French on Rye: Update on Complaint of the Mayor of the City of Rye By DOUGLAS FRENCH

eHezi Archives 1 Comment

 

French_Douglas

Now that the Board of Ethics has put forth their opinion on the complaint brought forward by Ray Tartaglione of Purchase against the Mayor and officials of the City of Rye, I would like to update you on the status of the complaint.

 

Board of Ethics Review

In the minutes of the Board, they found as per the City Code as follows:

“In executive session, the board reviewed the Code of Ethics and addressed two issues.

  • Regarding whether board members had conflicts of interest as described by the Code, each member determined he/she had no conflicts that would preclude rendering an impartial decision.
  • Regarding whether the board is empowered to render an advisory opinion in response to the complaint, the board determined the complainant does not have standing, because the request/complaint did not come from an officer or employee of the City, and the board is empowered to render advisory opinions, prospectively, to help employees and officers comply with the Code of Ethics.”

Having rendered such a decision, which is consistent with the process outlined by our City code, the question still remains as to whether or not as alleged there was unethical behavior by City officials or employees with respect to a building violation and a misapplied exemption of the STAR tax exemption on property owned by the Mayor.  As a result, I am calling on the Deputy Mayor, Peter Jovanovich, as a City official and as per our code, to refer the matter back to the Board of Ethics to review as to whether or not there was any unethical behavior by City officials or employees with the two matters in question.

Building Violation

In July of this year, a complaint was phoned into the Building Department about a potential finished attic  on the third floor on a single-family rental home I own.  Tragically, the City Building Inspector passed away in August and the Department transitioned over to a new Building Inspector by November 1st.  Later that month I was notified in writing of the complaint and a violation was issued on December 23rd that outlined two violations:

*  A two-family home that was converted back to a single-family home

*  A 3rd-floor bedroom/finished storage 

The attached property listing is how we bought the property in 1992 – as a single-family use.  As many homeowners face, based on the violation, we are filing the appropriate permits with the Building Department to legalize the work that was done by the previous owner for re-inspection by the department.  Based on calls to her on behalf of the complainant, the previous owner contacted us to say the work was done when her daughter was born in the early 1970s – 40 years ago.  Although building codes and procedures have changed since that time, we are completing the legalization process so the changes comply with current requirements.

STAR Exemption

In 1998 the STAR program was instituted and we applied for the exemption as our primary residence at 13 Richard Place (attached document) with the City Assessor’s office.  When we moved to a new home in 2000, we filed a Star application with our new primary residence  (attached document).  In 2011, New York State changed the exemption eligibility for STAR based on income and required municipalities to confirm eligibility of homeowners based on the new amendments.  As part of that process we were notified by the Assessor’s office along with many other residents to file an income verification form   to verify our eligibility for receiving the STAR exemption on our primary residence (attached document).  As a result of this process, it was determined that the STAR exemption had been misapplied to 13 Richard Place after it was no longer our primary residence.  The law allows for a look-back period of only three years, however, our position is that what is owed is owed.  We have applied with the County Tax Director’s office to determine the amount due with penalties and will make full restitution once the amount is determined.

Doug French is the mayor of the City of Rye, New York. Direct email to: mayor@ryeny.gov

 

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eHeziFrench on Rye: Update on Complaint of the Mayor of the City of Rye By DOUGLAS FRENCH

