In a surprise resolution not on the agenda, the Manorhaven Board of Trustees voted on Wednesday to rescind the employment contract with Village Clerk-Treasurer Jacqueline Zimbardi.
The resolution was presented by Trustee Khristine Shahipour, who cited a customer-client relationship with the mayor that was not disclosed prior to her employment and a conflict of interest due to her husband serving on the village’s planning board.
Shahipour also said Zimbardi was overpaid, was asking to be paid overtime to work at village meetings and lacked the credentials necessary for her position.
“All of which is not in the best interest of the taxpayer for which this board owes a fiduciary obligation,” Shahipour said.
Mayor John Popeleski, who opposed the resolution, asked before its passage to have the discussion in executive session as a personnel issue. But the rest of the board denied this request.
Popeleski later asked to discuss the matter publicly, which the rest of the board denied as well.
The mayor said he was “broadsided” by the resolution.
Trustee Vincent Costa asked Deputy Clerk Alex Kovacevic to then poll the board on the resolution to terminate Zimbardi. But Popeleski told him not to.
Kovacevic then asked for legal counsel to ensure there would be no repercussions for making an incorrect decision on the matter. Citing a potential conflict he did not explain. Village attorney Genevieve LoPresti declined to offer counsel.
After minutes of delay, Popeleski told Kovacevic he could poll the board on the resolution.
Before doing so, Kovacevic voiced his concerns about terminating Zimbardi’s employment. He said the village is in a vulnerable state due to an upcoming June election and village taxes needed to be sent out.
“The situation in the office is not sustainable without a village clerk,” Kovacevic said. “There are many ongoing issues going on, including those that have been made recently in light to the board.”
Kovacevic said that Zimbardi has been diligent in her position and has improved the situation of the village. He advised against the resolution.
Once polled, the resolution passed with only Popeleski voting against terminating Zimbardi.
“This is a joke,” Popeleski said.
Clerk denies accusations
Zimbardi addressed the resolution during the public comment period, calling it retaliation.
She said that within her first 10 days of employment, village staff and officials were trying to remove her from the office. She said this was due to her being hired rather than another candidate who was a friend of a trustee.
“All I’ve tried to do since I’ve been here is my job, which I believe I’ve been doing an excellent job at it,” Zimbardi said.
While employed, Zimbardi said she was seeking out solutions to foster a safer workplace to deter workplace violence. She said this went unheard and was dismissed by village staff.
Addressing the reasoning stated in the resolution for her termination, Zimbardi told Blank Slate Media that while she is friends with the mayor and he has worked with her husband, that did not determine her employment. She said she did not understand what the board claimed was a customer-client relationship.
She confirmed that her husband is on the planning board but he is not an employee of the village and there is no conflict of interest.
She said she was not seeking a greater salary. The $90,000 salary she was initially granted was determined to be too low by civil service.
The board was scheduled to vote on a resolution during the meeting that would increase her salary to $100,000 as set by civil service.
Zimbardi said she was not unjustly seeking overtime pay for working at village meetings. In her employment letter, she said, she does not get overtime unless approved by the mayor.
As meetings are outside of her 40-hour work week, she said she believed it would qualify as overtime and asked the mayor for additional pay.
She said Popeleski approved the overtime as other village clerks historically had been granted it.
Zimbardi said that when she submitted the overtime slip signed by the mayor, LoPresti denied the overtime. When Zimbardi questioned LoPresti about her decision to deny the overtime, she said the village attorney verbally attacked her and then quit.
Zimbardi defended her credentials, saying she had worked for over 12 years in the accounting department at the Locust Valley Central School District.
“Everything they accused me of as to why they’re rescinding my appointment after they unanimously voted to get me in… within five weeks they came back and found a way to get me out because they don’t like me, because I made a difference, made a change, I added security measures to keep my employees safe,” Zimbardi told Blank Slate. “It’s very disturbing.”
Many people from the public applauded after Zimbardi ended her speech during the meeting.
Additional resolutions presented
Shahipour also presented two more resolutions that were not on the agenda: to remove the position of complaint investigator in the village and to rescind the contract with C&G Inspection Services, Inc.
The trustee said that the complaints investigator was not needed as there are “sufficient resources to investigate complaints,” as stated in the resolution.
The resolution to rescind, without subsequent renewal, the contract with C&G Inspection Service Inc. states it is doing so because the 4-year contract is “excessive” and that it does not serve the residents of Manorhaven.
The company provides consulting services for the village’s rental registration program, the architectural review board clerk, the building department and the justice court.
Both resolutions passed, with Popeleski voting no on both. Trustee Harry Farina abstained from voting on the resolution to remove the complaint investigator and voted no on rescinding the contract with C&G Inspection Services, Inc.
Popeleski said complaint investigator Lori Vlahos had been employed by the village for eight years and was a “faithful” employee.
Clerk accuses Costa
Zimbardi addressed the issue of the complaint investigator during her public comment, citing it as another example of retaliation and workplace violence. She said that Costa made a death threat to Vlahos, the complaint investigator, during an executive session.
“Who said, ‘If I’m ever in a room alone with her, only one of us is coming out,’” Zimbardi said, recounting the alleged threat made by Costa.
Zimbardi made multiple other accusations about Costa, claiming he petitioned in village hall to solicit signatures, which is not allowed by a trustee, and fabricated his work when submitting documents to the state for his pension.
Costa said during the meeting that he was not aware he could not petition in village hall and stopped once he was made aware. He also admitted to fabricating his pension documents.
Costa declined to comment to Blank Slate, referring all inquiries to village hall.
Efforts to contact Popeleski and Shahipour were unavailing.
“I don’t know how to make this village clean,” Zimbardi said. “I’m hoping that the residents see what’s going on because it’s not good. It’s complete corruption… I hope that my fellow employees are able to somehow get out of this because this place is going to implode.”