MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Councilman Mike Barile angrily rebutted an article in The Journal News last week about the Swan Cove property deal, saying the story was inaccurate and part of an attempt at retribution by Bob Buckley, the former chair of the town’s Parks and Rec Advisory Committee, and several Town Board members.
The article called into question Barile’s involvement in the land deal and contended that he lied on his ethics filing—a form all board members must fill out before taking office that discloses, among other things, the personal income of newly elected officials.
At the Town Board’s March 27 meeting, in front of a standing-room-only crowd, Barile spent nearly an hour rebutting paragraph by paragraph the Journal News piece, written by David McKay Wilson for his Tax Watch column.
The story alleged that “the town failed to obtain an independent appraisal for the land prior to buying it,” and based the $1 million value on “the town assessor’s valuation, which was based on the project having all its approvals.”
The story also alleged that “Barile failed to disclose his previous ownership of Swan Cove in his 2017 financial disclosure statement.”
“Mr. Wilson and Mr. Buckley have been fabricating facts for about two years,” said Barile, calling the article a “hit job.” “Mr. Buckley is a disgruntled former recreation commissioner that made scenes in here that were embarrassing to himself and the town.”
Barile was referring to Buckley’s anger over not being consulted regarding the purchase of the Swan Cove property. Buckley contended that if the town planned to build a new park, his advisory committee should have been involved in the decision. The disagreement ultimately led to Buckley’s resignation and Barile contends Buckley has been trying to sabotage the deal ever since. Barile said Wilson and Buckley are former neighbors and that Buckley acted as a “mole” and incited Wilson to write the article that Barile contends is filled with false and inaccurate information. Barile told Mahopac News he intends to file a libel lawsuit against Wilson and The Journal News, saying it was “not a matter of if, but when.”
Buckley said that he was interviewed by Wilson on two occasions but did not prompt Wilson to write the article. Buckley said that since day one, when the Swan Cove purchase was first discussed, his only concern has been that the town do its due diligence and study the idea before acting too hastily.
“The fact that [Barile] called me a mole is disgusting,” Buckley said from Florida, where he was vacationing and thus not able to attend last week’s meeting. “He referred to a concerned taxpayer as a mole. Most people can relate to me and my position on Swan Cove. Many people think the Swan Cove [deal] is questionable because of the manner in which it was done.”
Buckley said that he has no special relationship with Wilson and can’t control what he writes.
“We don’t socialize, we have an acquaintance,” Buckley said. “I can’t dictate or shape what kind of article he can or cannot write. He sees what is going on. Actually, I was surprised he got involved in the story. But Swan Cove will become folklore in this town if we don’t get some answers.”
Buckley said he has never been opposed to the idea of the park, just the way the deal was handled.
“I think it has tremendous potential. I was never against the park, just the process,” he said.
Barile is a former owner of the property and sold it to developer Fran Cotaj several years ago for $725,000. Last year, Cotaj sold it to the town for a $1 million. Barile said he urged the town to buy the land before he was elected to the board and contends the town did not overpay for it.
“The town based the value on the town’s assessed evaluation,” he said. “I did everything possible under the sun to get the town to buy this property. I always regretted selling it in the first place. It was the perfect piece to tie in to downtown. Cotaj was getting his bond, it was in place, and he was ready to start building [so the town needed to act quickly.]”
At last week’s meeting, Barile said the town actually got a good deal on the land when the adjacent Tompkins Mahopac Bank parking lot is figured into the cost. He said the Swan Cove land was worth $925,000, but Cotaj would not back off his asking price of $1 million, so the town overpaid by $75,000. However, Barile said, the town has brokered a deal (there is a letter of intent, but nothing is official yet) with Tompkins Mahopac Bank to buy its adjacent land to use for municipal parking and to expand the park for $395,000, land that is appraised at $690,000. Additionally, the bank is kicking back $50,000 to have its sidewalks and drive-thru teller driveway refurbished during construction. When those figures are factored in, “we didn’t pay $75,000 over, we paid about a quarter million dollars less than what the whole thing was worth,” he said.
