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Board Battles Heat Up at Village Hall

Mayor, Trustees Spar Over Formation of  Personnel and Long-Term Planning Committee

It was not business as usual at Thursday night’s Garden City Village Board of Trustees meeting. After nearly an hour of running through the usual agenda, discussions became contentious when Mayor Donald Brudie unleashed several inflammatory accusations directed toward fellow board members indicating that they were trying to “usurp” his mayoral power and “take over” the board using votes.

The meeting began with a brief announcement read by the mayor about the formation of Personnel and Long-Term Planning Board Committee. “I am appointing an advisory committee to the mayor to review and recommend with regard to matters of employee succession, productivity and long-term planning,” Brudie said.

According to Brudie, the charge for the committee is to determine if, where and when succession is needed and to identify means and method of selection and training of potential successors and to consult with the village administrator in this regard. The committee will also be asked to consult with the village administrator and the department heads to determine staff needs and the means of maximizing productivity; and to develop a five-year vision plan to anticipate the needs of the village, long-term costs and means to deliver services by each department. The committee comprises Trustee Andrew Cavanaugh as chairman and Trustees Demaro and Donnelly serving as members.

As discussions continued, the backstory about the origins of the committee was revealed when Mayor Brudie openly stated there was “a push by people in the Estates and people in the East to sort of change our executive staff and I think that you may be making a very, very big mistake. You may get what you wish for and be the most disappointed people in the world,” he said.

Brudie maintained that while the board members know what’s right for the village, it’s the executive staff that actually operates it. “It’s not easy to run a village. The board here doesn’t run the village. We don’t know the first thing about running the village. No one on this board is qualified to run the village,” Brudie said.

Trustee Brian Daughney of the Estates chimed in, saying he did not know where Brudie got his information.  Daughney indicated that the entire board, along with residents and the Citizens Budget Review Committee, has long discussed forming a succession committee to review manpower, function and administrative duties of village staff.

“As far as I know there was no discussion about replacing specific people at specific times. It was also to deal with succession of people on our executive staff who you say are excellent and we agree, but we have to plan for the future. So I strongly disagree with your characterization and I would appreciate it if you would go back and kind of tell us what this committee would do since none of us have heard about your version of this until tonight,” Daughney said.

In an effort to better understand what the new committee is tasked to do, Daughney requested that the mayor expand further on its functions. “We all want a lot of input into this, and have a lot of input,” Daughney said.

It appeared that the mayor became vexed by Daughney’s comments. The mayor retorted, “You want to really get into details. Let’s get into details. There’s an attempt on this board to take over this board because they know with five votes they can run this board. So I got two from the Estates and two from the East that are in lockstep, and another party that is sort of in with them. They are trying to run the board, run your government, run this village. And I have no qualms about saying it to every one of you.”

An atmosphere of discord continued to blanket the room as the mayor further explained his statements. “Now, I was told very, very recently as of last week by more than one person that this board will never see me get more than a 6-2 or a 5-3 vote. So that’s why I am telling you what I’m telling you tonight. Now this board is supposed to represent you people out there... We represent you. And I think that you’re not being represented,” he said.

“We’re supposed to have a Community Agreement. This is not a Community Agreement at all. We’re supposed to be working for the betterment of the community. We’re not working for the betterment of the community,” Brudie said, adding, “We’re working for certain people and what they would like to do, maybe tie my hands up a little bit, ya know?” Brudie said that if residents in the audience didn’t think this was right, they should speak to their trustees.

In reaction to the mayor’s comments, Trustee Dennis Donnelly told the mayor that he endorsed Trustee Daughney’s comments and took exception to the mayor’s characterization that the trustees are trying to take over the board. “I believe in a democracy five votes out of eight would be what the majority of the board chose to do,” Donnelly said.

Additionally, Donnelly said that board discussions were an open process, which allows each of the board members to participate. “You as the mayor have certain respect and you set the agenda for the meetings. But I think you are not a dictator in this process,” Donnelly asserted.

