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NEW CITY – The Rockland Legislature postponed a vote to create an office to oversee the county takeover of the dysfunctional Spring Valley Building Department Tuesday, sparking fears and outrage from critics.
However, the vote was rescheduled for Feb. 1, and the state-approved takeover date remains Feb. 14.
Legislature Chairman Jay Hood, D-Haverstraw, seemed to imply he spoke to the acting New York secretary of state and the office needed to review the takeover order issued in November.
That proved to be incorrect, as the state Department of State and acting secretary Robert Rodriguez stand by the November takeover order.
“Secretary Rodriguez has full confidence in the constitutionality of the Designation and Second Order, as issued," spokesperson Mercedes Padilla said. "It is expected that the parties to the order will comply and work to meet the obligations of the order to ensure the safety and welfare of the people of Spring Valley and Rockland County.”
Hood's comments led to calls for his resignation and an investigation from advocates, as well as theories there were individuals conspiring to get the vote canceled.
Hood said Wednesday he, Minority Leader Lon Hofstein, R-Clarkstown, and other legislators like Phil Soskin, D-Ramapo, discussed delaying the vote with County Executive Ed Day on Tuesday afternoon. They agreed to keep the public hearing open and vote on Feb. 1.
Hood said he never told the legislators he spoke with the acting secretary of state or exchanged letters.
"My comment about the secretary of state seems to have gotten blown out of proportion," Hood said. "This delay doesn't change anything unless we hear differently from the state. Ed Day says the county is ready to go. The most important thing is to follow the state order and take over on Feb. 14."
Hood said the issue is between Spring Valley and the state, and the village could be lobbying the state to rescind the takeover order. Spring Valley Mayor Alan Simon has called the takeover order a violation of the village's constitutional rights. The village has hired a civil rights attorney to potentially defend the village and an Albany-based law firm to discuss with the state the village maintaining control of its building department,
Hood's comment and the non-vote led advocates to call for an investigation.
"I am calling for the immediate removal and charges be brought against Chairman Jay Hood for intentionally misleading and falsifying remarks on public record that the Secretary of State sent a letter asking for more time to review the law on the County takeover of The Village of Spring Valley building department," Justin Schwartz said in a statement.
Schwartz chairs the Rockland Illegal Housing Task Force and Private Schools. The task force has been for a decade on the forefront of reporting fire and safety code violations and the lack of enforcement.
Rockland county executive: Takeover a go
Day said Wednesday in a statement that the issues brought up during the Legislature meeting will not alter plans to ensure housing, schools and commercial buildings in Spring Valley meet fire and safety codes.
Day said the county has spent two months preparing for the takeover, utilizing staff from the Office of Fire and Emergency Services and various departments of county government.
"Rockland County is ready, willing, and able to take over the functions of the Spring Valley Building Department," Day said.
The county plan has excluded two chief safe housing advocate groups – the task force and CUPON-Rockland, short for Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhood. CUPON fights to preserve local zoning and neighborhood character.
Postponement sparks fears
CUPON-Founder Micheal Miller told the legislators Tuesday CUPON and the task force were disappointed "we were not invited to participate in the formation, execution, and follow-up to correct the building codes problem in Spring Valley."
Miller said "hidden persuaders" were to blame for the postponed vote, theorizing they are the same people who have allowed for inadequate inspections, building codes and zoning violations to persist in the village.
"As much as we hope this effort will be successful, we believe after the kudos and press conferences are done once the county declares its work is done, things will quickly revert to where they are now," Miller said.
Legislators Laurie Santulli, R-Clarkstown, and James Foley, R-Orangetown, joined the chorus critical of the delayed vote, Spring Valley and Day.
Santulli, a teacher, and a firefighter whose son and husband volunteer, agreed with Miller's use of "hidden persuaders." In her comments on Facebook, Santulli cited the death in March of Spring Valley firefighter Jared Lloyd when the Evergreen Court Home for Adults collapsed during a fire. A resident also died.
"But what I really tried to hone in on was how there are so many working against this takeover," she wrote. "These persuaders are conniving and able to convince some who hold power that they will lose their next election if they don’t turn a blind eye. Sadly that’s exactly what is happening more and more at all levels of government."
To submit a public comment, send emails t firstname.lastname@example.org by 7 p.m. on Feb. 1.
To comment in person, attend the hearing at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 1, at the Allison-Parris County Office Building, 11 New Hempstead Road in New City.
Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police, and investigations. Reach him at email@example.com. Twitter: @lohudlegal. Read more articles and bio. Our local coverage is only possible with support from our readers.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Rockland: Vote delay won't stop takeover of Spring Valley inspections