DPW Info Session Planned in Yorktown
The highly contentious matter of whether to eliminate Yorktown’s current highway superintendent and highway department, in favor of a Department of Public Works (DPW) with an appointed director, will be the subject of an informational meeting to be held by the Town Board on Wednesday, July 25.
The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall, 363 Underhill Ave., Yorktown Heights.
A grassroots group called Yorktown Citizens for a DPW introduced the proposal to the board in May, with its sights set on having the measure put up as a voter referendum in November. The committee touted an immediate savings of about $250,000, with additional future savings of about $70,000, as a result of the change, but members of the board and current town Highway Superintendent Eric DiBartolo have expressed skepticism at those claims.
At subsequent meetings the group has continued to press the issue, while Supervisor Michael Grace and his fellow board members have voiced a reluctance to rush to a decision on it.
As such, discourse on the topic at public meetings has grown heated over the past couple of months, as the deadline for deciding whether to hold a referendum draws closer.
Several members of the Yorktown Citizens for a DPW came before the Town Board at last Tuesday’s meeting to comment on the proposal. Most of those who spoke expressed the view that the board should allow the public to decide via the referendum whether Yorktown should have a DPW. But Renee Fogarty, who has served as the committee’s spokesperson, was more blunt in her prepared statement.
“It is a sad day for the people of Yorktown when their own elected officials won’t trust them to know what’s in their own best interests,” said Fogarty. “We are asking you – for the fifth time – to advertise a public hearing on the DPW law for Aug. 7, so that the clock can start on the referendum process. … By refusing to schedule the public hearing, you are effectively taking away our right to vote in a DPW referendum.”
Fogarty also criticized the board for insisting on waiting for this week’s informational meeting before it takes any action on the matter.
“Let’s be brutally honest,” Fogarty said to the board. “While the public may learn something new about a DPW on July 25, you won’t be hearing anything on July 25 that you don’t already know.”
During the public comment portion of last week’s meeting, Yorktown Heights resident Dave Goldberg presented copies of a financial audit commissioned by the town, which was released to the public last August. Goldberg directed members of the board, the press and the public to specific pages in the report that were critical of DiBartolo.
An initial draft of the report, leaked to the press two months before the public document, cited DiBartolo, who also served as the director of labor operation from December 2007 until January 2010, for allegedly questionable practices and potential conflicts of interest. In the final draft, which included a response from DiBartolo, the auditors acknowledged that while the highway superintendent acted questionably, he was within the parameters of the boundaries he was given.
DiBartolo, as an elected official, was allowed to submit a written response to the initial findings. In the end the auditors found the fault to be with the earlier town boards, and Susan Siegel, who was town supervisor at the time the audit report was issued, said most of the deficiencies or bad practices noted in the report had since been corrected. Siegel is now active in Yorktown Citizens for a DPW.
“This is worse than Joe Paterno [and] J.P. Morgan, because nothing was done, and everybody in town knows it,” said Goldberg in reference to the DiBartolo’s conduct as cited in the report. “He must have somebody higher up that’s protecting him.”
“What a bunch of nonsense,” muttered former Town Board member Tony Grasso in response to Goldberg’s comment.
Patrick Comiskey of Yorktown Heights, in commending the highway department’s demolition of the dilapidated Holland Sports Club in his neighborhood earlier this month, singled out DiBartolo for special praise.
“When I was doing my research on Holland Sports Club, I noticed in your budget, which is online and available, how much he actually makes [in terms of salary], “ Comiskey said. “I also know that he’s an elected official, so he has no job security. And since I’ve been in the industry long enough and I do hire and fire people, I know that he has the opportunity to make a hell of a lot more money with his experience and skill set in the private sector, so … I have to believe that he does what he does for the love of this town.”
DiBartolo, reached by phone on Monday, declined comment on the DPW issue or his stake in it.
Grace responded to the public comments on the issue by calling for proponents of the referendum to tone down their rhetoric. He explained that while many residents have referred to the ballot question as a “DPW referendum,” it would actually be a referendum to revise the town’s charter to eliminate the elected position of highway superintendent in favor of an appointed DPW director.
When Siegel and other residents accused the board of denying them their democratic right to voice their opinion at the polls, Grace responded: “I’m not denying anybody anything. We’re taking one step at a time.”
Grace said changing that charter to eliminate the highway superintendent position would deny voters their right to elect someone to that post. He added that the board already has the power to switch from a highway department to a DPW without a referendum.
Fogarty and Siegel have been stating since May that in order for the ballot question to be put before the voters in November, the paperwork would have to be filed with the Westchester County Board of Elections by Sept. 1. In the interim, they said, the board would have to first introduce a resolution, then advertise and hold a separate public hearing on it and then adopt the law.
But in a phone interview Monday, Taijan Jones, executive assistant at the county elections board, said the deadline to file the referendum paperwork is actually Oct.1, although the agency recommends that the paperwork be filed a week before the deadline, which is Sept. 24.
Adam has worked in the local news industry for the past two decades in Westchester County and the broader Hudson Valley. Read more from Adam’s author bio here.