Mineola, NY

The Truth is Out There – WAY Out There ! !

♪ ♫ 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!

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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.

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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