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Addressing the Lawsuit Against the Village of Scarsdale and Scarsdale Police Department

podiumThe following remarks were given at the Board of Trustee meeting on February 13, 2018. The comments are the personal views of Ron Schulhof.

I would like to talk tonight about the recent lawsuit filed by Robert Berg against the Village of Scarsdale and the Scarsdale Police Department over lawn signs. I'm not going to opine on whether lawn signs are good or bad or the legality of this issue, but rather HOW this issue was addressed. I think it's important to address this situation because how we do things as a community matters.

When I first heard that someone sued our police department over this issue I was shocked and dismayed because the placement of lawn signs is an issue that could have been brought up and resolved in a constructive and open manner. This issue could have been handled without making it political and without litigation.

The issue in question is a section of our Village code. Village code can be changed and certainly can be done without needing a lawsuit to change it. The lawsuit states that the suing party believed there was an issue with lawn signs almost a year ago! This means that anytime over the last year this issue could have been brought up and we could have addressed this as a community. Anytime over the last many months would have been the time to jump into action. This would have given an opportunity for anyone who wanted to be involved to get informed and voice their opinion. Change could have been made in a way that was open, collaborative and constructive.

Why do it this way - in a last minute, aggressive and litigious manner. Everybody should consider for themselves the potential motives for the situation being handled in this way. My personal view, it was simply laziness. Doing it right would have likely taken much more work. It would have been a lot of work to bring this up months ago and work collaboratively with the Village, Board and Community. It would have taken effort and time to discuss the issue and all the relevant points - legal and otherwise. Time which we would have had, since it wouldn't have been done in the last minute. It would have been worth it! Giving others in the community a chance to voice their views and thoughts and work through this issue. If there is concern that this isn't how things happen in Scarsdale or if there is a concern with the process of how code changes happen, then this could have been a shining example of how to do it better. How we do things matters.

If this had been done in a timely and constructive way, our police chief wouldn't be faced with possibly spending his time in a deposition room. Our Village wouldn't need to spend money and resources to respond in court. The community, as a whole, could have been involved in the discussion. Whatever your view on this issue, we should strive to make sure everyone has an opportunity to be involved in such important issues. Instead, the discussion is now centered around a lawsuit.

We work through many issues and proposals here - and one of the great things about our community is how we work through them with an open dialogue and collaboratively. I have personally brought many proposals before the Board and the community feedback we receive always makes them better. Scarsdale is a great place to live. Lawsuits are not what makes Scarsdale great.

Our Village now may end up spending time, money and resources in the legal system because of this lawsuit. So we're here now - what can we do? I would urge members of our community to consider sending a note of support to our Police Department. I personally sent them one this weekend. I think it's important we let our Police Department know the actions of one individual, in suing them in this manner, do not represent who we are as a community. The Police Department is not some faceless organization. We are a small town and our officers are part of this community; suing our police department over an issue that could have been handled otherwise is not an action of appreciation or respect for our police department and the officers that work hard every day for this community. Actions matter.

Going forward, we can simply be better than using lawsuits when there are other options available. While we can't control the actions of one person, the rest of us can do the hard work, the detailed work, the unglamorous work, in a manner that continues to make Scarsdale a fantastic place.

Ron Schulhof
February 13, 2018

Disclosure Statement: I am a member of the following Village and Civic organizations: Citizens Nominating Committee, Scarsdale Citizens Non-Partisan Party, Conservation Advisory Council (Chair), LED Streetlight Committee (Chair), Food Scrap Recycling Committee, Scarsdale Forum chilepepper(Board of Directors). The comments are my own personal views.

Want to post a comment? Please include your REAL name and street address.

Court Enjoins Police From Removing Signs in the Right-of-Way

yessignThe brouhaha over a proposed bond referendum for the Scarsdale Schools has now spilled over from the streets into United States District Court. Controversy over the placement of "Yes" signs supporting the bond referendum led one Scarsdale resident to file a lawsuit claiming that a local law that prevents political signs in the Village right of way inhibits his free speech.

The issue arose when proponents for the bond placed hundreds of signs on Village lawns and on public property, some within the right of way, which is the first 13 feet of property from the curb. This led to objections from those who oppose the bond who asked police to remove the illegally placed signs. A similar dispute over the placement of signs erupted last March when the Plaintiff, Robert Berg, ran for Mayor of Scarsdale and signs supporting his candidacy were removed from the public right of way.

