Just a week after the Southampton Village election, a staffing shake-up is underfoot.
Russell Kratoville, a longtime public servant, stepped down Thursday at the request of Mayor Jesse Warren. “We were at the point where it was pretty clear to me that he had support to bring someone in at the organizational meeting to either all or split up the titles that I am holding in an a holdover position,” said Kratoville, whose job for the last 17 months has been the village administrator, clerk and treasurer.
In February 2019, when Mayor Michael Irving was in office, he filled Stephen Funsch’s role following his retirement. When Warren was elected in June of that year, he neither officially reappointed Kratoville, nor dismissed him, though he looked to replace him twice. Warren also got rid of two village attorneys last year and abruptly dismissed his executive assistant, Julie Fitzgerald, in July.
For the mayor to remove Kratoville from office, it would require a vote of the village board in appointing someone to the position. In the Sept. 15 village election, delayed three months because of COVID-19, Joseph McLoughlin and Gina Arresta were voted into office and Warren seemingly gained support for removing Kratoville.
During a talk in his office on Thursday, the mayor and he “had a pretty frank discussion,” Kratoville said. He made the decision that it was best for him for personally and professionally to resign “instead of just having more animosity and more stress.” His resignation is effective immediately.”It was a privilege to work alongside the outstanding workforce at Southampton Village,” he said.
“I give Russell a lot of credit. He did what the board asked him to do. He knew we wanted to go in a different direction. He was very gracious and he resigned,” Warren said on Friday. The mayor would only say that it is customary for a new administration to bring in in his own people.
Warren plans to propose splitting the positions up. He will appoint Charlene Kagel-Betts, the chief auditor for the Town of East Hampton, to the position at the October 1 organizational meeting and expects the board will ratify it. “We are excited about Charlene who will bring great financial disciplines to the Village and we will be nominating Mimi [Michel-Guerra] to the clerk position. We are building a great team with the support of all the Trustees. We are also grateful that Russell has offered to help in the transition on an as-needed basis,” he said, adding, “Our existing team is very capable managing village affairs during this interim period and we are in good hands.”
Warren said that Kratoville would serve as consultant while the village transitioned to a new administrator. “Although a discussion occurred regarding a potential consultant arrangement, no definitive details have been formalized,” Kratoville said, adding that he was fortunate to have worked alongside Funsch for two months before taking over.
This is the not the first time Warren tried to oust Kratoville. Warren asked him to tender his resignation, according to Kratoville, but at the time he knew he had the support of the board majority. “My response was that I took the oath for the entire Village of Southampton and the entire Board of Trustees,” he said. “I said to him, ‘Tell me where you want to go and how you want to get there.’ . . but I respectfully declined.”
Then during a board meeting on December 12, 2019, Warren tried to appoint Michel-Guerra, the deputy registrar in the village, to administrator, though Kratoville was reportedly going to stay on in the clerk-treasurer position, though likely not at his $175,000 salary. A question about whether the board could break up the position led to Warren withdrawing the motion, according to the minutes.
Kratoville left a position as the management services administrator for the Town of Southampton to take the village job. Though boards change, core staffing often remains consistent. “Villages aren’t normally political, they are generally issue-oriented,” Kratoville said when asked if he would have taken the village job had he known the board makeup would change so drastically in a short period of time.
Kratoville has had a nearly 25-year career in government, though he is about five years short of being able to retire without a penalty under the New York retirement system.
He got his start in 1991 on the Riverhead Town Zoning Board of Appeals. He then served as the town deputy supervisor under Riverhead Supervisor Jim Stark, and was the head of the recreation and senior citizen service departments there. He then became the deputy comptroller of Suffolk OTB and later the the interim executive director of the Village of Patchogue Community Development Agency.
Kratoville is not sure yet what he will do long-term, though he plans, at least for now, to work with his wife, Tiffany Scarlato, who has a law office in Sag Harbor.
Salaries for Kagel-Betts and Michel-Guerra will be revealed at the upcoming board meeting.
Kagel-Betts has more than 20 years in municipal finance, and has been with East Hampton Town since 2012, and previously served as the Southampton Town comptroller. She began her career as an agent for the Internal Revenue Service in New York City, before going into public accounting and government auditing. She also served as the chief fiscal officer for the Town of Brookhaven.
Her husband is David A. Betts, the Southampton G.O.P. chairman, who once served as a Southampton Village police detective and head of code enforcement in Southampton Town and the director of public safety in East Hampton Town. He also made an unsuccessful bid for Southampton Town Highway Superintendent in 2013.