Mineola, NY

The Truth is Out There – WAY Out There ! !

IT’S UP TO YOU ! ! ! !


I hear complaints about this village from ALOT of people.  Most of those complaints center around the Building Department.  So I was amused when I read an article in the March 13 issue of Newsday that discussed the various village elections taking place tomorrow.  There’s quite the kerfuffle going on in East Hills, our neighbor to the north where three rabble-rousers are running against three incumbents, calling for “ethical accountability” among other things.  According to Newsday these three upstarts, Matthew Weiss (for mayor), Jonathan Penn and Gregg Resnick (for trustee) are running under the East Hills Advocacy Group banner.  They want to make village decisions more open to the public and create a “friendlier atmosphere when dealing with the Building Department !!!!”    http://www.newsday.com/long-island/nassau/north-hempstead-village-races-heat-up-1.2745301

WOW ! ! !  Fancy that ! ! !

What is it exactly, about Building Departments that ticks taxpayers off?  Because I know a hernia-load of taxpayers in the Village of Mineola are not happy with our Building Department personnel.

And what is it with village officials trying to keep all their wheelings and dealings on the down-low?  Because whenever somebody shone a light on Jack Martins’ manipulations he didn’t like it one little bit.  He did whatever he could to obfuscate, and certain people in Village Hall are still covering things up for him.

We have our own entrenched party here in Mineola:  the New Line Party.  Their slogan is “HONESTY – INTEGRITY – ACCOUNTABILITY” but all three of those have been in seriously short supply during the reign of Jack Martins.  Current ad-hoc mayor Larry Werther is one of three candidates running for TWO trustee spots.  He claims to be the logical choice for the voters because during his tenure the Board reduced waste disposal fees (we’ll see how that pans out over the years), decreased the budget deficit and made government more accessible.

Which is why the Mineola Board took the Public Meetings off the air when heat was applied about Conflict of Interest issues in – wait for it – THE BUILDING DEPARTMENTAnd which is why they only brought the broadcasts back after they came up with their Speaker Request Sign-In Sheet.  And which is why they violated the First Amendment when I tried to raise a question about a union action against the village.

It’s also why they are stonewalling my request to view Justice Court records.

HONESTY – INTEGRITY – ACCOUNTABILITY

Really?

Well I’ll tell you what I know, and what I don’t know.

I don’t know Scott Strauss.  I only know of him.  I know he served in the NYPD and he’s put his life on the line in some pretty serious circumstances to help other people.  He’s got STREET CRED.

I don’t know George Durham, although I did serve with him on the Fence Committee a few years back.  He seemed like a reasonable human being then and he’s probably still a reasonable human being.

I don’t know Chris Wales – the dark horse candidate running on the aptly-named Mustang ticket.  This guy has come out of the clear blue sky and is giving it his best shot.  What I do know is that it takes moxie to run for office on a wing and a prayer.  I know he represents a breath of fresh air and has brought some life to this race.  He also presents a serious threat to incumbent Larry Werther.

Ah, Larry.  The only holdover from the Martins regime to be running this year, and the third of the New Line candidates.  I do know Larry- not personally mind you, but just on the basis of my experiences with him as a trustee.  His plans to run for Mayor were squashed when the New Line party refused to endorse him and put up Mr. Strauss instead.  So he concocted a story about work conflicting with his ability to attend Wednesday night meetings were he to be elected mayor.  These are the same Wednesday night meetings he’s been attending for 8 years as a trustee.  And the same Wednesday night meetings he’ll have to attend if he gets re-elected.  Larry, who at Village meetings proudly extols his Catholic upbringing every chance he gets, yet who has referred to the homeless individuals who sometimes populate our streets as “Human Garbage.”  Larry, who backed up everything Jack Martins ever said no matter whether it was the full truth, a half-truth, or an outright lie.  Larry, who smirked and giggled when I rebuked the Board of Trustees about the way he violated my First Amendment right to ask a question at a Public Meeting.

