ARMONK, N.Y. – In response to the Association of Towns of New York State's hiring former North Castle Town Board member Gerald Geist as its executive director, the North Castle Town Board passed a motion postponing its membership with the association – after much debate.
The motion was passed 3 votes to 2, with board members Michael Schiliro and Steve D’Angelo against it. The Town Board plans to revisit the matter once all legal matters are resolved.
Geist is part of a lawsuit filed against North Castle in response of the town’s decision to eliminate health benefits for elected officials. The lawsuit has cost North Castle more than $21,000 thus far. That number could grow larger, Town Supervisor Howard Arden said.
"I have a problem in principle with sending membership dues to an organization that is directly involved with suing the town,” Arden said at last week's Town Board meeting. “I think it is a conflict of interest.”
Schiliro disagreed, opposing the connection between Geist’s lawsuit and the Association of Towns.
“It is a worthwhile organization, and I have an issue with connecting the two,” he said. “A former Town Board member is part of a legal action against the town, but whether he is part of it [the association] or not, that litigation remains.”
D’Angelo agreed with Schiliro’s assessment of the association’s value to North Castle.
"The Association of Towns works for the town. They do a lot of good things for us, especially at the legal end,” he said. “I think by not paying the dues and joining this organization, it's the ultimate example of cutting your nose off to spite your face.”
Town Clerk Anne Curran concurred with Schiliro and D’Angelo, highlighting her professional relationship with the Association of Towns.
“For me, they are very helpful in clarifying technical changes that happen to a code or procedures for licensing or permitting,” she said. “For legal opinions, they are extremely valuable.”
Council members Diane DiDonato Roth and John Cronin, however, shared Arden’s point of view.
"I believe you have to take a stand on what you believe in and what you think is right,” Roth said. “If a former Town Board member is suing the town that he worked for as an elected official, I think that is inappropriate.”
Cronin said there is a way to reap the association’s benefits without being a member.
“My understanding is that there are courses that, if our town employees wish to attend, they can pay an additional $25 to attend versus what we would have to pay if we were a member,” he said. “I am happy to revisit this issue after the lawsuit is settled, which I hope will be shortly, because it has cost us tens of thousands of dollars.”