Comments 1

  1. Dear Mayor French,
    I have received your recent status report referencing your now expanding building and tax imbroglio. I do have a few comments. First when you refer to me it appears that you name me as a “Purchase resident” as if to diminish my standing to bring up issues of community concern in Rye. In fact, although I am a Purchase resident, I am also a Rye part time resident and a full time Rye City taxpayer. Thus, in future public references, if you might please refer to me as “Ray Tartaglione, a Rye City taxpayer” it would be appreciated. Please keep in mind that I do not officially refer to you as a tax cheating public official who uses his elected status to secretly flout the laws of New York.
    Regarding your request to have Deputy Mayor Jovanovich refer this entire matter back to the Ethics Committee for a “do over,” the action you requested will only be effective and credible if a new ethics committee is established as per my previous letter sent to the City Council dated January 10. Councilwoman Parker seems to agree with my objection recorded in the video record of the public portion of the previous Ethics Committee Meeting regarding Mr. Pickup submitting the complaint to the Committee as well as the conflict of interest issues. Councilwoman Parker was quoted in The Journal News Lo Hud Blog today as follows:
    “I believe the questions regarding Mayor French’s property at 13 Richard Place brought forward by Mr. Tartaglione bring to light a current flaw to our existing Ethics Board—it is too small. Currently, there are three appointed positions, in addition to the City Manager, Corporation Counsel, and the Mayor. Given the fact that, in this case, the Mayor, Corporation Counsel, and City Manager had to recuse themselves the question was left to the other three members. I disagree with two of their positions:
    1) The initial referral to the Ethics Board was made by a city official – Scott Pickup, City Manager. I don’t understand why this wasn’t acknowledged.
    2) Two of the three remaining members had contributed money to Mayor French’s campaign, and had been part of his effort to get elected. That sounds like a conflict to me.”
    I also understand that The Rye Sound Shore Review this week indicates that Judge and former Rye City Mayor John Carey and Councilman Joe Sack have recently made clear their positions supporting a wholly independent Ethics Committee Investigation. You and your few friends may personally consider both of these Members of the NYS Bar to be nothing more than meddlesome fools, but many in Rye do not share that view. Mr. Sack, specifically, did pretty well in the recent November election – don’t you think?
    Your new public statements on your now admitted illegal building issues seem to be filled with fresh technical inaccuracies. And using the death of former Building Inspector Vinnie Tamburro as a partial excuse for your lapses and stonewalling is shameful and foolish based on the dates and activities involved. I question, in fact, that only two fresh violations were issued to you on December 23rd and thus will query the Building Department and the Building Inspector about the apparent secret un-permitted, un-inspected conversion of the 13 Richard Place’s original oil heating system to a natural gas heating system during your personal ownership of the property. A comparison of the 1992 MLS sales flyer you supplied to the public to your 2011 MLS Offering flyer (attached) will point out stark inconsistencies.
    Next week I will request that Rye Inspector Maureen Eckman investigate the disposal, removal and remediation of the oil storage tank at the same location. I have today notified the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation about this matter and have asked that they investigate the removal of, and environmental remediation of, the previous heating oil tank at 13 Richard Place.
    So you know, I’m personally experienced with lawful construction and I have encountered older oil tanks that have leaked. Rather than replacing old leaking tanks with new ones, some cost adverse homeowners illegally abandon the old oil tanks without permits. Any conversion and disposal should of course take place under the watchful eyes of a local building department so that they can officially confirm that the homeowner applies for and receives the proper permits and then disposes of the old oil tank according to the law. These same related laws also require testing to confirm no oil leakage has occurred at the tank site. According to a FOIL request supplied to me by the building department about your 13 Richard Place home, no permits were ever issued for the removal and /or abandonment of the aforementioned tank as well as the installation of the new natural gas boiler.
    In this same “others were responsible” vein, your 2011 MLS listing under amenities states that the 13 Richard Place electrical system was “upgraded” in 2008 and the homes heating system and roof were replaced between 1995 and 1997. Is it possibly your contention that you – or your highly regarded sales agent Mrs. Flood – made false statements in this MLS listing? Or did you just make a new false statement when you stated that the work was done by the previous owners? Or was the home possibly owned by someone else during those intervening years? And lastly on this issue – now that you’re on the record that you were “unaware” that the home was listed in the Rye City records as a two family home, could you provide the public and me with a copy of the lender mandated 3rd party prepared title search report from your 1992 purchase closing? That could clear this part of the matter up once and for all.
    Lastly, addressing the period you have now admitted to having taken a 2nd and illegal STAR Tax exemption for 13 Richard Place when it was in fact a rental property: could you tell the public why you would notify the City Assessor IN WRITING when it was time to get an exemption on your new 46 Meadow Place home but only claim to have made a PHONE CALL to advise the city that you should no longer receive the exemption on 13 Richard Place? Wouldn’t it be logical to make this notice for both properties simultaneously and in writing? The NYS STAR exemption application that you have signed clearly states –
    “I (we) certify that all of the above information is correct and that the property listed above is owned by and is (my) our primary residence. I (we) understand it is my (our) obligation to notify the assessor if I (we) relocate to another primary residence and to provide any documentation of eligibility that is requested.”?
    Additionally when you use the word “misapplied” in your new statement don’t you think it leads the public to believe that Ms. Whitty’s official actions and/or inactions were the reason that the improper STAR exemption was not removed. Is this your position?
    And could you advise the public as to exactly when you applied to The Westchester County Tax Director’s office to have their department make a determination about the amount due by you and the penalties thereon? Was it in April of 2011 when the tax assessor notified you that the 13 Richard Place exemption in effect for the 10 previous tax years was being removed? Or was this referral to Westchester County for a recalculation more recent – like after I exposed this matter to the public and after I had suffered your denunciations and gavel banging from the mayoral chair on the dais at Rye City Hall?
    In closing I’d just like the public to see what happens to residents of NY State when they attempt to claim errors, omissions or mistakes in receiving STAR Tax exemptions for rental properties.
    http://sachem.patch.com/articles/holbrook-property-owner-arrested-for-unlawfully-collecting-star-exemptions
    I’m still researching to see if any cases exist where a municipality’s highest elected official is found to be involved in one of these situations. If not, may I be the first to offer my condolences on your having added this, along with all the community embarrassment you have brought, to the list of firsts that your administration has brought to Rye.
    You need to resign immediately Mr. Mayor. The reestablishment of trust in Rye’s governmental body requires it. And City Manager Pickup and City Attorney Wilson need to leave office along with you.
    Very truly yours,
    Raymond J. Tartaglione

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