Larry.  I don’t fully believe that he acts out of maliciousness, but out of cluelessness.  And arrogance.  He has so outraged people over the years with the things that have come out of his mouth, yet I don’t think he understood the full impact of his behavior until Jack Martins kicked him in the teeth in December when his senate win was finally certified.  Now it just might be too late.

So there is stands.  One incumbent clinging to his Board position for dear life.  Three newbies – two of whom carry the baggage of running on Jack Martins’ party line and one who carries the baggage of being a complete unknown.

So it’s up to you.  Vote.  Don’t vote.  But if you don’t vote, don’t complain – especially to me.  The mayoralty is a done deal for good or ill.  But the trustee positions are still up for grabs.  So roll out of the recliner and Watusi on down to Village Hall tomorrow to flip those levers and cast your ballots.  It’s your right.  It’s your duty.  It’s your choice.

March 14, 2011 Posted by | 1st Amendment, 7th S.D. New York State, Freedom of Speech, Incorporated Village of Mineola, Jack Martins, Mineola NY | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

♪ ♫ The Times They Are a Changing ♫ ♪ (Maybe. . .)


The Village election is March 16, 2011 and while it will be a one-horse race for mayor, there is some doubt about how the race for the Trustee positions will end.  The new Mustang Party is represented by Christopher Wales of Jefferson Place.  The old New Line Party has put up Larry Werther, and George Durham is replacing Tom Kennedy on their ticket.  So there will be changes, but before they take place, I’d like to give my fellow taxpayers some food for thought.

When it was brought to the Board’s attention that a Building Department employee and Village resident had not been paying the proper taxes on her house for years, they took it in stride.  They all marched in lockstep behind Jack Martins, allowing this individual to continue to collect salary, medical and pension benefits.  Then one day she pushed the envelope so far that even Jack Martins finally felt compelled to get rid of her.  That’s when he convinced the Board to eliminate the position of Secretary to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

This in fact, WAS NOT the reason her position was eliminated.  This employee already had a written complaint filed against her for insubordination and for leaving her post unattended in January 2010, yet she was not brought up on charges with the union at that time.  Then the Board was advised that she and her ex-husband had made certain improvements to their home in Mineola without proper permits or inspections; that the improvements were never recorded with either the Village or the County and thus went untaxed for more than a decade; AND that the house was up for sale with these unpermitted improvements still in place.  The Trustees remained unfazed, and again, no disciplinary action was taken against the employee.  However, on September 16, 2010 she apparently upset the wrong person in the administration.  On the 17th she was suspended for one day with pay, and at the September 22nd Work Session the Board eliminated her position, using the rationale that it would save the village money.

The employee immediately filed a grievance with the United Public Service Employees Union, a grievance that we have to defend.   See the UPSEU’s press release on Scribd at http://www.scribd.com/doc/38096489/Union-files-Against-Martins

At the November 3rd Work Session, the Board approved Attorney John Spellman’s motion to appoint Gerard Loughran as “Special Hearing Officer” for the Village.  Co-incidental?  Maybe.  But it could turn out to be a fairly expensive co-incidence for us because according to Mr. Loughran’s resume with the NYS Employment Relations Board, his per diem fee is $1000.

The Job

In 2002 the Colbert administration, of which Jack Martins was a Trustee, eliminated a competitive clerk/typist position to create the position of Secretary to the BZA.  And because the Civil Service classification for the title is “Exempt,” no civil service testing is required.  The employee had previously been working in the Building Department in a non-competitive messenger post for which there was also no testing required.  When she was given the title of Secretary to the BZA she received a pay hike of nearly 26%.  By the time the job was eliminated, she was earning $24.64 an hour, nearly $45,000 a year.  AND as a union employee, she was eligible for paid overtime as well as the medical and pension benefits we provide.  This information is obtainable from the Nassau County Civil Service Commission.

