The two competing slates for the Village of East Hills Board of Trustees clashed sharply this week over openness in government and the role Mayor Michael Koblenz plays in the village.
Former civic leader Jana Goldenberg and East Hills Board of Appeals alternate Neil Foster, running on the Residents Party line, said village residents do not have enough input in village government and the current administration has been in office too long.
“If you look at the makeup of the trustees starting from the mayor going to the trustees, there are no term limits,” Foster said.
Goldenberg said she was needed to stand up to Koblenz, who she said intimidated both residents and village trustees.
Goldenberg, who headed the Country Estates Civic Association and was a member of several village committees, said Koblenz “intimidates his trustees and oppositions.”
Deputy Mayor Manny Zuckerman and Trustee Clara Pomerantz, who are running on the Unity Party line, said there was no truth to Goldenberg’s assertions.
“That’s totally false,” Zuckerman said of her claim that Koblenz intimidated trustees and residents.
Zuckerman and Pomerantz said trustees and the mayor often disagree on issues but work to come to a consensus.
“We have our disagreements but there’s absolutely nothing but harmony on the board,” Koblenz said. “We have 60 percent turnover rate on the board and they have their own independent voices.”
The two incumbents also joined Koblenz in denying allegations by Goldenberg that the village trustees had met on 10 occasions four years ago to discuss village business at the Landmark Diner in Roslyn and on at least one occasion last year in Koblenz’s office on a Saturday.
An email dated Nov. 2014 sent by Burton to every member of the trustee including Pomerantz and Zuckerman that Goldenberg provided to the Roslyn Times asked to meet on a Saturday to discuss a tree fund legislation.
“If there are at least three members of the board of trustees present, and they’re discussing village business, that violates the Open Meetings Law,” said Robert Freeman, the New York Department of State Committee on Open Government.
Zuckerman and Pomerantz said if there was a meeting regarding the tree fund legislation they did not attend nor did they believe any of the other trustees attended.
They both said that the trustee and Koblenz had met in the diner four years ago to discuss their election campaigns, which is permissible under state law.
Village Attorney William Burton also said all the meetings they had were “political and nothing more”.
Koblenz offered a slightly different account, saying the get togethers were social gatherings.
“Yes we all do meet at the Landmark diner,” said Koblenz. “But they were all social gatherings. No village businesses were ever discussed.”
“The real issues are that she’s running for board of trustee and she’s just trying to make this a huge issue,” Koblenz said.
Foster said he did not necessarily subscribe to all of the criticisms presented by Goldenberg.
Where he did agree, Foster said, is with the need for more openness in government.
He suggested that meetings be held once a month not attended by village officials in which they would present ideas.
Goldenberg, a former manager of operations for a financial service who acknowledged supporting her opponents the last time they ran, also continued her theme of there being a need for change.
It’s not about the other trustees. All we want is this is time for change,” Goldenberg said in January. “There’s nothing about these other trustees, they’re residents and they’re friends. It’s not about what they did and didn’t do, it’s about change, that’s it.”
Foster, who works as a personnel recruiter, and Goldenberg say they want to institute an outside Budgetary Advisory Committee similar to what is being done in the Roslyn School District.
“You have people outside, a taxpayer, who will take a close look at the budget before it is voted on and see what is actually in and underneath the budget,” Foster said.
The Village of East Hills does have its entire budget on the website but Foster says it’s not comprehensive enough.
“As someone who pays taxes, don’t you want to know where the money is being spent?” asked Foster.
Foster and Goldenberg said they also want detailed expense listing of how the village funds are being spent.
Foster said wants to create networking opportunities for young people, trustee visibility and review of village code especially term limited to two terms.
He also wants to create open houses while Goldenberg wants to overhaul the recycling program.
Goldenberg and Foster also questioned closed meetings held by the recently reinstituted Security Committee following a robbery and burglary in the village, which Zuckerman heads.
That means only those on the advisory committee can attend meetings and deliberations, Jana said, citing it as part of the reason she’s running.
“Secrecy,” she said. “A lot of what the board does is in secret.”
Koblenz denied the allegation saying, “the village of East Hills has one of the most open government in Nassau County. I mean, I give up my Saturdays for anybody who wants to meet.”
Both Pomerantz said they are running for re-election based on their records as well as what they intended to do in the future.
We were able to freeze taxes in the village for the past six years and that’s a huge accomplishment,” said Pomerantz, who was appointed by the board in 2010 when Linda Nathanson moved to Florida and ran in 2010 and 2011, both contested elections.
Pomerantz, who has been a Hebrew and nursey school teacher at Temple Sinai for almost 19 years, also pointed to the activities she has established for children and seniors at the Park at East Hills as supervisor of the Kids in the Parks Committee and the Senior Activities Committee.
Among his accomplishments, Zuckerman said, was his work in the village’s purchase of the property for the Park at East Hills and subsequent development as well as the villages’s agreement with National Grid to install gas lines throughout the village with the assistance of a grant obtained by state Sen. Jack Martins.
Goldenberg said as president of the Country Estates Civic Association she had taken a lead role in bring the village and National Grid together on the project and was recognized for her help by Koblenz when the agreement between the village and National Grid was announced.
But Zuckerman said Goldenberg was just one of several civic leaders who organized gas services in her community
He also said Goldenberg requested up to $100,000 in yearly payments to serve as a liaison between the village and National Grid — something he said he is now doing at no cost other than his regular salary as a trustee, which is $26,500 a year.
Zuckerman, who has served on the board for 16 years and as deputy for the last five, said he is now exploring the use of security camera’s at the entrance of each of the village’s developments. He said he also checks also village expenses.