Court Shoots Down PC Voting Rights Appeal

Port Chester can't fight the consent decree that brought cumulative voting to the village, according to the U.S. Appeals Court.

Cumulative voting is here to stay, and Port Chester taxpayers are on the hook for thousands of dollars in attorney fees from the ill-fated effort to reverse the voting rights case.

The decision marks the end of a divisive saga that included political battles, philosophical differences and lots of emotional feedback from people who live in the village.

In February, Port Chester's Republican trustees voted to fight the legally well-armed Department of Justice and appeal the voting rights case. In addition to hiring two local attorneys, trustees hired high-powered lawyer Michael Carvin at a cost of $225,000. Carvin is the brother of Joseph Carvin, Rye Town's Republican supervisor.

In April, a federal judge threw a bucket of cold water on the appeal effort with a written decision that the village "may not appeal a consent decree."

Still, Republican trustees and their lawyers pressed on, saying they had faith in Carvin and other attorneys, who said Port Chester had favorable odds in the case.

That optimism has been dashed with a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals, which dismissed Port Chester's appeal this week.

A message has been left with Anthony Piscionere, a local attorney who represented Port Chester in the appeal. Messages were also left with Carvin. Carvin has not responded to more than a half-dozen inquiries from Port Chester Patch since the village board's Republican majority voted to appeal in February.

Carvin's contract alone amounts to a one percent tax increase for Port Chester taxpayers if the attorney bills the village for the entire amount. Attorneys have billed the village for $35,000 and the village attorney's office is awaiting more legal bills related to the case.

The decision was not unexpected in some circles. Mayor Dennis Pilla, who opposed the appeal, said in February that the advice given by Port Chester's contracted lawyers didn't match up with the opinions of other attorneys and legal experts.

"I think they've been given bad advice all along. I think the advice has been skewed to the right, and if you look at the political affiliations of the lawyers...I think that has something to do with the bad advice we've given," Pilla said.

It's not clear what the final tab will be, but some leaders are bracing for a hefty bill, while others are calling for the attorneys to waive their fees as a gesture of good will toward the village.

Trustee Sam Terenzi said he expects the village will pay at least six figures in fees.

"Am I happy about the fact that we spent more than $100,000 and got nowhere? No," he said. "But we made the decision. Now we know where we stand and we're going to go forward."

One of the central arguments in favor of an appeal was to preserve "continuity" in government. Because elections were suspended before cumulative voting was imposed on the village, all six current trustees were elected at the same time, in June of last year.

That means all six incumbents could be potentially voted out at once, producing an entirely new board. Trustee John Branca was among those who said the possibility of a "rookie board" was a motivating factor in voting for an appeal.

Now that legal action is off the table, political leaders in Port Chester say they'll turn their efforts toward creating staggered trustee elections, so all six seats aren't up at once.

Terenzi said it's important to own the decision to appeal, and said he believes residents voted for him because that was part of his platform in 2010. But with this week's decision, Terenzi said it's time to move on.

"My goal is to try to move the village forward," he said. "If anyone wants to take political pleasure out of the fact that we made a bad decision, so be it."