The House

One of the improvements made to the home this employee co-owned with her former husband was a ½ bath on the first floor for which there was no permit application and no Certificate of Approval whatsoever.  The other improvement was a 3-piece bath in the cellar, which is a non-habitable space.  The only way out of the cellar is by a staircase that leads directly into the house.  Per a drawing submitted with the cellar bath plumbing application, the windows are too high off the cellar floor and too small to escape from.  Nor are there any exterior window wells.  No firefighter can get into or out of that cellar by a window.  The area does not even meet the criteria to be used as a recreation space, much less a habitable space, so why was a Certificate of Approval issued  by the Building Superintendent?  Or was one issued??

The Building Superintendent at the time, Steven Siwinski, issued a plumbing permit with the stipulation that an Electrical Certificate had to be filed in order to “close out the permit.”  There is no such Electrical Certificate for that bathroom among the documents in the building file.  If the permit was not closed out, how can the bath be legal?    In fact, there is no Certificate of Approval for the cellar bath.  There wasn’t one last year when I first reviewed the file and there still isn’t.  There is only the plumbing permit application with a notation of  “Issued as per Steve” on it.  When I reviewed the file in January 2010, the cellar bath did not appear on the record card in the file nor did the first floor 1/2 bath.  Mysteriously, that card was not made available to me when I reviewed the file again this January.

But there’s more.  Upon doing further research it appears our current Building Superintendent, Mr. Whalen, did not issue a Notice of Violation against the owners when the issues were brought to light, nor does it appear that any fines were levied against them for installing a powder room without a permit, or for not having an electrical underwriter inspect the wiring for their cellar bath.  All Whalen required them to do, AFTER the matter was brought to the Board’s attention, was take out a retroactive plumbing permit for the ½ bath for which they paid $175 in “CASH.” And the sale of the house was allowed to go through in August 2010.

The Upshot

We have a Building Department employee with a history of insubordination, who did not pay Village or County taxes on the improvements to her home for over 10 years, who was apparently not assessed any fines, who is now collecting unemployment because her job was eliminated to “save the Village money,” and who has filed a grievance against us that we must now defend because the Board did not do things the correct way.  There’s a right way and a wrong way to get somebody off the Village payroll when you are dealing with unionized workers.  The Board, by cow-towing to the former Mayor as they always did, did not handle this particular employee problem correctly.  It has been costing us for years and I fear it will continue to cost us in the future.

And what of Mr. Whalen, who had me wait three weeks on two separate occasions to review the file for this particular property, and who did not see fit to issue a Notice of Violation or levy fines against his subordinate and her former husband for these Code violations?  He was also allegedly a participant in the incident that led to her dismissal in September, yet he continues to collect a six-figure salary, medical, and pension benefits at our expense.  Oh yes – and the car!  Let’s not forget the car he gets to drive courtesy of our tax dollars!

Click for Full View

Years ago, village residents complained to Jack Martins about the relationship between the Building  Superintendent and his subordinate, the Secretary to the BZA.  They voiced their concerns to him privately about Conflict of Interest issues and the effect the relationship was having on employee morale.  These complaints went unheeded until there was nothing left to do but question the Mayor at a public meeting.  And when this was done, he and the Board decided to pull the plug on the broadcasts for over six months.  They then instituted a policy requiring us to submit “Speaker Request Sign-In” sheets.

Most recently in October, after I dutifully submitted a “Speaker Request Sign-In Sheet” indicating I wanted to address a union issue, I was not allowed to step forward.  The NY Civil Liberties Union took this very seriously and addressed the matter in writing.  They are still waiting for the courtesy of a response from the Village administration.

Click for Full View

Add to that a village attorney who apparently didn’t read a Metro PCS contract and who put US in the position of having to defend HIS error in Federal Court.  And who then goes on to crow about how good he was at costing us only $5000 instead of $60,000 in plaintiff’s court costs.

I hope my fellow taxpayers will keep all of this in mind when they go to vote on March 16th.  Keep it in mind too, when you have to pay your school taxes in April and your Village taxes in June, and your general taxes in July.

