In a remarkable spectacle, the Rye City Council voted on Friday to approve the expenditure of taxpayer funds for the City of Rye to sue itself.
A collective $90,000 was approved to fund both sides of the Mayor’s Gang of Four lawsuit, plus an unknown cost in time, distraction and morale of City staff as well as the continued dysfunction of our elected Council where acrimony continues to build.
It is hard to see any bright lights among this morass other than perhaps the fresh calls among residents demanding civility and the unusual cooperation between the local Dems and GOP condemning the Mayor and his Gang of Four. Among the residents speaking at the Council meeting, there was broad and universal condemnation of the lawsuit, the continued appearance of conflict and the use of taxpayer funds.
“You are doing something that directly benefits you by constraining the amount of money spent by the Board of Ethics people to properly defend themselves,” said Shari Punyon, the former head of the Rye City Democratic Committee. “We wish you would just stop this. It’s embarrassing. It calls into question your entire ability to govern the city”
“The issues here are judgment and common sense,” said the former City Councilman Gerry Seitz. “We are now in a position where the people who are going to be making the decision as to payment of the legal bills presented by counsel for the Board of Ethics are the people who are on the opposite side of the litigation.”
Soon after these and other public comments, the Mayor and his Gang of Four voting block put forward a single resolution to provide $45,000 in City funds for the Board of Ethics to defend itself (the plaintiff effectively capping the legal fees of the defendant) and to provide an additional $45,000 to fund the Gang of Four’s own legal fees in the lawsuit it has initiated against the City.
The other three Councilmembers – Lori Fontanes, Bill Henderson and Josh Nathan – as well as the public had not seen the resolution prior to it being read aloud by the Mayor.
“I am first seeing this resolution now as it was read,” said Councilmemeber Josh Nathan. “I am shocked by this resolution. The absurdity that we the City Council will vote to sue ourselves is mind boggling. Second, the absurdity that the four of you are going to vote to give yourself money … you need to recuse yourselves.”
The Council then voted 4-3 to approve the $90,000 in legal fees with the Gang of Four voting in favor. Fontanes, Henderson and Nathan voted against.
In casting his vote, Nathan said “I will not fund a private lawsuit against the city using taxpayers money. You do not have the right to dip your hands into the coffers of every taxpayer in this community and I am voting no.”
Subsequently, Nathan put forward a resolution to increase the funding for the legal fees for the City of Rye Board of Ethics to $70,000. The resolution was defeated with the Gang of Four voting down the proposal to increase funding to the group they are actively suing.