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Jennie B. August 26, 2011 at 03:29 AM
what else is new...we take one step forward with a strong code enforcement program, and two step backwards with this type of crap. Can we say, "WE TOLD YOU SO!!!"
Interested Reader August 26, 2011 at 12:01 PM
This cost is nothing compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in lost revenue that many past Boards allowed to be skimmed by employees. How about all the tax money spent on school budgets an municipal services when the problems in the Building Department were ignored. This, at least, was debated, the majority made this decision and it was above board.
Bob August 26, 2011 at 01:09 PM
It is fine to disagree but your the name you use hear discredits you. The innuendo is obvious and unnecessary. Criticize the decision fine.
Bob August 26, 2011 at 01:11 PM
@ Interested Reader I agree whole heartedly. There was and is a lot of waste and nepotism in this village that costs far more than the DOD appeal. If it cost us $100,000 maybe we can get it back from the parking meter revenue thats not stolen.
Gary sullivan August 26, 2011 at 02:52 PM
Finally, the black eye can heal!!!! I guess the $100K(est) tax dollars should be considered a bargain since the Trustees who voted for this stated that some things were worth any amount of money. At least we MIGHT be sparred any further expense. I would like to see if any of the Board of Trustees who voted for this appeal to appeal will now pledge to bring up a final accounting of how many tax payer dollars were spent once ALL the billing is complete. Would love to see this as an agenda item on a future meeting to have one final agreed upon number for future reference! Trustee Didden, Kenner, Terenzi or Branca, will you make this pledge?
Saverio Terenzi August 26, 2011 at 02:58 PM
Dear Democratic Candidate for Council Mr. Sullivan, The courts have ruled. Do I think I made a bad decision to go for the appeal, no way. I feel as strongly today about our backwards way of electing officials in this Village as I did when I pledged that I would vote for the appeal. There are great deal of good things happening in the Village, I guess the courts have done us a favor by having this issue put to bed. Time will tell.
Gary sullivan August 26, 2011 at 03:02 PM
Thanks for the reply, how about the pledge? Will you make the pledge to put on the agenda a final accounting of what the Appeal to Appeal cost the taxpayers, you know I like to keep things simple, a yes or no answer would be fantastic. I agree, there is a lot of great stuff happening in this Village and as a Candidate for the Town of Rye Council, I hope to help in the progress around the Town of Rye and possibly working together.
Saverio Terenzi August 26, 2011 at 03:11 PM
Mr. Democratic Candidate for Council, Yes, why would we try to hide the number. We encumbered in last year's budget $250,000 to cover the costs of the case. I believe based a coversation that I had with Cerrato that the bill will be in the $125,000 range. We will now have to pay Randolph his $125,000 and that will be the end of the saga. Am I happy, not at all. I thought we were given all the facts very clearly and concisely from Michael Carvin (You know the guy your running mate called a "racists attorney") and made a rational decision. The courts have disagreed.
Gary sullivan August 26, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Thanks for making the pledge. I look forward to hearing the final number so everyone can at least agree on what the appeal to appeal cost the Tax Payers. I disagree that you made a rational decision. You were given the facts from numerous attorneys, Michael Carvin was the one that gave them to you in the way you wanted to hear them. It was a losing case from the beginning, like it or not, you should have realized this, the public and some of the BOT realized this a long time ago, glad to hear you have come around and will start to let the black eye heal.
Saverio Terenzi August 26, 2011 at 03:38 PM
Gary, We can agree to disagree. When you and your running mate John Reavis start knocking on doors It would be interesting to hear the public's opinion on the case. Maybe you should bring up the fact that there has never been a black or hispanic in the Town board. Maybe we should go to cumulative voting in the Town of Rye. I think that should be one your campaign planks. You run on that issue and Carvin's team can run on reducing taxes,spending while increasinmg the fund balance over the last three years. You should run this by your campaign team of Stracuzzi & Gene Branca. Like they really give two craps about what's good for the Town.
Gary sullivan August 26, 2011 at 03:48 PM
Let's just leave it at the agree to disagree. You heard what you wanted to hear, you were wrong, PC taxpayers lost and now you are trying to change the subject. Have a nice weekend, I know I will sleep better knowing the meter has stopped running on this giant waste of tax payer dollars.
Saverio Terenzi August 26, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Gary, Have a nice weekend and stay out of the hurricane's way.
Bea Conetta August 26, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Personally, I am more frustrated with the fact that the "high powered" lawyer hired by the Republican majority wasn't smart enough to know we couldn't challenge the consent decree. It is unbelievable that he might profit from it. Hopefully, he will waive his fee in an act of good will since he didn't advise the BOT correctly. The majority should have listened to our mayor who had opinions from other experts who advised against the appeal. The Republicans cut so many things from our service departments (including bullets for the policemen for practice), but they had no qualms about wasting thousands of dollars on an appeal that was lost from the start. Put your heads together trustees and come up with a solution to our way of voting. Listen to the mayor who had ideas before this "bad decision" was made.
