elementary schools.

“In an era when schools can no longer be viewed as a safe haven, we continue to dedicate funds to provide for the safety and security of our students and staff,” Korostoff said, adding training district security staff is also a budgetary priority.

To counterbalance the anticipated expenditures, the district looks to receive revenue through other sources than property taxes, including $34 million in state aid, which is a $2 million increase over the aid received over the 2013-2014 school year. The state aid will go toward funding district transportation aid, building aid, and BOCES programs.

The district, which has been struggling with a declining fund balance—an accumulated excess of revenue over expenses—over the last five years and was recently deemed under “moderate financial stress” by the New York State Comptroller, has budgeted $950,000 in fund balance use over the year to help with expenses, leaving $3.75 million in the fund balance.

Overall, the preliminary budget tries to fulfill the needs of the community without busting the tax cap.

Resident Anna Giordano said the district is making steps in the right direction, but there are still improvements to be made.

“There are some very positive improvements, but the fact is there’s a 2.16 tax increase even though we are still down 200 positions,” Giordano said. “It’s nothing to jubiliate.”

The Board of Education will adopt its proposed budget on April 1 and a subsequent public hearing will be held May 6. The public will vote on the budget on May 20.

 CONTACT: katie@hometwn.com 

 
The Bronxville school administration released its preliminary 2015-2016 budget on Feb. 7. The draft budget comes within the state-mandated property tax levy cap and increases school spending by 
1.3 percent over the current year’s budget. File photo

Bronxville School in good financial shape

By CHRIS EBERHART

The Bronxville Board of Education inched closer to its goal of staying within the 1.9 percent state-imposed tax cap in the latest edition of its 2014-2015 school budget. 

After the latest draft of the 2014-2015 Bronxville School budget was released, Assistant Superintendent of Business Dan Carlin said the district is “in pretty good shape.” File photo

After the latest draft of the 2014-2015 Bronxville School budget was released, Assistant Superintendent of Business Dan Carlin said the district is “in pretty good shape.” File photo

During a March 1 budget workshop, Bronxville Assistant Superintendent of Business Dan Carlin said the current edition of the proposed school budget, which includes concrete numbers for health insurance and the state tax levy cap, sits at a total expenditure of $46.3 million with a 1.98 percent tax levy increase, just a fraction of a percent over the cap.

Carlin said the tax rate increase, which is different from the tax levy increase, is sitting at 0.82 percent.

“Overall, we’re in pretty good shape right now,” Carlin said. “And I definitely think we’ll get under the cap by the March [20] board meeting. The board has no appetite for a super majority vote to override the cap.”

In order to come in under the tax cap, which Carlin said has been the goal all along, the Board of Education has to cut an additional $30,167 from its budget, a significant decrease from the last edition of the budget, which was released on Feb. 1 and required $107,000 in cuts to get under the cap.

Carlin said he will comb through the current iteration of the budget and locate areas where the district can trim the fat, but he didn’t have any specific areas at press time.

The $46.3 million school budget marks a 2.07 percent spending increase over last year’s budget, of which 2 percent is funding for teacher’s salaries, benefits and pensions.

“Basically, we’re squeezing all the other numbers to support salaries and pensions,” Carlin said.

The assistant superintendent said the district is also contending with rising enrollment, which has been an ongoing trend for the past several years.

Since the 2011-2012 academic year, enrollment in all of the Bronxville schools increased by 12 percent, which includes an increase of 82 students during the 2013-2014 school year and a projection of nine additional students come 2014-2015.

Bronxville Superintendent David Quattrone said the current tax cap number will fluctuate with class size projections, which he said the district will continue to keep an eye on.

“Class size trends in all grades will continue to be monitored in the months ahead,” Quattrone said. “The district is paying close attention to kindergarten, where the trajectory of registration is outpacing past patterns.”

The Board of Education will adopt its budget on April 22, and then put it to a public vote on May 20.

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com