The Unraveling…, Is the Village’s Fabric at Risk?

He finds himself with twenty years of village governing experience and currently in the minority on a board he presides over.

He has spent forty to fifty hours a week for the past nine years on Village matters in addition to holding down a full-time job.

imagesHe is concerned that the very fabric of the Village is unraveling at an unparalleled pace. He is Sleepy Hollow’s Mayor Philip Zegarelli.

Sitting at a Kingsland Point Park picnic table, against the backdrop of the Hudson River, a pensive Philip Zegarelli discussed his work and his concerns about the new Village Board.

Q. It’s apparent at Village meetings that the new Board doesn’t seem to be in agreement with many of the policies, procedures and projects that you have set in place. What’s going on?

Zegarelli: Well, I think the new Board is highly politically oriented. They feel their oats as a majority of 4 out of the 7. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that they have a personal and political mandate to change things. In my book that’s somewhat illusory. If you want to change things make sure you know what’s really going on and what has been done before you go off and do things. It is symptomatic of the new Board members that they are going to try and accomplish what they ran their campaign on, which may not have been logically well-grounded in how the Village functions.

Q. Can you be a more specific?

Zegarelli: The new Board put in a hiring freeze, and ever since, they have been hiring people. They won’t even admit that they are going against their own action. They hired a new law firm Prowskauer Rose LLP from New York City to essentially look over all the work previously done by attorney Joel Sachs from the Keane & Beane law firm. The Board somehow expects this new law firm to find the "Rosetta stone" on what to do with the GM site. That is very disconcerting when they have repeatedly refused to meet with GM in executive session [public not permitted]. GM wants to meet with the entire Board in executive session due to the lawsuit we have against them and the lawsuit they have against the Village. The only way to have a dialogue is to do it in executive session and try to separate some of these issues so we can get down to the heart of the matter.

Q. How much is the Village paying the law firm of Prowskauer Rose?

Zegarelli: The initial amount has been capped at $75,000 but we’ve all talked about it and they [the Board] have admitted that this is going to be many, many, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Q. What is the new law firm being paid per hour?

Zegarelli: Prowskauer Rose gets $675/hr. The irony was that I was against hiring them but ended up negotiating to get their rate reduced to around $610/hr. Isn’t that crazy when you think about it? And basically they don’t even have partners in the law firm working on our issues; they have an associate doing the work. Prowskauer Rose actually use Joel Sachs’ firm of Keane & Beane for

environmental work. So, what’s wrong with this picture?

Q. What was Joel Sachs paid?

Zegarelli: We got a municipal rate of $275/hr. and Joel Sachs is a partner in the firm.

Q. Did you ever think that you would be in this position nine months from the end of your term?

Zegarelli: Well, I never expected to be in office this long anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it but the politics, the times, and the changes, don’t bode well for people such as myself. It doesn’t matter that you are born, raised and have lived your entire life here or how many years you have served. Campaigns have gotten much tougher. It is very difficult to run only as a Republican in this part of the state. Also people have a tendency to forget about the good things you’ve done.

Q. What’s the talk about possibly taking away Village official’s cars?

Zegarelli: The issue about doing away with official cars in the Village was tabled at our last meeting. What it is, is a series of assaults on the different institutions within the Village. They [the Board] start to convey that everything is wrong in the Village, everything is broken, nothing works right and only they have the answers. The four of them combined have less than 5 years of public service experience in the Village. They are contemplating taking away the Chief of Police’s car, the Village Administrator’s car and the Building Inspector’s car. They claim gasoline is expensive, but of course it is. It will be expensive as well for the Village to pay officials to use their own cars.

Q. There has been talk at Board meetings about returning Kingsland Point Park back to the County of Westchester for maintenance and supervision. What has precipitated that?

Zegarelli: Tom Caposella has this thing about wanting to give Kingsland Point Park back to the County. The others, with a lack of understanding on the issues and details, go along with him. We [the Village] monitor the park, we police it and we clean up. We also book events at the Park. On an annualized basis the difference of having Kingsland versus not having it is $20,000 a year. We would have the same number of people working in our parks even without Kingsland. So you’re not going to save anything there. Plus we have all our recreational equipment and vehicles stored at Kingsland. Where else can we find a place to put all of that?

Q. Where do you see Sleepy Hollow Village government going?

Zegarelli: It’s meandering. They have the four votes and they feel they were anointed to make the decisions. I’m giving them the rope to do what they think they can do, but I’m going to be there to yank it back at the right time. The law is clearly on my side.

Q. What do you think your legacy in Sleepy Hollow will be?

Zegarelli: I think hard work and ideas and all things "Sleepy Hollow"— meaning the ‘legend’ and the name change. I also think my administration has done many things that people may take for granted. We have done significant work in every Village park, and those parks have helped people identify with their own neighborhoods. Take Barnhardt Park, which will be a great addition to our Village, and the gazebo here at Kingsland. They have taken time to complete, and in their own ways are very important to the neighborhoods they serve.

I also think that we [my Administration] has brought stability in the work place by hiring very motivated and hard working professionals in all of the departments. That’s not to say that we haven’t had issues and situations to address, but if you didn’t have those you wouldn’t need Village government.

We have also done a great deal of work on General Motors. I look back on it and I say that we really didn’t do anything wrong. On the contrary, we analyzed the development in depth. As ironic as it may sound, Roseland’s departure came at a good time. Better to have them leave the project before building rather than to have them default during the construction phase. From what I hear Roseland is going to be liquidated. That doesn’t mean that we [the Board] can’t stay focused and do our own work. We are very close at this time to issuing the special building permit. We know that General Motors is distracted by their own state of affairs, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t issue the permit. There’s certainly is a lot of interest in the GM site. It’s not that developers don’t want to pursue this kind of development in these tougher economic times.

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About the Author: Robert Bonvento