Written by Rachel Shapiro Friday, 18 June 2010 00:00
A week or so ago, about 2,700 households in Farmingdale Village received a newsletter entitled Eye on the Village, creating a controversy that has stirred up some commotion and may produce a lawsuit.
Printed by the Village Independent Party, the editor is Farmingdale resident Georgiana Sena, who has run twice for village trustee in recent elections, both times unsuccessfully. Sena said she and a small group of people fund and print the two-page newsletter.
The newsletter is highly critical of Village Mayor George “Butch” Starkie and alleges Starkie hasn’t kept his campaign promises to the voters, among other things.
But among the things Starkie has taken issue with is a line in the newsletter that reads, “Fact: Starkie Brothers Inc. were awarded (no bid) village tree planting contract two years in a row.”
That statement is a “blatant lie,” Starkie said.
Sena told the Farmingdale Observer, “I have it on reliable source,” that after Starkie Brothers Custom Landscaping won the bid in 2007, there was no bid for the contract for following years. She said she reviewed the appropriate meeting minutes and did not see the village board approve a bid from Starkie Brothers Custom Landscaping in 2008 and 2009, thus came to believe that John Starkie’s company was given the business without the bid.
Mayor Starkie owns Starkie Brothers Garden Center Inc. His brother, John Starkie, owns Starkie Brothers Custom Landscaping Inc. The mayor said they used to be in business together for many years and terminated all business connections in 2005.
The mayor has provided documents that show both that John Starkie’s company won the bid in 2007 with the lowest offer and that the company continues to have a contract with the village, submitting letters in 2008 and 2009 to extend the business relationship by maintaining the same price.
Sena told the Observer that she submitted a Freedom of Information Request for those documents to see for herself but is still standing by her statement that the company was awarded the business without bids in 2008 and 2009.
“They extended the contract,” Starkie told the Observer. “You’re not legally obligated to go out for bid again; it was such a low price the fact that he honored it and extended it was a surprise to me.”
Sena is known for taking issue with Starkie’s administration and agenda, asking for an ethics panel to be established and constantly sending the village Freedom of Information Requests, Starkie said.
“I don’t think they’re full and open on everything,” Sena told the Observer. Sena did say that she often submits a Freedom of Information Request to the village for items on public record.
Mayor Starkie told the Observer that customers came up to him in his store after they received the newsletter, asking him what was going on, why he was giving village business to a company he was involved in and without a bid. Starkie said he explained to customers that his business was entirely separate from his brother’s business, which won the bid fair and square but he felt damage had been done to his reputation. Starkie alleged that Sena used the ambiguous name “Starkie Brothers” on purpose so residents would think the mayor was indeed furthering his own business with the village when in fact it was his brother’s.
“You’re out to destroy my reputation,” Starkie said to Sena at a village board meeting on June 7. “You’re doing your darnedest to trash my name.”
Calling Sena’s statement in the newsletter a “blatant lie,” Starkie addressed Sena directly at the village meeting, with the village board and several village residents looking on.
Sena asked, ‘Where is the lie?”
“It went out to bid,” was Starkie’s response. “I have it right here.” He waved papers from his seat at the front of the room. “You know better than anyone what’s foilable; you know how to get this information,” Starkie told her.
At that same meeting on June 7, the board voted to establish an ethics panel. Before voting, Starkie said that the public has had time to comment on the idea of an ethics panel and 99 percent, Starkie said, did not feel the need to have one. Deputy Mayor Patricia Christianson disagreed, saying it’s a good idea to have a panel established in case the need for one arises.
The ethics panel will consist of three members, all appointed by the mayor, with advice from the board. Starkie said he has three people in mind for the positions; it’s just a matter of formalizing their acceptance and appointment.
Among the other statements contained in the newsletter were ones based on partial information, omitting relevant facts, Starkie said.
Sena writes of Starkie in the newsletter, “Fact: Hired new village clerk at $102,000 per year, who recently resigned from a $70,000 politically appointed position with the Town of Brookhaven.” Starkie said a relevant fact is missing, that former Clerk Dave Smollett was making $165,000 annually and thus the village is saving $63,000 per year on the salary for the new clerk, Brian Harty.
In the newsletter Sena also alleges that the superintendent of public works, Andrew Fisch, is unqualified for his position, claiming he was hired because he is a personal friend of the mayor.
Speaking about the work Fisch has done in the village, Rich Gosline, a Farmingdale resident present at the June 7 meeting, said he knew and worked with the two previous employees who held Fisch’s position and Fisch is the best of the three.
“Andy has done the best job of the prior two,” he said.
Starkie has said that he is speaking to his attorney and will seek legal action against Sena, saying she deliberately printed her statements to muddy his reputation.
“You’ll hear from counsel,” Starkie told Sena at the village meeting. He said he hopes she’ll print a retraction.
Sena told the Observer she is standing by her statement.