Commack residents and school officials exchanged heated words over district's handling of the Marion Carll Farm lawsuit at Thursday night's board meeting.
Two of the four residents who filed a motion to intervene on Commack School District's behalf in the lawsuit over possession of the historic 9-acre farm questioned the Board of Education's decision to oppose them. Plaintiffs Vito J.Cottone and James Tampellini openly questioned the board's decision process and the cost.
"My bill is not on tonight's agenda, but it's approximately $14,000," said Eugene Barnosky, attorney for Commack School District.
The $14,000 was spent by school officials to fight four residents - Vito J. Cottone, Daniel Fusco, Arthur J. Reilly Sr., and James Tampellini - who filed a brought forth by Carll's heirs against Commack School District for possession of the nine-acre historic farm. The residents want to raise additional legal arguments in defense of keeping Marion Carll Farm in the district's possession in court, calling district's defense "a sham."
A more exact figure for the overall cost of defending against tseeking to reclaim possession of the historic farm have not made available by Commack School District.
"You spent $14,000 to oppose taxpayers who are intent on helping this district defend a lawsuit, but you don't have the money for this poor kid's club. That wasn't in the budget," Tampellini said. "Where did you get the money from the budget to pay Mr. Barnosky?"
Mary Jo Masciello, Board of Education president, refused to answer calling it an "unfair" question and that litigation must be handled in a legal manner.
"I would also disagree with you that you are putting yourself in a position to help the district," Masciello said to Tampellini and his co-plaintiffs.
A handful of Commack residents have raised questions at the last two Board of Education meetings about how the trustees came to the decision to fight resident's motion to intervene. Bruce Ettenburg asked at the Aug. 30 meeting if a motion or vote was made.
"No special motion of the board is required. A motion of the board is required to initiate litigation. General counsel has the authority to defend," Barnosky answered.
The district's attorney said he drafted papers in opposition to the Commack resident's request to intervene in the Marion Carll Farm lawsuit, then sent the drafts of his suggested action to Board of Education members and the district's administration. All board trustees unanimously to oppose the taxpayers' request, according to Masciello.
Superintendent Donald James explained under New York State law, no formal vote was needed just a consensus.
"State law, in many respects, governs what must be voted on publicly. Items on the agenda must appear on the agenda, other matters that don't require a public vote," James said.
Examples of issues that must undergo a public vote include the annual school budget, the sale of a piece of district property, and any changes to transportation, according to James.
"Why have you not put up to the Commack residents whether they even want Marion Carll Farm," Cottone asked board members.
Both Masciello and Deborah Guber, vice president of Commack's Board of Education, said the district has made multiple efforts to reach out to Commack community with little response.
"This is my own, personal humble opinion:I don't know that the issue is what to do with the property, but the issue is how to do it? Masciello and yourself [Cottone] may very well agree what we should do with the property, but how do we pay for it," James said.
Both parties, the taxypayers and the school district, are awaiting court's decision on whether Commack residents have the right to intervene in the lawsuit.
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