MONROE—The Monroe Town Board’s first meeting on Jan. 4 was no ordinary reorganization meeting. Newly-elected board members Tony Cardone and Mike McGinn came prepared to do what they were elected to do—change the way business was conducted under the former administration.
The board replaced the town attorney, revived the ethics committee with all new members, reconsidered the presence of security during meetings, and questioned practices of town administrators. Several appointees for various town positions suggested by longtime board member Gerry McQuade were voted down.
The third floor of the Monroe 6 movie house was packed with about 150 well-wishers who often broke out in spontaneous applause.
Councilman Richard Colon addressed the new board members. “This is a big occasion for this town. Everybody has come out and voted. They have gotten involved. We will back you 200 percent.”
Supervisor Harley Doles did not attend for undisclosed medical reasons and had appointed board member Gerald McQuade as acting supervisor. McQuade began to direct the proceedings, but the meeting took a surprising turn when Cardone was unanimously voted in as acting supervisor and directed the rest of the meeting.
An almost palpable sense of joy filled the theater space as the two candidates elected on the United Monroe ticket took office.
Town Judge Steven Milligram directed the induction of McGinn whose family stood by. Village acting judge Larry Lezak presided over the swearing in of long-time resident Cardone, whose family proudly watched. Residents broke out in applause after both took office.
The board got right down to business. Town attorney Peter Tillem was replaced by a law firm specializing in municipal law, Feerick Lynch MacCartney of South Nyack, NY. Associate attorney in the firm, Brian Nugent took his place and advised the board through the rest of the meeting.
Town clerk Mary Ellen Beams reported to the board the names of her assistants. There was a discussion whether to retain Gedaliah Segedin, treasurer of Kiryas Joel, as a clerk whose sole task is to issue marriage licenses. Nugent advised the board to put in writing that appointees should serve “at the pleasure of the clerk” and not for a specific term.
Board meetings will no longer be held at the Town of Monroe Arts and Civic Center which operates as a movie theater but at the Monroe Senior Center. The Monroe 6 movie theater opened in 2008, but closed in 2011. The town bought the theater from owner Harley Doles in November of 2012 to convert and use as a town hall and courthouse. One attendee pointed to significant expenses the town continues to absorb.
During the public comment session, a resident said that the ethics board had not been active for the past six years. Former board member Matt Henniger said, “I found the past board was very unethical.”
Cardone opened nominations for board members. The Board of Ethics now has a full contingent: Ann Marie Morris, director of the Monroe Senior Center; Michael Egan; Tom Sullivan, who Cardone called “the most ethical man in our community”; Cathy Hafenecker; Lance Whitman; Susan Prendergast; Paul Fallon; and Peter Neubauer agreed to serve. McQuade nominated several residents that the board denied.
Prendergast said, “There is an air of relief in this room. We finally feel as if we are being heard and that we are taking back our town.”
Air of Relief
Residents at the board meeting repeatedly expressed their thanks to McGinn and Cardone for taking on the task.
Longtime resident Cecilia Mutchler said the town is changing at a rapid pace. “We’ve needed a balance on the town board. People did not think they were getting the support they needed. We are hoping that at these [town board] meetings from now on the people will be heard.”
Mutchler said the annexation process is moving “very, very fast, and they have to stop and see what’s best for the people of Monroe. The roads are not built for the traffic that’s in Monroe. Maybe the town board can solve it.”
John Allegro said many in the town have worked hard to get a new board. He was glad voters in Kiryas Joel supported the effort. “We raised a lot of awareness throughout the town including KJ [Kiryas Joel]. They came to realize that this was a very honest couple of people who were running for office here.”
James Purcell, the mayor of the Village of Monroe, echoed what others expressed. “It’s a new day for the Monroe community.” He said that he has not had much of a working relationship with the previous board and thanked everyone for their hard work.
Veronica McConnell brought a handmade sign that referred to board member Gerry McQuade: “2016 – the year of the people’s opinion! Not Gerry’s.” “I think this is the first meeting that I have not been interrupted,” McConnell said.
She asked about the frequent absences of Supervisor Harley Doles. “Where in the world is Harley Doles? He is a paid elected official and he is unaccounted for.” She asked the board to consider a resolution for required participation of elected officials, saying Doles “has a duty to us as constituents.”
The joyful and upbeat attitude at the meeting was in sharp contrast to the unhappiness many felt about how the town has been run for years. Of particular concern has been the former board’s decision in September to allow the village of Kiryas Joel to annex 164 acres of town land, a decision that has been challenged by several lawsuits.
Cardone and McGinn say residents can expect a lot of changes this coming year, including more public comment, transparency, and better financial management. Cardone announced that time will be set aside for public comment at every board meeting.
There is no word on when Supervisor Doles will return to the board.
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