Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Gabriele, Carroll Cited by Ethics Board

The Village of Mamaroneck Board of Ethics has found that Mauro Gabriele, a member and former chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals, demonstrated bias towards Orienta resident Suzanne McCrory during her presentation on Feb. 1 of an appeal before the
ZBA.

The Ethics Board also recommended that the Board of Trustees "consider measures it deems appropriate" with regard to Building Inspector Richard Carroll for making an "incorrect and erroneous statement" to the ZBA about the matter McCrory was appealing.

The Ethics Board's July 11 advisory opinion was issued in response to complaints by McCrory and by Trustee Tom Murphy about Gabriele's behavior towards McCrory during her presentation of an appeal filed by George and Irene Henderson, regarding the construction of a new house at 818 The Crescent by former Congressman Richard Ottinger and his wife, June. McCrory and the Hendersons also live on The Crescent.

The advisory noted that, after Carroll stated at the Feb. 1 hearing that he had submitted a report on the building lot in question, Gabriele "criticized the Henderson appeal as deficient" and said "'So, on the presumption that that report does exist, then I think. . .it's up to the applicant to go out and hire an architect" [something not required in the Village Code] and prove that the Ottingers' architect "'is wrong and that the building inspector is wrong.'"

Gabriele went on to say that the Hendersons "wasted a lot of time of this board. . . and created a lot of hardship for people in this village, and so now it's time for the applicant to put their [sic] money where their mouth is and come to some kind of reasonable objection rather come up with all kinds of conjecture."

At that point, ZBA chair Clark Neuringer advised Gabriele, "I would be very careful in describing the actions of the applicant as being wasteful. . .that sounds very prejudicial," and Gabriele responded, "Okay,then I'm prejudicial [sic]." The Ethics Board said, in its opinion, that Gabriele "then tried to backtrack from his statement and Mr. Neuringer followed up, and said 'some of the things you have said. . . did sound a little prejudicial and biased.'"

"Thereafter," the advisory continued, "upon the request of Ms. McCrory, Mr. Gabriele stated that he had recused himself from the Henderson appeal. Nevertheless, Mr. Gabriele continued to participate in matters pertaining to the Henderson appeal. Then, at the March 1 ZBA meeting, Mr. Gabriele announced that he had consulted with his personal attorney and was no longer recusing himself," even though he "did not seek an opinion from. . . the board, the village attorney or the ZBA counsel. . .." The Ethics Board statement went on to say that Gabriele's "basis for his 'unrecusal' was his telephone consultation with a college fraternity 'brother' located in Pennsylvania who was not admitted to practice before the courts of the State of New York and was not familiar with New York law."

The Ethics Board also noted that, although Gabriele had recused himself on the Henderson matter, he felt entitled to join other ZBA members in opposing Neuringer's request that the village fund a detailed analysis of the property that was the subject of their appeal. The reason for the request was that the study that the building inspector had erroneously claimed to have done couldn't be found.

After meeting with McCrory and Gabriele and reviewing videotape and an unofficial transcript of the Febl 1 ZBA meeting, the Ethics Board reported that it was its "unanimous observation that Mr. Gabriele demonstrated bias towards Ms. McCrory. Significantly, Mr. Gabriele acknowledged to the Board his bias towards Ms. McCrory and expressed contrition for this conduct. Accordingly, it is the Board's unanimous recommendation that Mr. Gabriele be disqualified from participating in any matter that comes before the ZBA or any village board in which Ms. McCrory is either a party, or an agent or a representative of a party, that appears before said board or quasi-judicial body."

The board went on to state its "unanimous observation that Mr. Gabriele improperly weighed and addressed the issue of recusal and bias towards Ms. McCrory throughout the Henderson appeal and did not demonstrate the degree of civility towards the Hendersons or their advocates as otherwise required by the code."

While the board found that Gabriele had "displayed a lack of professional tolerance" during the Henderson hearing, it did not find that he exhibited a bias towards pro se appellants as a class, and it accepted his claim that "he was articulating his belief that the appellants in the Henderson appeal had not met their burden of proof to the ZBA. . .."

The board further found that the "tenor of the colloquy between" Gabriele and Neuringer at the Feb. 1 meeting "was less than collegial and inconsistent with the status of the ZBA as a quasi-judicial body." Neuringer, it stated, "recognized that Mr. Gabriele was going over a proverbial 'cliff' and did not need to push him."

The Board recommended that:

* Members of all village boards consult with the village attorney or ZBA counsel, as appropriate, with regard to recusal, conflicts of interest or disqualification, rather than relying on informal advice;

* "Members of the ZBA, a quasi-judicial entity, receive proper and formal instruction from the counsel for the ZBA with regard to the laws, standards and rules pertaining to" disqualification, conflicts of interest, recusal, the rights of pro se litigants, and the burden of proof and persuasion of parties appearing before the ZBA";

* When "a dispute arises over the pertienent legal standards applicable to an appeal,
counsel to the ZBA be immediately consulted"; and that

* Members of the ZBA "conduct themselves professionally and demonstrate civility towards the parties, the witnesses and each other."

It was also recommended that "committees or boards seeking an appropriation from the Village of Mamaroneck" certify that the request is being made by the body as a whole and specify "who on the particular board concurred in the request. . .."

And, in a phone interview, Ethics Board chair Joseph Lanza stressed that the board also recommends that "no member of a board or commission within the Village of Mamaroneck shall represenent any person, other than herself or himself, in front of any board."

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