In the wake of the Fortress Bible Church decision against the Town of Greenburgh, the Board of the Edgemont Community Council is calling for the resignation of Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and Town Councilwoman Diana Juettner.
In September 2012 the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a decision that found that the Town of Greenburgh violated the constitutional rights of the Fortress Bible Church in its effort to build a new sanctuary and school off Dobbs Ferry Road in Hartsdale. The Church purchased the property in 1998 and the Town blocked its effort to move ahead for years with zoning and traffic safety challenges and illegal demands for a fire truck or a cash payment to gain approval. The court found that the Town destroyed evidence and acted in bad faith. They also said that Feiner’s testimony during the trial was “not credible.”
The Church is seeking $5 to $6 million in damages and the Town’s insurance carrier informed them that it would not cover damages arising out of willful legal violations.
Feiner has served as Town Supervisor for 21 years and this court decision is not the first to raise the ire of Edgemont residents who have been sparring with him for years over a wide range of issues.
Here are a few of these additional issues:
Edgemont residents have charged that they are paying unnecessarily high real estate taxes to finance duplicate services within the unincorporated areas of the Town of Greenburgh.
Residents also contend that Feiner has failed to rent out 108 apartments at Westhelp, losing the Town of Greenburgh at least $1 million a year.
In another recently filed lawsuit, a group of Greenburgh residents are objecting to Feiner’s proposal to lease the former site of Frank’s Nursery to Game On to build a 94,000 square foot indoor sports facility. They argue that the lease violates County law that states that property acquired through foreclosure must be sold and they are also calling for a full environmental review of the property which may be contaminated due to pesticide use by the nursery. Feiner has announced a Town-wide referendum on the lease despite the questionable legality of renting the property.
Below is a copy of the letter from the Board of the Directors of the Edgemont Community Council calling for the resignations of Feiner and Juettner. Learn more about issues concerning Edgemont here.
October 23, 2012
Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and Town Councilwoman Diana Juettner
From: The Board of Directors, ECC
Re: Your Resignations due to your actions regarding Fortress Bible Mr. Feiner and Ms. Juettner,
On October 1st, the ECC's Board of Directors met and unanimously voted to ask for your resignations due to your actions regarding the Fortress Bible Church. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit wrote in unanimously affirming the district court's decision against the Town:
The district court found that Town staff, including at least one Board member, had intentionally destroyed discoverable evidence despite specific instructions not to do so.
The district court's comprehensive findings demonstrate that the Town disingenuously used SEQRA to obstruct and ultimately deny the Church's project.
We find sufficient evidence . . . to support the district court's finding . . . that the Town was acting in bad faith and in hostility to the project such that it would not have allowed the Church to build any worship facility and school.
The Town attempted to extort from the Church a payment in lieu of taxes, it ignored and then replaced its Planning Commissioner when he advocated on the Church's behalf, and Town staff intentionally destroyed relevant evidence.
… we conclude that on the record before us there was no rational basis for the Town's actions.
The original judgment of the district court followed a 26-day trial, during which Mr. Feiner testified and the judge found Mr. Feiner's testimony, particularly with regard to his supposed concerns about "traffic safety" to be "not credible." The district court also found that Town officials, including Mr. Feiner and Ms. Juettner had, through their actions over a period of years intentionally violated the constitutional rights of the church, in violation of the church's rights to religious freedom under the First Amendment and to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that, as a direct, immediate, and reasonably foreseeable consequence, their actions will cost Greenburgh taxpayers millions of dollars in damages, none of which, because their actions involved intentional violations of federal law, will be covered by insurance.
As you may know, New York State Public Officers Law Section 36 provides for the removal by a court of elected town officials "for any misconduct, maladministration, malfeasance or malversation in office." The cases in New York that have interpreted this statute state that removal from office under this statute requires a showing of either "self-dealing, corrupt activities, conflict of interest, moral turpitude, intentional wrongdoing or violation of a public trust." See Salvadaor v. Ross, 61
A.D.23d 1163 (3d Dep't 2009). In the Fortress Bible case, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed findings that Mr. Feiner and Ms. Juettner engaged in intentional wrongdoing in violation of the constitutional rights of a church, resulting in millions of dollars in damages. Such conduct clearly meets the requirements for removal from office under Public Officers Law Section 36.
Please do Greenburgh the ultimate service and resign from your posts.
This continued, willful misuse of the power of your positions is a terrible detriment to the community and should not continue.
For the Board of Directors,
Edgemont Community Council