Now Berg has won a temporary restraining order against the Village of Scarsdale and the Scarsdale Police that enjoins them from removing political signs from the Village right of way. Berg charged that removing signs has "chilled the exercise of his first and fourth amendment right to free speech."

As most of Berg's front lawn is within the Village right-of-way he argues that he is deprived of his right to place political signs on his lawn without the threat of enforcement and prosecution. The court found that Berg showed "irreparable harm" when he sought to "engage in political speech, as timing is of the essence in politics and a delay of even a day or two may be intolerable."

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Nelson S. Roman cited a 1994 case, "City of Ladue v. Gilleo where the court found that "residential signs have long been an important and distinct medium of expression," and "by eliminating a common means of speaking, such measures can suppress too much speech."

The court ruled that "Defendents (Scarsdale Village) are enjoined from enforcing the provision of Section 256-1 of the Scarsdale Village Code or taking any other action against Plaintiff and other persons with respect to posting political lawn signs in the Village of Scarsdale right of way in front of private homes, so long as said political lawn signs pose no safety of traffic hazards." The ruling, dated February 6, was issued just two days before the referendum but could have effects in the next few weeks when Scarsdale faces an election for Village Trustees.

Read the court's decision here.

Letter to the Editor: This Bond Is Not Greenacres Last Chance

oaktreeTo the Editor: In my 25 years in Scarsdale, I had never written a letter to the editor, and now I find myself writing two in one week. What prompts this letter was a comment made at the January 22, 2018 Board of Education meeting. In his comments, the President of the Board of Education said it would cost an extra $30 million to build a new school rather than renovating Greenacres. As a taxpayer, I would like to know where that figure came from. One cannot throw out a number like that without showing clearly what it's composed of; it doesn't offer any credibility. I agree with the LWVS's comments that there has been no cost benefit analysis done to show the long-term costs of a new building vs. the costs of maintaining the current building post the addition/renovation. To quote the movie Jerry Maguire, "show me the money"... This is Scarsdale's largest bond vote ever; I can't go on blind faith.

To the teachers and staff at Greenacres, please do not view my opinions as a lack of support. On the contrary, as the grateful parent of three Greenacres alums, I want to provide both teachers and students with a healthy environment conducive to education. I was very affected by the post on this website from a former Greenacres teacher that said "I spent most of those years expressing my concerns to school administration about the smell, mold, dampness and humidity in my room." Even now, staff and parents complain about the odors coming from the basement of the school.

In addition, families in Greenacres have been complaining about the parking situation at the school for decades. One of the proposals that came out of the third and most recent Greenacres building committee was additional parking on the Montrose side of the field. This in fact, was suggested and approved by the Village. Why did the administration quash this recommendation?

I don't want people to think I'm stubbornly wedded to one side of the story. I did sign the Save the Field petition a few years back. However, as the process has continued, I have become more convinced that all options should be back on the table. I don't understand why the administration yanked the new school option that had a smaller footprint just after it was introduced. In addition, over the last year, I have spoken to some other Greenacres residents who signed the petition, and their reasoning was that they were unhappy with the inclusion of a large gym intended for the use of everyone in Scarsdale which was in the original plans for a new building. Their reasons for signing the petition had nothing to do with the field itself.

I don't want parents to be scared into thinking that this is Greenacres' last chance for a major project. Other votes have gone down to defeat in the past. When the initial proposal that provided money for the Quaker Ridge School was voted down 10 years ago, the Board of Ed had a series of meetings where they had productive discussions with residents regarding a variety of their concerns. The proposal then came to a second vote and passed. Even budgets have been voted down in the past, reworked, and then passed on a second round. NOBODY should view this as the last chance for a major project at our school. Everyone in Scarsdale knows that Greenacres is in need of major funding, and I haven't spoken to anyone outside of Greenacres who is against the possibility of Greenacres getting a new school. I have repeatedly asked the school administration why the current plan is a good use of my taxpayer dollars, but I haven't received an adequate reply.

If you saw my letter in the Scarsdale Inquirer, you know I gave examples of new elementary schools being built in the suburbs of major US cities including Boston and Washington DC for under the $40 million we're being asked to spend on Greenacres. If all these other districts are able to do it, why not us?