Bob August 26, 2011 at 04:59 PM
You are too sarcastic and devisive. I would never vote for you..
Bob August 26, 2011 at 05:02 PM
Bea, the final budget numbers will come in at the end of the fiscal year and then we will be able to tell if the cuts were too deep. I watched the Board Meeting when the board went over line item by line item and asked Department heads if they can live within those numbers. Only the FD stated some concern. You also lose credibility when you only criticize republicans and kiss the mayors you know what...
Saverio Terenzi August 26, 2011 at 06:13 PM
Bea, The difference between this BOT and prior boards is the vigorous give and take on all the issues that confront the board on a monthly basis. I don't have a problem with the decision of the majority. The decision wasn't made just to be on the other side of the Mayor. I believe that the Village is not at all bias in anyway shape or form. Ruiz ran for office and recieved almost 35% of the non-hispanic vote, that has to tell you something about our Village voting system. The next election will come soon enough, it will cost us another $250,000 just to prove to the government that we are not a racist community. It must be me but there is something very unfair about this entire situation.
Bea Conetta August 26, 2011 at 08:16 PM
Bob, If you were able to go back go the BOT meeting when they went over each line by line item, you will see that it was more than just the FD that was disappointed in the cuts. I don't only critisize one party when a wrong is being done. If you watched the past meetings, you will see that I have complimented the entire BOT a number of times. They have shown they can work together to accomplish good things for the village. When it comes to the DOJ appeal, they were really wrong, because they totally ignored the many residents who were against the appeal. Hopefully, we will find a way to get back to our old way of voting. Perhaps we can appeal to Paul Gardephe, the new judge in charge of our case to help us. I did write a letter to him in May. One letter won't do the trick, but if many would write to him, it might have an impact. Sam, you are right, because all of you on the BOT do debate strongly on all issues. The public can see exactly what is going on and can comment on any issue. I do think, though, that when the public feels so strongly about something the BOT should pay more attention to them.
Interested Reader August 26, 2011 at 08:18 PM
We should be under scrutiny for be a sanctuary for illegal immigration. It just doesn't make sense that ALL the laws are not scrutinized the way the voters right act was in this case.
Bob August 26, 2011 at 10:54 PM
Bea, no department manager wants his budget trimmed. It makes them manage like they should. When they have fluff in the budget they can do everyting include pay unreal Overtime. I ran departments with Operating Budgets of $17 Million and Large Capital Budgets. Each department head routinely put in more than they need because they know it will be discussed and cut. In the case of PC rarely is anything cut. We have to trim the budget so we can pay off our debt. Regarding the DOJ, you can't just go to a judge. The case was lost, we appealed and lost again. I also speak to a lot of people including seniors and thise I spoke to were for the appeal so we have a wash. The only way is to appeal to a higer court if we even are able to do that. I am not suggesting we do that. We lost and have to live with the result for a few more election cycles. I recall that we can look at gong back to another mehod after so many election cycles. Bart or Sam since you post hear please correct me if I am wrong. Bea I think its great that you speak up thats what this country is about. However your criticisms are maybe 90% 10% against Republicans.
Mr. Vizhco August 26, 2011 at 11:42 PM
Lets make cuts in public safety and gamble with the voting rights lawsuit. Sounds intelligent.
Bob August 26, 2011 at 11:43 PM
You assume there was not fat in the Police and FD Budgets.
Nik Bonopartis August 27, 2011 at 12:07 AM
This may be beating a dead horse, but again, the "high powered lawyer" who accepted a $225,000 contract from Port Chester has not bothered to reply to press inquiries at every step of this process. At meetings, Goldie often likes to say, "I represent a lot of local people." This is a similar situation. We're not calling because we think we'd enjoy conversations with Michael Carvin. We're calling because we have legitimate questions to ask on behalf of the taxpayers who will pay Carvin for his work in this ill-fated lawsuit. The answers to those questions would be relayed to thousands of readers here on Port Chester Patch. It's also worth mentioning that Carvin was hired in a no-bid process, and the only other attorney considered for the job died last year in a plane crash. So without any kind of real accountability, we're here having these discussions and wondering how it's possible that legal advice can differ so dramatically, particularly when a major selling point was Carvin's connections to Port Chester and his fondness for his hometown. Taxpayers in Port Chester deserve answers.
Interested Reader August 27, 2011 at 01:00 PM
Fact, the FD & PD Budgets were cut. Fact, FD & PD services have been reduced. Time will tell if this move is going to raise crime rates or slow response to emergencies. I would think that training will be the first thing reduced, then it's down hill from there. I don't recall hearing the PD or FD plans to meet the budget reductions. Would like to hear about that at the Budget review the Board aid was scheduled for September.
Saverio Terenzi August 27, 2011 at 04:06 PM