And if you’ve EVER had to answer a summons and/or pay a fine for a violation issued to you by THIS village especially by Mr. Whalen’s building department, think about it real hard while you’re writing those tax checks.

March 3, 2011 Posted by | 1st Amendment, 7th S.D. New York State, Civil Liberties, Incorporated Village of Mineola, Jack Martins, Mineola NY, NYCLU | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Slander, Libel, and Talking to the Hand


Well it’s been a while since my last posting as I’ve been a busy little bee, doing research and gathering information.  So I haven’t had the chance to address an insight that somebody shared via the “Comment” section of my last posting regarding the First Amendment.  This individual, going by the name of Herneola stated:

“You seem fairly sure you know the first amendment and all it’s protections.  Now go learn about slander and libel.  You’re guilty of both.”

The Bill of Rights

So I went back and looked at my postings, and I’m not really sure what was slanderous or libelous about anything I’ve said.  But if I’ve missed something, I’d like to know what it is.  As a matter of fact I tried to contact this person using the e-mail address they provided when they submitted their comment, but it came back as a discontinued account.  In other words, Herneola created an e-mail account to submit his/her comment, and then deactivated it so he/she couldn’t be contacted.  And that’s fine.  Whatever.

Just so we’re clear, my goal is to get at the truth, which has been in EXCEEDINGLY short supply in this village for many years now.  If employees have not done right by the taxpayers of Mineola by abusing their positions within the administration, by lying, by deliberately misinterpreting laws and regulations, by not reviewing contracts, or by covering up the illegal actions of others; and if by my due diligence, which involves the investment of MY time and MY money, I can investigate and document these things and bring them out in the open, then where is the slander and where is the libel?  Where is the problem?

STOCKHOLM SYNDROME?

One problem lies with those who have engaged in abuse of power, lies, patronage, harassment, discrimination, cover-ups and other acts of malfeasance.  The other problem is with those who refuse to remove their rose-colored glasses to look at the cold, hard facts.  They’re akin to kidnap victims who bond with their captors – a well-recognized survival strategy known as Stockholm Syndrome.  Like a battered woman who keeps allowing her abuser back into her life, these people would rather live in denial than accept that their employees have abused their trust.  It’s much easier to shoot the messenger.

Then of course, there are those residents who have everything to gain by maintaining the status quo.

So Herneola et al,  if you’ve done your due diligence; if you’ve gone through files at Village Hall, and the County Clerk’s office and the District Court; if you’ve used the resources that are available to all of us through the Federal and State FOILS, the UCC, the UJC and the plethora of other laws that grant us access to public information; then please share your knowledge with me.  If I’m wrong then I must correct myself.  However, if YOU aren’t willing to put the same amount of time, effort and personal resources behind your comments as I’ve done over these past few years, then pardon me as I invite you, with the utmost respect, to “talk to the hand.”

But thanks for the comment.  You gave me something new to write about.

February 24, 2011 Posted by | 1st Amendment, Civil Liberties, Constitutional Law, Freedom of Speech, Mineola NY, Nassau County, NYCLU | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

When does the First Amendment Cease to Exist?


When does the First Amendment Cease to Exist?.

December 28, 2010 Posted by | 1st Amendment, 7th S.D. New York State, ACLU, Civil Liberties, Constitutional Law, Freedom of Speech, Incorporated Village of Mineola, Jack Martins | 1 Comment

When does the First Amendment Cease to Exist?


Well it appears that once you cross the border into the Incorporated Village of Mineola, your right to speak freely starts to fade away.  And by the time you get to Village Hall at 155 Washington Avenue that right evaporates completely.  Mineola’s Village Hall is a vacuum where all independent thought gets sucked into a black hole.

Unless, of course, you are sucking UP to the right people.  Or blowing sunshine up certain rear-ends.

But if you intend to question a decision the Board of Trustees has made, or to express your belief that everything is NOT sunny in Mineola, then prepare yourself for shut-down.  Especially if you’re a woman.

