Any semblance of civility among Southampton Village Board members flew out the virtual window during a contentious Zoom meeting April 21.
The chasm widened between Mayor Jesse Warren and incumbent board member Richard Yastrzemski, and the three other board members Kimberly Allan, Mark Parash, and Andrew Pilaro.
The occasion, at least written on the agenda as part of the official board meeting — despite the fact the trustees and public were at remote locations — was to approve the 2021 village budget. Warren was under the impression the process would unfold without a hitch.
“We went through the budget process,” he said. “We held a public hearing.”
But when it was time for a final vote, he said he was “ambushed” by Allan, Parash, and Pilaro, who wanted the document altered.
The most contentious line item in the $32.4 million budget was $350,000 Warren earmarked for the environment. Board members wanted to know how exactly it would be spent. Warren responded in vagaries, noting the village has a host of environmental issues that need addressing, among them Lake Agawam, “the most polluted lake in the state.” The others wanted the money broken down further, assigning a sum to each project under consideration. Warren balked, and the board members stiffened.
The $350,000 “environment” fund was removed, thus freeing up the money for other unspecified projects.
Allan, Parash, and Pilaro voted to earmark an additional $150,000 to the highway department for unspecified projects, including potentially more asphalt paving, which was suggested earlier in the month by Parash, the liaison to the department.
The three opposing board members are all part of the Community Party, and Warren said politics is dictating their actions.
“This is a party bankrolled by LLCs, real estate, and big business,” he charged. He said his budget was waylaid, “ignoring all past practices,” and that the maneuvers were “sneaky.”
Warren spent the last 10 or so minutes of the meeting addressing the board and public simultaneously, repeatedly stating the board wanted business as usual and pointedly ignored the spirit of reform and new direction exhibited by his victory in last year’s mayoral race.
The Community Party countered, issuing its own missive following the meeting: “Mayor Warren is one of the five trustees . . . He cannot spend money, change the code, or hire without a majority vote of the board. However, he has failed to heed his own words.”
“For the record, the 2020 village budget was proposed solely by the mayor without any meaningful input solicited from the trustees,” the statement continued. “It does fall under the 2-percent tax cap and has 4.7 percent tax levy. Since Mayor Warren exclusively added the expenses that increased the rate, it should be his responsibility to explain the tax levy increase to the public . . . the bottom line is, he has no desire to cooperate.”
Attention turns to the June 28 election. Allan, up for reelection, has tabbed Zachary Epley, the son of former mayor Mark Epley, as a running mate. Yastrzemski’s term is up, and he did not return a call for comment as to whether he will run again. Joseph McLoughlin, a former board member, has indicated he may run again. Warren, Parash, and Pilaro all have another year left of their terms.