The removal of Town Clerk Diana Quast from the Parks and Recreation Commission sparked some controversy at the Yorktown Town Board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
The board voted, 3 to 1, to remove Quast from the commission at its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 4, with Republicans Supervisor Matt Slater and Councilmen Tom Diana and Ed Lachterman voting in favor of the removal while Democratic Councilman Vishnu Patel remained opposed.
In her opening remarks on Tuesday, Democratic Councilwoman Alice Roker spoke about the vote, which was taken during her absence.
“I want to speak about a vote you took a couple of weeks ago when I wasn’t here, and I just want to present what my feelings were,” Roker said.
She went on to list some of Quast’s accolades in her time on the Parks and Recreation Commission, which included the creation of the town skateboard park.
“I’m not going to list everything Diana has done for the commission, but I just wanted to explain why my vote would have been against what they did,” Roker said.
She also referenced a vote the Town Board had taken on Dec. 19, 2017, two weeks before the Democratic administration of Ilan Gilbert administration began, to appoint officials to the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Ethics Board for multiple-year terms. Gilbert reappointed Quast, a Democrat, to the commission during the last days of his administration, but at issue was the fact that her appointment began on Jan. 1, after Gilbert’s administration ended.
In an interview with Yorktown News, Slater said that though there is no statutory law that prohibits the practice, there is common law which prevents lame-duck appointments.
“There is common law, which is case law, which the town attorney has researched, that deemed the appointment is invalid,” Slater said. “This isn’t political; this is following the rules.”
During courtesy of the floor, many residents spoke out to protest Quast’s removal and listed her accomplishments on the commission.
Shrub Oak resident Marcia Stone protested the 14-year commission veteran’s removal and expressed concern that Quast’s replacement, Richard Romanski, may have a conflict of interest due to his for-profit business, Kiids Sports Inc., a soccer program which uses town facilities for practices and camps at a fee.
“What measures have been put into place to avoid any conflict or any appearance of conflict and to assure the public that no member of any commission has motives beyond what’s in the town’s best interest?” Stone asked.
Slater said at the meeting and in an interview that members on any board or commission must recuse themselves from voting on matters if it creates a conflict of interest.
Resident Fran DiBernardo read aloud previous statements made by Slater in Yorktown News.
“When I hear ‘a decision was made to move it forward and bring a close to the issue,’ I hear evasion, because there really isn’t a good justification underneath it,” DiBernardo said. “When I hear ‘the decision to move in a different direction was made’ I would like to hear the details of that direction. What do you hope to accomplish with the new team that you could not accomplish before?”
Slater said in an interview that the decision to take the Parks and Recreation Commission in a different direction came from a litany of issues with town parks that go back many years.
“If they want to go out and tell all the accolades, if the commission is getting all the credit for the great things that we’ve seen in our town, and I fully acknowledge them, there’s also blame and you can’t have one without the other,” Slater said.
He went on to cite issues with the Par 3 Golf Course project, which, he said, was shut down by New York State for failure to obtain permits, and the LED lights at Granite Knolls, which are illegal for operating without spill shields, according to the town code. Both of these projects were overseen by the Parks and Recreation Commission.
“You can look at the insurance issues we’ve been having, you can look at grants that have been missed, I can go through the whole thing and I’m not trying to do that,” Slater said. “I’ve been trying to avoid having this conversation because I don’t think it’s productive but at some point, there’s two sides of a coin. At the last commission meeting, they’ve been told for years that you can’t put signage on our town park facilities. Well, you can, you just needed authorization [from the state]. We had Capture Point in the work session; for four years, they’ve been trying to come into the town. Why did it take four years to put our parks registration online? We’ve got it done in six weeks. The commission’s moving in a new direction, they’re updating their bylaws, they’re professionalizing how they operate and I think that’s a good thing.”
Attempts to reach Quast for comment were unsuccessful.
DiBernardo also expressed at the meeting her concerns with the removal of Quast and the resignation from the commission of
Town Comptroller Patricia Caporale, saying “there is zero diversity” with the remaining members all having stakes in sports teams.
Caporale said that her decision to resign from the commission after Quast’s removal was based on the conversation surrounding department heads on the commission.
“I figured after 14 years it was time to exit stage left,” Caporale said. “At this point, I’m going out with my head held high from my accomplishments over the last 14 years.”
Slater said that the board has an open mind when it comes to appointing anyone willing to volunteer for town commissions or boards.
“We’ve had people who’ve expressed interest in the Parks and Recreation Commission,” Slater said. “I stated it publicly that we have an opening on the commission and the board will make a decision as to who’s willing to or expresses interest and wants to be involved.”
In what Slater described as a political move, resident Mark Lieberman presented Quast with a homemade certificate of appreciation for her services on the commission.
Slater said later in the meeting and in an interview that he, the Town Board and Parks and Recreation Supervisor Jim Martorano Jr. are currently working on recognizing Quast and Caporale for their service to the town.
In response to accusations that his motives were political, Slater said that he and the board passed a resolution to appoint various members to Yorktown’s Climate Smart Community Task Force at the Feb. 18 meeting.
“The Climate Smart Community Task Force members were also appointed [the same night]; that’s a very diverse group of people of different political affiliations, backgrounds, ethnicities and gender,” Slater said.
On the board are two Democratic district leaders, Sarah Wilson and Paul Moskowitz, who he said he nominated and voted to put on the committee.
“It doesn’t matter to me what their party affiliation is, there are two qualified individuals who are passionate about the issues.
That’s what we should be focused on,” Slater said.