There is an air of hypocrisy blowing over Yorktown and it is coming from town hall. Over the past couple of weeks, I questioned the “temporary” hiring of the Oxman Law Group as legal counsel to Yorktown in a purported “interim” capacity. I have had comments of support and comments questioning my motivation. Rather than have people guess, I would like to be transparent.
At the onset, I would like to address a couple of myths that have been posited by the supervisor regarding the position of town attorney. First is the notion that it is a political appointment made within the supervisor’s prerogative. The selection of all professionals to serve the town has been a decision of the entire Town Board. The current supervisor is the first to make these critical decisions behind closed doors, to the exclusion of Councilman Tom Diana and myself.
One need only look back to the last administration to know this. For four of the six years Supervisor Michael Grace was in office, he retained the town attorney from the two prior administrations. It was only upon entering his third term that the board felt that it wanted to explore other options.
Based upon planned legislative initiatives and the formation and financing of sewer infrastructure districts, it was decided that additional and more-nuanced municipal legal experience may better serve the town. The board began the search process looking for the most qualified attorney. The issue was and remained who was the best-suited person for the job. This has been my approach regarding the procurement of anyone to provide town services.
The town eventually hired Michael J. McDermott, whose municipal law resume speaks for itself. Unfortunately, for the new board, political cronyism has trumped proficiency. This is obvious, given that in the current board’s majority pick of legal counsel, the only criteria to be considered was the repaying of a political debt, a repayment that will be at great expense to the taxpayers of Yorktown in more ways than financial.
The new board majority voted to retain the Oxman Law Group for the town’s legal services. To those who have been observant of recent history, this is an obvious political payback to Marc Oxman, whose last contribution to the town was bringing a frivolous, politically motivated lawsuit against the prior Town Board. While that lawsuit was pending, it has come to light that Oxman had been having discussions with the incoming board majority. These discussions are in violation of the professional code of conduct for attorneys, as Oxman was representing a party adverse to the town and three sitting board members, the latter who, as parties to that lawsuit, would have to authorize discussions with the adverse party’s counsel.
After an initial confrontation regarding the conflict and failure to disclose, Oxman handed the case off to the chairman of the Yorktown Democratic Committee, Ron Stokes, in what appears to be a thinly veiled attempt to disperse the air of inappropriateness.
Following this, the Oxman Law Group designated as “of counsel” to its firm Richard Abbate, yet another local Democratic attorney with no municipal law experience, and assigns Abbate as counsel to the town. In effect, Abbate, who prior to this point was unaffiliated with the Oxman Law Group, becomes town attorney. As a result, under the current retainer with the Oxman Law Group, the board majority has provided payback for all their Democratic cronies in one fell swoop. The Oxman firm gets the retainer and Abbate the spoils of a sub-contract. All of this is happening at the taxpayers’ expense. Political patronage has always been frowned upon in Yorktown and should remain so as this is possibly a new low in cronyism.
My final issue that I will speak about is the total disregard for the systems and the transparency that is the right of the taxpayers. These decisions and changes were neither discussed with me nor Councilman Diana. These issues should be discussed by the entire board. The hiring of a law firm rather than an in-house attorney required open-session discussion. It is a dramatic change in the way legal services are rendered to the town.
Why was the supervisor actively engaged in private negotiations with the Oxman Law Group? By all appearances, Supervisor Gilbert knew that Abbate would be placed as the town attorney by the Oxman group long before he was introduced. Why else would there be an engraved nameplate at the board meeting on his second day at town hall? Why would two of the councilmen not find this out until after Abbate showed up to work unless Supervisor Gilbert and his cohorts were trying to hide it? I emailed Supervisor Gilbert to obtain clarification and understanding of how these decisions were made, especially in the absence of input by the entire board and as appropriate by the public. I received no response to my inquiry.
I hereby publish my concerns not to be divisive, but to shed perspective on what I see as an attempt to corrupt our town’s long-held tradition of hiring consultants and professionals on the basis of merit. It is my duty to the town I represent to protect it from what will amount to a costly mistake.
The town attorney provides services essential to the operation of all Yorktown’s departments and the only criteria for the engagement of such services was and should remain competency.
Finally, I make a plea to Supervisor Gilbert, Councilwoman Roker and Councilman Patel to live up to their campaign promise and start working together with Councilman Diana and myself in an open and transparent manner for all the people of Yorktown. As a first substantive decision, the hiring of the Oxman Law Group, if left to stand, shall cause a thick air of hypocrisy to hang over town hall.
Ed Lachterman is a councilman in the Town of Yorktown.
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