Video Courtesy of CUPON Mahwah
Even for Rockland County this is a new one. At last night’s meeting of the Rockland County Legislature, a new local law was passed creating the Office of Building and Codes to oversee building and fire safety in the beleaguered Village of Spring Valley.
Spring Valley has been under fire for years with people complaining about the lack of oversight which led up to the deaths of two people in a nursing home blaze on March 23, 2021 including volunteer firefighter Jared Lloyd and a 79 year old resident.
Legislators Alden Wolfe, Aney Paul and Toney Earl attended the meeting via WebEex, voted in the affirmative to adopt the new local law creating the Office of Building and Codes and then disappeared.
Alden Wolfe, Chairman of the Rockland County Legislature reportedly is dealing with health issues and may have had reason to leave early. Vice Chairwoman Aney Paul responded to an email asking for a comment about her early departure and had this to say:
“I absolutely voted last night to adopt the law and create the Office of Buildings & Codes.
I also intended to vote for the additional items for the funding, the director and the intermunicipal agreement with Spring Valley. I had technical problems and lost my connection to the WebEx meeting and despite numerous attempts, I could not reconnect.
I will vote for the resolutions after the Chairman sets the meeting. I plan to suggest that we hold that meeting next Tuesday, since we will have committee meetings that night.
The important thing is that they did go through the Committee of the Whole and therefore can be voted on by the full Legislature at the next meeting. Again, I plan to support them so we can do all we can to protect the safety and health of our residents, businesses and our dedicated first responders.”
This is allegedly the second time that Legislator Paul has had technical difficulties as she apparently had the same problem last week during a vote as well.
Legislator Toney Earl did not respond to emails asking for comment however during the meeting he did specifically say that he would be voting for the law however he did not go any further and his actions seemed to be in perfect alignment with his words.
As “new business” or “red dot” items on the agenda that were brought forward after committee sessions, the subsequent items required 12 of 17 votes in order to pass.
Aaron Weider walked in to the legislative chamber at the same time that Legislators Paul, Wolfe and Earl disappeared. In fact as he walked in the volunteer firefighters in attendance were filing out thinking that the new measure was a done deal.
Legislators Itamar Yeger and Phil Soskin voted for the actual law and then when it came to vote for the funding and the structure of the Office of Building and Codes, including the personnel, they voted against it with Legislator Weider joining them.
According to Legislator Laurie Santulli, “This was a tactic, it was a staged tactic to make sure that this didn’t go through. That’s when Chairman Hood created what’s called a Committee of the Whole which didn’t require as many votes. It got past that but he didn’t put it back on the legislative agenda because he knew they would vote it down.”
The County Legislature will either have to schedule a special meeting or this will be attached to a later legislative session.
Because Wolfe, Paul and Earl were in attendance via WebEx And marked present prior to the subsequent votes, having disappeared without being excused, they are by default counted as “no” votes so these measures were not passed.
As a result, this new office is essentially without funding, personnel, equipment and without a Director.
Former Suffern Mayor Edward Markunas was appointed to the position by County Executive Ed Day however he’s now in a holding position, waiting to see what direction the County Legislature chooses to take.
This could possibly be a stall tactic in order to give the Village of Spring Valley more time to try to prove that they can manage their own Building and Code enforcement without outside help.
Legislator Santulli continued: “Everybody I’ve spoken with at the state level, assembly people, people in the governor’s offices says that this is a go, this is a mandate; it really doesn’t matter if we can’t pass this or not, we (Rockland County) doesn’t really have a choice in the matter, they’re telling us we have to do this. If we don’t figure this out, we are not in compliance.
My anger and my frustration in this is that two weeks ago when this was up originally and they pulled it, I kept asking ‘What’s next? Something else could happen!’ And I was reassured by Chairman Hood “No, no, no, it’s going to go through and he was yelling last night ‘I got sandbagged, I got sandbagged! So they did this without him knowing.” “This was totally orchestrated and it was amazing that the firemen had just walked out as Aaron (Legislator Weider) ran in and they got off the Zoom (WebEx) call. This is just beyond; I have had the feeling of being shell-shocked all day.”
In a press release sent out earlier today, Rockland County Executive Ed Day stated: “This afternoon Chairman Hood and I will be signing a Declaration of Procurement Emergency to direct the County’s Director of Purchasing to take immediate action to contract the qualified building inspectors and code enforcement officials necessary for the County of Rockland to respond effectively to the Order from New York State.
The County of Rockland has been Ordered to take over the functions of the Spring Valley Building Department and if the Legislature fails to act in support of that Order, I will declare a State of Emergency and take whatever steps are necessary to protect the health and safety of Village residents, visitors and first responders.”