Dear Intrested Reader, The police and fire departments all received raises higher than the CPI. There weren't any staff reductions. The fire department is on line to hire 2 full time firefighters which will reduce the overtime. The Chief was told that if his overtime line wasn't sufficant that the first $50k of the contingency line would be used to backfill. As for the police budget, all changes were made with the input of the department head. The thought process is that some of the brass will be retiring and then the village would replace them with lower paid 1st & 2nd year officers. If you feel like doing your homework double check how much brass there is in the police department compared with rank & file police. It will be an eye opener. Also please be advised that an officer that makes $80,000 has at least a 40-45% override just for payroll taxes,worker's comp,pension & health care. Nobody is complaining, it just becomes a balancing act with the taxpayer burden and the cost to run a Village. The assessments went down by 9%, that was a $2 million reduction in tax dollars before we even started the process. Even in the face of that not one person was fired and we still kept the tax rate at 3. somthing. Anytime you would like to debate last years budget I'm all for it, just make sure your facts are staright.
Saverio Terenzi August 27, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Nik, I can't answer why michael Carvin is not answering your calls, I can only speak for myself. Carvin will be paid by the Village, that money was encumbered in last years fund balance. My understanding is that the final bill will be somewhere around $75,000. Mr. Carvin's is a partner in one of the biggest law firms in the country, his contract is considered professional services which if you look up State law says there is no need an open bid process. The other attorney indicated that his fee would have been slightly higher than what Mr. Carvin but very close to the $225,000 cap that we insisted that Jones Day agree too. If taxpayers want answers tell them to call my office 937-0601 and will gladly explain the entire process, trust me there are no secrets in this Village.
John W Griffin August 27, 2011 at 11:10 PM
Is This still America? Why do minorities get 6 votes ? to one for Other citizens ? maybe its me but the Racists in Washington are destroying this country and the Port Chester Decision/situation is a small example of what is going to happen to America
Nik Bonopartis August 27, 2011 at 11:29 PM
John: Under the cumulative voting system *all* voters in Port Chester were able to cast six votes in 2010's trustee election. The "minorities get six votes" thing is an urban legend that started with a sloppy Fox News report, picked up steam when a Youtube video went viral, and spread to hundreds (thousands?) of blogs and political sites across the internet. We ran a story on those misconceptions and you can read it here: http://patch.com/A-cv7C This all started with inept (or purposefully distorted) news reporting, and people who trusted those reports were naturally outraged. But it just isn't true. In Port Chester, cumulative voting may not be popular, but people who live here preferred cumulative voting to slicing up this tiny, 2.4-sq mile village into districts, which was the other option the Department of Justice offered. People stumble on the blog posts and Youtube videos all the time and send angry e-mails to village hall. The story above quotes one of those e-mails and details how the mayor and others try to combat the misinformation by personally responding to the angry messages, which come from all over the U.S. I hope that helps clear things up a bit. Thanks for reading.
Interested Reader August 27, 2011 at 11:45 PM
@Sam, I think the facts are straight, the FD & PD "BUDGETS" were cut. Nowhere in my comment did I say "Personnel" were cut. We don't have lavish overstaffed and over equipped Emergency Services. Did any brass retire, was training not cut, were shifts not reduced to compensate for the reduction in funding? You tell me, I have been told they were, i guess I could have been told bad information. You tell me? Then maybe Nik can research it. Then we'll have some facts. Maybe one of the Firemen of Police Officers reading this will comment, please do. In any case lets see the crime numbers during all the budget reviews and then we'll know if we are on the right track or not. I personally am not sure on this issue. I like the rest of what was done.
Interested Reader August 27, 2011 at 11:54 PM
One more thing, is it true that the PD budget has zero dollars for equipment?
Saverio Terenzi August 28, 2011 at 04:38 PM
Dear Interested Reader, The budget process started out with a 9% loss of assessed valuations. On a $34,000,000 budget that's a $2,000,000 shortfall before we even start the process. The facts are very clear and transparent, the Police budget was reduced from $7,620,687 to $7,376,666 that is approximately a 3.20% reduction. If you factor in the increase in pension & health care expenses our committment to law enforcement was increased. The police department was not singled out in the budget process. As a matter of fact their budget was debated and talked about in great detail. The police chief was brought into the process and although not happy he worked with us to come up with the reductions. The problem hear is that the budget gets muddled in this DOJ case expenditures. At the end of the day the decision to proceed with an appeal will cost the VIllage $100,000. That money was encumbered in the prior year's fund balance. Even with that encumberance the Village will still have an operating surplus in the 2010/11. I am extremely proud of how me and fellow trustees handled the current budget and continue to be vigilant on the finances of the Village.


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