Jack Martins is no longer Mayor of this happy little Village, but while he was here he most certainly did not take kindly to anybody questioning his authority, or to any intimation that his integrity was NOT above reproach.  This became abundantly clear when I questioned his handling of the conflict of interest issue created by our Building Superintendent’s  intimate relationship with his direct report, the Secretary to the Board of Zoning Appeals.  First Martins denied anybody had ever complained to him about the situation.  Then he claimed nobody had “officially” complained to him.  Then he shut down the broadcasts of the Public Meetings until he could devise some means by which to try to limit what people would be able to say.

That’s when the Board developed their infamous sign-in sheet, whereby in order to speak at a Public Meeting, one must provide their name and address and state what it is they intend to discuss.  It is further stipulated that matters must pertain to the Village of Mineola.

Now, it’s not entirely unreasonable to limit topics to matters that directly impact the Village.  Events occur on the Federal and State levels that VOM’s Trustees can do nothing about.  And it’s both pointless and unfair for individuals to take up vast amounts of time opining on such matters when there are issues directly impacting the Village that people come to the meetings to discuss.  Most of these are people who must get up for work the next day, or who must help their kids with their schoolwork and get them ready for bed.  And if these folks come down to a meeting to address a matter of importance to them and their neighbors, they shouldn’t have to sit there and wait while other people expound on what’s wrong with Congress, the President, the French, and every other thing that has nothing to do with Village business.

BUT UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE DOES ANYONE ON THE BOARD HAVE THE RIGHT TO PREVENT ANY OF US FROM QUESTIONING THEIR DECISIONS OR POLICY IMPLEMENTATIONS, OR FROM EXPOSING CORRUPTION OR BAD BEHAVIOUR on the part of any of the Trustees or any of our employees.  That is the whole point of a Public Meeting.  And that is why I found myself in the office of the Nassau County chapter of the NY Civil Liberties Union in Hempstead after the October 20, 2010 meeting.

If you were at that meeting or saw it on TV, you know that Jack Martins led the Work Session, but Deputy Mayor Larry Werther ran the Public Meeting.  As usual, there was a break between the two meetings when the Trustees went to the back room.  Finally, Trustees Perriera, Kennedy and Cusato came out to the dais but Werther remained in the back room with Village Attorney John Spellman.  They eventually emerged and the public portion began.  Three people were called up to speak.  But when it came time for the fourth person to be called up, Werther announced that a slip had been submitted to discuss a Union matter, and that as long as HE was in charge of the meetings, he would not permit the topic to be addressed while litigation is pending.

Can you imagine this? In THIS country?  This is the Board that has us recite the Pledge of Allegiance before the Work Sessions and then again before the Public Meetings.  This is the Board that pauses to remember all our troops fighting for freedom in various parts of the world.  This is the Board that lauded the collection of bottles and cans to benefit a disabled Army Ranger who isn’t even from Mineola.   And how did he become disabled?  When his legs were blown off while he was serving his country.  This young man, Christopher Levy, sacrificed his legs in the name of liberty, but I’m not allowed to ask questions of our Board of Trustees.

There’s something VERY wrong with this picture.

So when DOES the First Amendment cease to exist?

When you allow it to.

I won’t allow it.  Not as long as I have breath left in my body and my taxes are being used to send young able-bodied men and women off to some God-forsaken hell-on-earth so they can come back mangled in body, in spirit, or both.

So call me a Bitch.  Call me a Pain-in-the-Ass.  Call me a Lunatic.  FEEL FREE. Just be sure you don’t do it within the 11501 zip code.  You see, Freedom of Speech is not allowed in Mineola.

December 28, 2010 Posted by | 1st Amendment, 7th S.D. New York State, ACLU, Civil Liberties, Constitutional Law, Freedom of Speech, Incorporated Village of Mineola, Jack Martins, Mineola NY, NYCLU | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment