This might not seem like the most dramatic event in the world: Hiring a village clerk.
But in Port Chester Monday night, members of the public witnessed quite a show, in which one trustee nominated an ex-politician he once called corrupt, proposing that this man assume the duties of keeping vital records and running elections. A long-ailing trustee sought to vote from home via Skype. Citizens showed up at his house, as they were entitled to do under the state’s Open Meetings Law, and were allegedly turned away. A newspaper publisher insisted that the Skyping trustee be visible to the public, and the laptop was turned toward the audience. There were shouts back and forth via microphone and laptop. There were accusations over deal-making and king-making. And the nomination was ultimately voted down.
About the clerk’s job: Before the village board interviewed any of the handful of people who applied to replace the resigning Joan Mancuso, Trustee Sam Terenzi nominated former Rye Town supervisor Robert Morabito, a onetime political foe, for the position and a $75,000 salary. Morabito’s administration had been the subject of three critical audits by the state, and Terenzi had called it a “corrupt organization.” Eyebrows were raised at the choice, and about the decision of Trustee John Branca, Terenzi’s fellow Conservative, to participate via Skype after being absent from meetings for months. Democratic Trustee Daniel Brakewood spoke up early on to say that members of the public had been denied the chance to attend the meeting at Branca’s house as they had the right to do.
Several people stood up to reject what they saw as a lack of democracy and due process in the hiring decision, and to question what political deals had been made. A police officer assailed the board for their treatment of Branca as he battles illness. Trustee Bart Didden, a Conservative, surprised many be voting against the hire. Without detailing his reasons, Didden complained about a gadfly in her 80s who had incorrectly called his vote in advance. The vote failed, 4-3. The board later discussed the possibility of sharing clerk functions with the Town of Rye, which envelops Port Chester.
“This is one of the more int meetings we’ve had, to say the least,” Brakewood said. He said the upheaval was the result of doing things “the wrong way.”
Terenzi shrugged off the notion that his nomination was out of line. “The process worked. He didn’t get four votes,” he said, repeating his explanation that Morabito was his pick because he’s from Port Chester. “I’m just a Port Chester guy at heart, what can I tell you. I feel that there is redemption here somewhere. Did he go to jail, Bobby? No. Was he caught stealing money? No. Did he make a lot of bad decisions? Yes,” Terenzi said.
He defended Morabito by saying he was just one member of a five-member board that made bad decisions. “To get anything passed on that board, you needed three votes,” he said.
(Photo: Trustees Joseph Kenner, left, and Luis Marino appear at the meeting with Trustee John Branca participating via Skype)