According to Donnelly, the committee that was being discussed was appointed by former mayor Rothschild weeks before leaving office. The committee was comprised of Trustees Donnelly, Brian Daughney and Laurence Quinn, but was never reappointed by Mayor Brudie.

“Since that time you have chosen to do so because you thought that committee was going to be put into motion this evening,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly further stated that he did not understand why the mayor would be against proper planning, succession planning, looking at the staff of the village and ways to increase productivity.

“When we go through the budget process, we talk every year about how to best utilize the 300 people or so that are in the employ of the village. I think we struggle very hard trying to put together a budget and this committee process was an attempt at something we’ve should’ve been doing for years and years and years, which is proper planning” Donnelly said.

He went on to say, “Not only do I agree with Trustee Daughney, I take exception to where you think that people in the East that said they want to get rid of any staff. That’s never been said in my presence by anyone on the EPOA and or that I know in the East. So I think your characterization is somewhat slanderous and I don’t understand your position at all,” Donnelly said.

Brudie responded to Donnelly by saying the comments were not slanderous. He additionally explained that mayor Rothschild appointed the committee right before leaving office. “That was extremely odd to me that with only a couple of weeks left, he would do this because he knew I was coming up or because someone told him ‘Let us control the committee.’ In any event, the committee that you had first proposed was usurping the powers of the mayor,” Brudie said.

Trustee Cavanaugh summated that the committee will work as hard as it can in conjunction with directions from both board members and the mayor.

During a period of citizens’ comments, Kathleen Auro, Estates POA vice president and acting president, expressed her disapproval regarding the mayor’s accusations. “There is no conspiracy as far as I am concerned and perhaps…you should check your sources,” Auro said.

“I know what I see in certain meetings when we’re all together,” the mayor said.

John Wilton, the chairman of the Garden City Merchant, Professional & Retailers Group, who has called himself the ‘village psychiatrist’ at past meetings, reacted to the mayor’s remarks. “I’m thunderstruck. Let me just rewind. Is this the same board four weeks ago that we were worried about a political action committee kneecapping us? I think it is the same board,” he said.

Wilton also expressed concern that these types of discussions may be feeding fodder to a new political action committee that wants to attack the Community Agreement two years in the future. “I don’t think that’s the route we should go as a village. I think we should protect the Community Agreement,” he said.

Walter McKenna, Eastern Property Owners Association (EPOA) president, stood at the podium to clarify the facts. “I take objection to the statement you made at the beginning of this little session that you started,” he said to Mayor Brudie.

“There is nobody in the EPOA or have we discussed at a meeting replacing or sentiment to replace anybody in village administration. We, the EPOA, the WPOA, the CPOA and the Estates at JCC (The Joint Conference Committee of the four property owners’ associations) meetings certainly discussed the need for a succession plan in this village. There is nothing wrong with that and I don’t think any corporation in the United States wouldn’t have that. To sit there and think just because we have village discussions people are interpreting as us looking to replace people,” McKenna argued.

McKenna said, “It was very interesting that something we discussed at JCC meetings, POA meetings, the CBRAC discussed it, is something that was presented. The trustees, as part of what they do: represent us, took that forth and former mayor Rothschild presented that. I find it very interesting that in the sense of keeping things going you didn’t reappoint at your first meeting. Now after unloading this on us, you conveniently have appointed a committee. I think that’s disingenuous to us.”

 “There is no one on any of the POAs, and all four of the POAs sat in JCC meetings, and discussed just that. It’s quite possible you don’t know what your own POA is discussing,” McKenna added.

“It has nothing to do with my POA,” Brudie said. “I’m talking about members sitting right here tonight ... I’m not making this up. And if they have the nerve to say it in the back room they should have the nerve to say it out here and own what they said. Don’t put it on me as if I’m fabricating this because I’m not fabricating this,” Brudie said.