Pawling Residents Suing Town Government
Three residents of a Hudson Valley town are suing their town government over an alleged illegal appointment to the town board.
Helen Grosso, Kevin Gardner and Leslie Mondshein, all of Pawling, are suing the Town of Pawling and the Pawling Town Board over the appointment of a former town supervisor to a seat on the town board.
David Kelly was the town supervisor who sought re-election to that position in 2017. Kelly lost the town-wide Republican caucus to political newcomer James Schmitt which paved the way for Schmitt to be elected in November of last year.
The town board was also changing with councilman Paul Upham retiring, replaced by James McCarthy and the resignation of councilman Michael Montemarano in December. Montemarano's term was not expired and that created a vacancy on the board in January.
At the town's Organizational Meeting on January 3, 2018, Councilman Bill Johnson mad a motion to have David Kelly, the defeated town supervisor, to fill the vacant seat on the board retroactive to January 1, 2018.
Councilman McCarthy seconded the motion at which time councilman Phil DeRosa objected to the idea saying "I can't, in my heart sitting here on the town board, put someone back on the board that the residents had voted off."
Schmitt, the new supervisor countered by saying "being in this role (supervisor) I would benefit a lot from having Mr. Kelly here until the next election." The appointment to fill the vacancy would cover the remainder of the term, expiring in December of this year. An election for the full four-year term will be held in November. Schmitt, Johnson and McCarthy voted to give Kelly the job while councilman DeRosa voted against the motion.
Helen Grosso spoke at the January meeting and said that she was sorry that the board voted so quickly to fill the chair and continued by pointing out that the board didn't talk about any other possibilities.
On March 30, Grosso and her co-plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the Town of Pawling and the town board which claims that the retroactive appointment violates the "Town Law" of the New York State law and is an illegal waste of public funds and violates the public's interest. The plaintiffs allege that the purpose of making the appointment retroactive was to avoid Kelly having a gap in "service" to the town. They allege that by keeping the service "continuous", Kelly would be eligible for a lifetime of health benefits at no cost after serving ten continuous years in elected office. The lawsuit calls the lifetime health coverage a bill paid for by taxpayers that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Both Councilman Kelly and Supervisor Schmitt directed questions about the case to town attorney Robert Shadur who told the Hudson Valley Post that he does not comment on pending litigation.
The case is scheduled to be heard by NYS Supreme Court Justice Maria Rosa on May 4, in Poughkeepsie.