Rye Mayor Says Ethics Matter “Closed”

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It has dominated the news in Rye for months: Did Mayor Doug French receive any preferential treatment in terms of property taxes or other favors? The colorful Ray Tartaglione certainly thinks so.

French released a memo this morning (read it in full below) saying the matter  is now “closed” after the determination of the City Ethics Board (which hadn’t met in nearly a decade.)

Rye Mayor Doug French

Dear Resident,

I am writing today to update you on the complaint brought forward by Ray Tartaglione of Purchase, NY and Leon Sculti of Rye against Rye’s Mayor, City Manager, Corporation Counsel, Tax Assessor, Building Inspector and the Board of Ethics. I am able to report that the matter is now closed and attached is the finding from the Board of Ethics which essentially says that the Mayor neither sought nor received preferential treatment on issues related to his property; and that Rye homeowners in similar situations receive the same treatment. In the end, this has never been about an issue isolated to the Mayor, but about the process of selling and moving from a home that residents face everyday and are handled by City staff in the same way.

 

The Complaint

Last week in a process consistent with our Charter, I called for the City’s Board of Ethics to review a complaint against me and City officials for allegedly acting improperly with respect to two issues — a legacy building violation and a misapplied STAR Tax exemption — on a residential property I own. The reason I called for a review by the Board was because of misleading press reports and statements from elected City officials which were parroting the allegations by the accusers and distorted the issues without looking at the facts of the matter at hand. As the persons being accused, there were never any specific charges or facts of misconduct directed at me or City staff, just allegations about the perception of the possibility that improper behavior could have taken place. Really? Here are the facts:

 



The Building Violation

In July of this year, a complaint was phoned into the Building Department about a potential illegal finished bedroom/storage on the third floor of a single-family rental home I own that was being shown for sale. This is common in Rye and that is how we bought it. Tragically, the City Building Inspector passed away in August and a violation was subsequently issued once a new inspector was in place — just like with any resident. In my case, the alleged building violation happened 40 years ago — I was in the 3rd grade, and most likely given the minimal work done it was not a violation at that time. However, we have taken the steps necessary to comply with today’s regulations as the process requires. I have believed for a long time and will work with the Council to focus on how the City can better facilitate with home-sellers who find themselves in the position of having to legalize work that was done by previous property owners.

 

The STAR Tax Exemption


STAR is a New York State program that was changed in 2011 and as a result, many flaws in the program and discrepancies arose this spring on properties not just in Rye, but statewide in the administration and eligibility of the program. As required, we had filed our new primary residence when we moved homes in 2000. However, in many cases, the STAR exemption is not removed from a previous property owner when the owner files a new application. The standard procedure when discrepancies are found with exemptions is that the exemption is removed going forward – although the law does allow for a look back period of up to 3 years by the taxing authority, in this case New York State. Unlike how these issues are normally handled, my position has consistently been “we owe what we owe” — so I applied as part of an amnesty program and have made full restitution plus penalties based on the calculations submitted to me by the County Tax Assessor on January 19th.

 

The Process


Finally someone, in this case the Board of Ethics, took the time to examine the facts and understand the issues amidst the calls by the accusers for independent investigations, conflicts of interest, and separate legal counsel. The people of Rye have been very supportive and have seen this for the episode that it is. The most disappointing aspect though has been how quickly some media reports and elected official comments have passed judgment in-line with the allegations of the accusers which attempted to harm the reputations and call into question the integrity of those that work for and serve the City.

 

While stopping short of calling for an apology to those that have been falsely accused, I am calling to restore civility to Council Chambers. Skepticism of government is healthy, but continuing personal attacks on ones motives and reputation has turned that skepticism into an obsession as been displayed the last few months. Yes, mistakes will be made, but they get corrected. It’s time to get back to solving the problems of Rye that the residents care most about. We volunteer to serve the public for the simple reason that we care about our community.

 

Douglas French

Mayor, City of Rye

3 thoughts on “Rye Mayor Says Ethics Matter “Closed”

  1. It’s a shame but residents no longer have any faith in Mayor French after he admitted his double dipping on STAR taxes and Building without permits on his rental income property.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6nWzVM99R8
    He has no control over City Council meetings due to questions that have arisen about the above.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2906eZqxifY&feature=watch_response

    Even his own Republican Party wants him out;

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hlplz2GyruU&context=C4606019ADvjVQa1PpcFN_JWqosLH4u3dxDElquEXF1WW_DK_NVI0=

  2. “You may deceive all the people part of the time, and part of the people all the time, but not all the people all the time.”