Please, no matter where you fall on this issue, please go to the meetings and share your opinions. I went to both of the public forums this past fall, and barely anyone was there. If you don't speak up, you can't say anything about how your tax dollars are being spent.

Mona Longman
Varian Lane

LWVS Reminds You To Vote on Thursday

lwvThe League of Women Voters of Scarsdale reminds all eligible voters to vote on the school bond referendum on Thursday February 8 from 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM at the Scarsdale Middle School Gym at 134 Mamaroneck Road in Scarsdale.

For information on voter eligibility visit the School District's Voter Information webpage.

The League does not support the 2018 School Facilities Bond. To be clear, the League struggled with this statement because we do support investment in Scarsdale school facilities in order to maintain and enhance Scarsdale educational excellence and to ensure the health, safety and security of our students and staff. Moreover, we support a bond as a means of funding projects that address major facilities needs. We disagree with this proposal for substantive reasons and for the way in which it was conceived and presented to the community. Should the bond be voted down, the League hopes that the Board and Administration will begin a new bond process without delay and with a more fully integrated long-range vision. In short, we support a bond but not this particular bond.

Read the League's Full Statement on the 2018 Proposed School Facilities Bond.

On January 10, 2018, the LWVS held a General Membership Meeting on the 2018 Proposed School Facilities Bond. To view a video of the Public Information session, click here or visit the Scarsdale Public Television website.

Scarsdale History: From Hardscrabble Farms to Gracious Estates

Barbara Shay Macdonald

One of Scarsdale's first residents, Thomas Hadden was the father of not one, but two families at the same time -- a white family consisting of an English wife, two sons and a daughter who lived in Wayside Cottage, and a family of slaves he fathered with "the Wench Rose" who lived across the road in what is now the Underhill House at 1020 Post Road.

That's just one of the many interesting stories revealed in a new documentary, "Scarsdale in the 18th & 19th Centuries: From Hardscrabble Farms to Gracious Estates," hosted by the Scarsdale Historical Society and narrated by historian Barbara Shay McDonald. You can watch it online here.

It's hard to imagine Scarsdale as the home of large farms, slaves, revolutionaries and even a gun powder factory: but those were just a few of the surprising elements of Scarsdale's history that are chronicled in the video which traces Scarsdale's history from 1701.

The documentary was professionally produced and directed by Scarsdale native Lesley Topping, an independent filmmaker, producer and film editor whose work includes dramatic films, documentaries, and television programs. She partnered with her cousin Richard Westlein, a 12-time Emmy Award winning cinematographer and ABC cameraman whose credits include "One Life to Live", "All My Children", and is currently the cameraman for "The View."

TheLocusts

Barbara Shay MacDonald says she first became interested in Scarsdale's history when she was in contract to purchase the Underhill House in 1967 where her family lived for over 30 years. She did some research at Wayside Cottage but found that there was no mention of the family of slaves that were the original residents of Underhill House. In fact, MacDonald only figured this out when she came upon Hadden's will that stipulated that, upon his death, his slave children should "larnt to read," taught a trade and be freed.

Another early resident of Wayside Cottage was James Varian, a butcher from New York City who bought the house after Hadden's death. The Varian family lived there from 1763 to 1853. He and his sons were patriots in the Revolutionary War. In 1853 the property was sold to Charles Butler who built a mansion on the land and farmed much of the property that is now Fox Meadow.

fenimore cooper and heathcoteOne of this country's earliest authors, James Fenimore Cooper was also a renowned resident. He married Susan Delancey, a great granddaughter of Caleb Heathcote. Best known for "Last of the Mohicans," he used another historic Scarsdale home, "The Locusts" as the scene for "The Spy," which was the first American novel, and written while Fenimore Cooper lived in Scarsdale. The Locusts still stands today.

powdermillhouseGreenacres was home to a gunpowder factory powered by the water from the Bronx River. There were three fatalities there before it was eventually torn down. Another famous home that remains on Brook Lane today, is the Powder Mill House, which at one time was a tea house with a sunken Italian garden overlooking the river.

There are many more historic buildings in Scarsdale and Edgemont to discover in this 30-minute film that is a gift to the community from the Scarsdale Historical Society. Watch it here:

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