Game of Zones: Who should rightfully be on Manorhaven’s BZA?

Game of Zones: Who should rightfully be on Manorhaven’s BZA?
Manorhaven's village hall. The village's most recent bump in the road has been a disagreement over the members of the zoning board. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In his last days as Manorhaven’s mayor, Jim Avena appointed Brendan Fahey to the village’s Board of Zoning Appeals on June 30. Patrick Gibson had vacated his seat, and Fahey, a former trustee and BZA member, would fulfill his tenure until July 2023.

Avena’s term ended at noon on July 4. John Popeleski, his successor, was sworn in during the village’s organizational meeting two days later.

At that meeting, the trustees filled the vacant position on the Board of Zoning Appeals by appointing Frank Ottaviani. Even though the outgoing mayor had already named Fahey to the post, the new board did not appoint him.

Listed on the agenda to “resume his former term,” they also named Ottaviani, the former zoning board member, to be the BZA’s chairman.

But on July 8, Notary Public Carl Lalena administered the oath of office and swore Fahey into the “38” seat. (The nickname for the position is made from the years in which a term expires, for example, 2023 and 2028.)

Blank Slate Media has received copies of both Fahey’s appointment letter and oath of office. Yet, the “Boards & Staff” page on the village’s website doesn’t list his name.

With legal threats looming and Ottaviani already hosting a BZA meeting on July 12, questions about who should be on the board persist.

Popeleski said that Avena’s lack of communication made Fahey’s appointment “null and void.”

“It was done on a Friday and [Avena’s] term was up on the Fourth, so it was done basically behind my back,” he said. “I had zero notifications on it, which Mayor Avena should have communicated with me via email to say: ‘Look, I put these people on the board.’”

Both the former and current mayors agreed on the letter’s date. But the conflict differs on when the village received it.

Avena said he delivered the letter while still in power. Popeleski said the village did not receive it until 12:34 p.m. of July 6, after Avena’s term had ended, which nullifies it. Efforts to reach the village’s records managers for confirmation of this were unavailing.

“Let the court decide,” said Avena. “I felt that I was within my rights as mayor at the time when I was advised so by my council. If they object to it, take it to the judge.”

Popeleski said the official receipt is when it’s time-stamped. To him, this means the June 30 date stamp is irrelevant.

“You go to any government office. What’s the first thing they do?” he said. “Even the Department of Motor Vehicles? Get time-stamped.”

Amid the controversy, trustees met in a special session on July 15 at 10 a.m.

The meeting notice referred to it as an “emergency resolution.” Specifically, the board amended laws about the zoning and planning boards.

The mayor now appoints the chairman of both boards on an annual basis, subject to trustee approval. It also limited individuals to no more than two terms in the BZA.

“At no point in time may any person serve more than two terms,” it reads. “Whether it be consecutive or non-consecutive terms or appointments, which shall include existing members.”

Popeleski rejected any connection between the ongoing controversy and the law amendments. He said that while still a trustee, the absence of term limits had troubled him.

“We felt that two terms, which is 10 years, [make for] more of a diverse board,” he said. “So a person who’s on for a long time — not that they can be swayed — but it’s good to get different ideas after a while.”

This political conflict is yet another notable one for Manorhaven in recent months.

Popeleski earlier dubbed a $5,000 fine issued by the village’s Ethics Board an “intricate scheme” by Avena during a contentious election season. Nonetheless, he praised him for his wisdom and leadership at Avena’s last board meeting as mayor.

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