    Abraham Lincoln

  3. The below sent from Leon Sculti to the Mayor;

    To Whom It Concerns:

    CORRECTING THE RECORD
    In response to the mayor’s update below. I would like to correct the record in clarifying that I never brought a complaint against Mayor French to the Ethics Board, nor did I ever advocate for such action–and you will find nowhere in the public record where I did.

    As a matter of fact, I would like to point out, that Mayor French actually brought the second complaint against himself by asking Deputy Mayor, Peter Jovanovich, to do just that. Therefore, the mayor would have been more accurate in saying the complaint was “brought forward by Ray Tartaglione of Purchase, NY and Me of Rye against Myself.”

    DOCUMENTED PROVEN FACTS
    What I did was simply make a video accurately documenting the mayor’s 19 year ownership of a property in violation of Rye City Building Code–the video was sourced throughout with records from City Hall, Westchester County Land Records and Mayor French’s own MLS listing sheets, supporting each fact contained therein. Two days after the video was posted, and widely viewed, Mayor French was issued violations by the City of Rye Building Department for the exact illegal building activities detailed in the video. These are proven facts.

    I also covered the mayor’s decade long improper School Tax Exemptions in the video–well after it had been reported in the press. Last week, again, according to Mr. French himself, the mayor paid more than $16,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties to Westchester County’s Tax Commission for his ill-gotten tax savings. These are proven facts.

    FALSE CITY REPORTS NOT PURSUED FOR REVIEW
    In the video I also reported the fact that a leading national title company received a false report from the City of Rye Building Department in October 2011, stating that the mayor’s property at 13 Richard Place was a legal single family home. Subsequently, the city was forced to release an amended and corrected report identifying the house as a legal two family home. Those documents were fully disclosed in the video as well. No member of the city council has asked to see these documents or asked to speak to me regarding this specific issue, and I have never sought to meet or speak with any of them in any way to pursue the issue. Again, this is a fact.

    I never pursued any of these issues for any kind of sanction against the mayor. I made the public aware of them through the making of the video itself.

    MAYOR GIVEN FULL DISCLOSURE
    In the interest of full disclosure, before making the video I notified Mayor French, in detail, of the information regarding his investment property that I had researched and found. I offered him the opportunity to sit down for an on camera interview at Rye TV so he could address the issues. The mayor never responded to my request. The point is, even before the making of the video I was open and forthcoming with the mayor, who refused to address the issues.

    THE PUBLIC’S RIGHT TO BE INFORMED
    Since Rye TV decided not to video tape the recent Ethics Board hearing, I video taped them both so the public could be kept informed. I also reported on the Ethics Boards political contributions to the mayor’s campaign in 2009 as did other news outlets–again so the public would be informed of the facts. Although the publicity of the “disrespectful” nature of the boards conduct, as stated by NYS Open Government officials, may have been brought to light by the video taping itself. I certainly did not call for these meetings. I documented and reported on them.

    QUESTIONS, NOT ACCUSATIONS
    I have never advocated for Mayor French to be sent to the Ethics Board. I simply disclosed and reported the facts of his illegal building and circumstances surrounding it. These are not accusations, these were once questions based on facts, that have turned into to be proven true. I am joined by the Rye Record, LoHud, The Rye Sound Shore Review, The Rye Patch and The Daily Rye in reporting on these issues. The City of Rye Building Department and The Westchester County Tax Commission have each validated the veracity of the facts reported by penalizing Mayor French for his actions.

    I did not receive multiple violations from the City of Rye for owning and operating an illegal investment property. I was not required to pay more than $16,000 in taxes and penalties to Westchester County because I claimed two STAR exemptions. I did not run for Mayor. And I did not forward a complaint to the Ethics Board against Mayor French.

    I simply asked questions, reported the facts and documented the truth–which I will continue to do. If the Mayor is looking for an apology, he should start writing one now, to the people of Rye.

    With respect to all,

    Leon Sculti

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