Barile said that he and Supervisor Ken Schmitt have stepped away from the bank negotiations and that board members Suzi McDonough and John Lupinacci will finalize the deal. Barile alleged that the two board members have slowed the bank deal down, as well as contributed to the contentious Journal News story, as retribution for when Barile accused them of “corruption” in the spring of 2018 and filed a grievance with the state comptroller and attorney general offices. The allegations centered on the town’s procurement policies and how it bids jobs.
Lupinacci denied there was any “retribution,” noting that he voted for the purchase of the Swan Cove land and said the state comptroller is simply doing a routine audit and not an “investigation.”
“I, too, believe the the [Journal News] stories have been sensationalized and I actually felt for you,” Lupinacci told Barile during the March 27 meeting. “You don’t like it when you are called corrupt in these articles and I don’t like being called corrupt when there isn’t any [corruption]. I think you are emotional on this and I get that.”
Lupinacci said he did not feed Wilson or Buckley information and said when Wilson called him, “I told him you’re not going to like what I have to say.”
“I voted for Swan Cove. It was a 5-0 vote,” Lupinacci said. “I wanted that property and I didn’t mind spending a million dollars. I was not coerced, and there was no corruption, there was no money under the table, nothing. I wanted the last piece of land around the lake for the town. I’ve said it many times that I think that park is going to be great. So, where does it come from that I am retaliating against you? I am not.
“There is nothing to retaliate against,” Lupinacci added. “This is a routine state audit focusing on procurement and they will find no crime, no coercion or corruption. Boards can always do a better job of keeping costs competitive by going out to [bids] more frequently.”
Councilman Jonathan Schneider said he’s always advocated for more parking in downtown Mahopac and lamented the discourse politics has taken locally and nationally.
“I’ve been pushing parking for seven years,” he said. “I fully expect to have a target on me while I am in office, the only thing I request is that it is on my chest and not on my back. We need to get more focused on what is happening, not on what is being said.”
At the time of this article, Councilwoman McDonough was on vacation in Australia and unavailable for comment.
As for the ethics filing, Barile said he didn’t fill out the form incorrectly on purpose, but he will refile it.
“I never did one before and it’s confusing, but that’s no excuse,” he said. “I asked people with experience and was told to fill it out exactly like I did. I disagreed and said then, this is going to come back and bite me in the butt someday. But the bottom line is this is my fault.
“I am an open book. I have nothing to hide and always spoke about the taxes we pay,” he continued. “For earned income, [the form] says, ‘Do not list such things as unearned sources of income such as interest, dividends, distributions or capital gains.’ Mr. Wilson made [a big deal] about that in his article—that I didn’t put down where my income comes from. But rental and real estate are reported as ‘dividends.’ They are not reported as earned income. So, I was actually correct [in not reporting that as income]. The reporter was flat-out wrong. The bottom line is my ethics file will be refiled. It will be amended to show the several buildings that I owned around town.”
Barile also denied the contention that the Swan Cove property doesn’t have the necessary permits.
“It’s been listed by some of the foremost brokers and you can’t list something unless it has the permits,” he said. “Everybody knows that, and Buckley kept it out there to make me look bad.”
He also said that contrary to social media rumors, Cotaj did not make a large profit on the Swan Cove deal with the town.
“Cotaj had over $900,000 invested in that property,” he said, noting it was alleged that Cotaj made over $200,000 selling it to the town. “He paid over $700,000 for it, he had two years of taxes over $60,000, he had closing costs, he had insurance and he had engineering and miscellaneous application fees.”
Barile lamented that the negotiations with the bank were dragging on, delaying the start of the project.
“We should be starting construction today,” he said. “We planned all along to start on April 1. Now [McDonough and Lupinacci] will go negotiate and they will let you know when we can start.”