Trustee Jeffrey Stone questions validity of process to appoint new BZA chairman

Trustee Jeffrey Stone questions validity of process to appoint new BZA chairman
Manorhaven's Village Hall. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

A Manorhaven trustee has questioned the town’s decision to appoint Neil Jester the new Board of Zoning Appeals chairman just one month after naming him a member of the Board of Trustees.

Trustee Jeffrey Stone questioned the appointment at Wednesday night’s board meeting, asking why a new board member was being appointed to the leading position.

While I’m sure Neil Jester will serve as a strong board member, he has no experience on the BZA board and shouldn’t be considered to serve as its chair,” Stone said.

The village’s former Board of Zoning Appeals chairman, Frank Ottaviani, was not reappointed during its organizational meeting on July 5.

At the July 26 Board of Trustees meeting, the board was set to appoint Michele Tizzano as a BZA member, followed by an appointment as its chairman, but the appointment was struck down by the board which voted not to appoint her as a member.

Stone said at the July 26 meeting, the board had decided to allow the BZA to appoint its own temporary chairman.

At its Aug. 8 meeting, the BZA members voted to instate long-serving member Jerry Volpe as its temporary chair. But at the Aug. 30 Board of Trustees meeting, Stone said Volpe’s name was not on the agenda

At the BZA’s Sept. 12 meeting, Jester was nominated as the board’s new chairman.

On Wednesday night, the Board of Trustees affirmed that decision with a near-unanimous vote to instate Jester as the BZA’s chairman. Stone was the only trustee who voted against the appointment.

“There’s something not right about this and I have to question the validity of the process,” Stone said. “Jerry Volpe has the extensive experience, but a new, inexperienced BZA member is nominated to chair the committee.”

Stone said his concern was that Volpe was unanimously approved to be appointed at the Board of Tustees meeting, but that was not carried out.

“I’m looking at who was left off, who was put on and for what reason,” Stone said. “It just begs to question the validity of the process.”

Stone questioned why this action was taken.

“I have to ask who this decision benefits? Who stands to gain?” Stone said. “It certainly appears to be self-serving and not in the best interest of the village.”

Ken Kraft, Manorhaven resident and former trustee, asked the board about its decision to appoint a new member as the chairman after listening to Stone’s remarks. He asked why a member with more experience on the board wasn’t appointed to the position.

“Usually, you sort of work your way into that spot because you want somebody to control it,” Kraft said.

Mayor John Popeleski responded that when Ottaviani was not renewed as chairman, the Board of Zoning Appeals appointed a temporary chairman while the remaining seats on the board were filled. This temporary chairman was Volpe.

Once the seats were filled, then the board came back to make a concrete appointment. This is when Popeleski said that the Board of Zoning Appeals chose Jester.

Manorhaven resident Anthony Saldano said he was at the zoning board meeting when Jester was appointed. He said he witnessed Volpe walk out of the meeting after “he didn’t get his way.”

“He knew it was only a temporary appointment for him that month, and instead of him staying for the meeting he got up and he walked out without telling anybody,” Saldano said. “He didn’t stay for the meeting and to me, I don’t think he deserves it now after he did that.”

Stone warned the board of the potential consequences of appointing a new BZA member as its chairman.

“Neil has a big job ahead of him,” Stone said. “If they get it wrong, we’ll all pay.”

The village also voted to appoint a new part-time clerk, four months after the board voted to remove its former clerk. The village has not filled the clerk position since with the deputy clerk stepping in over the summer.

During the village’s May Board of Trustees meeting, Trustee Khristine Shahipour read aloud a resolution that she was proposing to rescind the contract of the former clerk. The resolution was not on the agenda.

Shahipour said the reasons for rescinding the clerk’s contract were because of 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.

She also said the clerk was overpaid, was asking to be paid overtime to work at village meetings and lacked the credentials necessary for her position.

The board approved the resolution, with only the mayor voting against it.

Popeleski said that since firing a clerk is a personnel matter to be handled through civil services, the resolution was void. Regardless, the clerk decided not to return to work.

Paulina Hreja will now fulfill the position after the resolution for her appointment passed unanimously Wednesday night.

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