Since a police raid on the building department more than a year ago, a handful of village staffers have been assigned the unenviable task of cataloging decades worth of unorganized paper records.
The files date back to the 1930s and include more than two decades of incomplete, questionable records spanning the now-infamous tenures of former building inspectors Leonard Cusumano and Frank Ruccolo. Cusumano passed away in 2007 after 19 years as building inspector, while his protege Ruccolo headed the long-corrupt department until he was suspended last year in the wake of a criminal investigation.
Last week, Trustee Sam Terenzi visited the dusty vault and saw the mountain of paperwork for himself. To say he was angered would be an understatement.
"Based on what I saw we should all resign our offices immediately," Terenzi wrote in an e-mail to village leaders, including fellow trustees, the village manager and the village attorney.
Pulling village staffers and outsourcing the task to a private firm should be "priority number one," Terenzi wrote, urging his colleagues to put a three-month time limit on the project. The Republican trustee also wants the files scanned digitally and made available in an online database so the public can view them.
In a village where building and code enforcement have become central issues, "the amount of time and energy wasted" by having village staff organize the records "is criminal," according to Terenzi.
"If what I saw in those files is indicative of the entire batch then this village is ass backwards," Terenzi wrote.
Affectionately referring to his fellow trustees as "you idiots," Terenzi warned his colleagues not to question his visit to the dusty vault.
In an e-mail reply, Trustee Daniel Brakewood said he agrees with Terenzi.
"This is a key priority for the Village," Brakewood, a Democrat, wrote in reply. "You should be aware that getting all of the paper files into MuniCiti [ for managing municipal building records] was part of the plan when we agreed to buy the software. In fact, we talked about how the public records should available on the web, and how code officers should be able to pull up records using a pda while in the field."
In March, the building department offices were closed off and locked down again, with police tape stretched across the office door in village hall. At the time, Mayor Dennis Pilla said investigators were working their way through a cache of 3,000 old building department reports, including some by former building inspectors.
The criminal investigation, which is separate from the village government's own probe, has been ongoing since April 29. The Westchester County District Attorney's Office has taken the lead on the investigation, but officials there haven't commented on progress or offered any hints on whether criminal charges and accountability are pending.
That's raised the anger of people who live in Port Chester and have suffered through more than two decades of corruption before the current administration under Mayor Dennis Pilla brought in outsiders -- including Code Enforcement Director Christopher Steers -- to clean up the mess and oversee proper enforcement in the village.
Since then, local leaders have made several moves, including and placing the building department under the authority of Steers, who previously worked as a municipal leader in Florida and does not have connections to people in Port Chester as former department heads did.
As the criminal investigation stretches on without word from the district attorney's office, the extent of the corruption has been revealed in small pieces. For example, after a fire earlier this month, it was revealed Ruccolo, the former building inspector, vouched for a negligent landlord when he said an Oak Street home was safe and up to code.
That led to the home passing a safety inspection in April of 2010. But after the fire on June 6, investigators found a long list of violations, including overcrowding, exposed electrical wiring and unvented fuel sources.
In last week's e-mail exchange, Terenzi recommended allocating $100,000 for outsourcing the formidable task of organizing building department files. The issue hasn't been slated for a formal discussion on the agenda, but will likely come up during next week's meeting.
Check back with Port Chester Patch for updates.
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