A proposal to hire former Rye town supervisor Robert Morabito as Port Chester's next village clerk was rejected Monday night after a heated debate over the selection process for the job and a controversy about a Board of Trustees member voting via video conferencing.
Trustee Saverio Terenzi's proposal to appoint Morabito, a Port Chester resident, failed in a 4-3 vote and trustees decided to continue with a review of five candidates to replace retiring Village Clerk Joan Mancuso.
The vote on whether to hire Morabito, who was outsed by current Rye Town Supervisor Joseph Carvin, attracted vocal opponents to attend the Board of Trustees session Monday at the Port Chester Village Court. The vote also drew Trustee John Branca, who because of illness, has not been able to attend board meetings for months.
However, Branca did not attend in-person, but via video conferencing from his home. Branca voted with Terenzi in favor of hiring Morabito. But opposition led by Mayor Dennis Pilla received suprise support from Trustee Bart Didden and the appointment was blocked.
Monday's vote, to some, was itself a surprise because the Board of Trustees has not interviewed any candidates to replace Mancuso, who is in her final two weeks as village clerk. The trustees were slated to meet last week to review candidates, but that meeting was scrapped by Pilla because he could not get enough trustees to attend.
Terenzi said he proposed hiring Morabito, a former political opponent, because he believes Morabito is qualified for the position. While Terenzi admits he was highly critical of Morabito when he was supervisor, Terenzi contends Morabito has paid for any bad decisions he may have made as supervisor by losing that office.
Pilla said he does not believe Morabito is qualified to be village clerk, contending that Morabito's time as supervisor did not prepare him to run the functions of the Village Clerk's Office.
Terenzi's proposal called for hiring Morabito at a salary of $75,000. Mancuso makes $90,000 as clerk.
As the Board of Trustees prepared to vote, Trustee Daniel Brakewood suggested there were possible legal problems with the meeting itself because of Branca participating from home via video conferencing. To accomodate the electronic appearance by Branca, the village had to declare that Branca's home was also a public meeting place for Monday's board meeting in addition to the Port Chester Village Court.
Brakewood said two people had attempted to gain access to Branca's home to attend the meeting, but were turned away. Branca, speaking via the video link, denied that anyone had been turned away.
Pilla decided to allow the meeting to continue, leading to the vote on Morabito. Pilla said after Monday's meeting that it appears several people who went to Branca's home were able to gain access and watch the meeting from that location.
What's next? The trustees are going to review candidates who have applied for the position. Pilla said that if the post cannot be filled before Mancuso leaves the office, Village Manager Christoper Russo and village staff will oversee operations of the office until a new clerk is named.
Terenzi said one motivating factor in his decision to back Morabito for the post is that Morabito is a village resident. However, as the voting was done, Pilla suggested that the village begin looking at whether Port Chester would benefit by consolidating the village clerk and the Rye Town Clerk's Office.
Pilla contends this concept would allow Port Chester to take advantage of state grants encouraging government consolidation to improve the village's records-keeping system. Port Chester and Rye Town officials have agreed to look into the possible consolidation.