CANDIDATES DISCUSS GOVERNING AND JUDICIAL PHILOSOPHIES AT MEET THE CANDIDATES FORUM
March 9, 2014 -- Despite this year's election being uncontested, a few dozen residents turned out for the Sea Cliff Meet the Candidates forum that was held at Village Hall this past Thursday evening giving voters an opportunity to hear about the candidates' personal, professional, and service backgrounds as well as their respective governing and judicial philosophies.
Kevin McGilloway and Elena Villafane are running for the two Village Trustee seats that are currently held by Tom Powell and Peter Hayes, both of whom have chosen not to seek another term. John Reali is seeking support from voters once again for the office of Village Justice, an office he has held for 24 years.
Thursday evening's forum was organized by the Sea Cliff Civic Association and emceed by its president, Ann DiPietro. The two trustees candidates introduced themselves and took questions, and then following their closing remarks, Judge Reali took his turn.
In his opening statement, Mr. McGilloway explained that since moving to Sea Cliff 27 years ago, he "has tried giving back to the community" in various capacities - for the last 8 years as a member of the Sea Cliff Zoning Board of Appeals. After receiving a phone call from Dan Maddock, Chairman of the Sea Cliff Civic Progress Party, encouraging him to run for trustee, he said, serving in that office seemed "like a natural progression." In addition, he said his professional and volunteer service background (see adjoining article), have enabled him to face the challenge of "figuring out how you can afford to run on a tight budget these very expensive programs and bring technology to that environment."
In her openining, Ms. Villafane explained that she had previously served on the Village Board from 2003 through 2008, but had decided not to seek another term at that time because of family responsibilities. She said that she is now in a position to offer her services once again. Her prior experience as a Village Trustee, she explained, gave her a strong understanding of the issues facing the village, and that she comes "fully versed in the workings of village government and can hit the ground running on day one." She continued, "Being in public service is having a never ending to-do list." She said that as a trustee, she would work to "actively protect our landmarks, plan for the orderly development of our community and waterfront in an environmentally sound manner and find ways to support our business district and maintain our roads and parks, provide improved means of service for our seniors all in an environment where taxes are reasonable and not raised too often." She added that "it is the responsibility of officials to constantly review the how and the why of the delivery of village services." She concluded saying that "the job is hard and the hours are long, but living here makes it all worthwhile. I truly love living here and want to do all in my capabilities to keep Sea Cliff the treasure that it is."
During the questioning period, resident Karin Barnaby rose first, and raised the issue of due process as it related to Zoning Board decisions, and in particular to her and her husband's experiences. Directing her question to Mr. McGilloway, she asked him to "explain how the ZBA over the course of more than a half dozen hearings had never mentioned, discussed or deliberated a single code or law regarding the legal status of Preston Avenue as it was germane and pivotal to [their] subdivision application."
Mr. McGilloway replied that he would not speak about a specific case and a specific ruling. "It would be improper to do that for many different reasons and at many different levels," he said. He continued that he would address what he believed was the spirit of the question. “The zoning board of appeals does not make law it does not create statute," he said. "We are simply there to interpret it and find a balancing act between the best interests of the individual and the total community. We went through each variance and adequately reviewed them." He continued that on the Zoning Board, "there are five good people donating their time trying very hard to do the right thing. Instead of creating laws we try to find that balance in trying to interpret them."
The next question came from resident Don Kavanaugh. "I like the way Sea Cliff is and always has been and am reluctant to see change here." he said. "But at the same time, I don’t like the heavy hand of government telling me what to do as a homeowner. How do you deal with that balancing act?" he asked.
Ms. Villafane replied that she would "take all facts into account . . . and try to strike a balance." "You respect the individual," she said, "but you really look for the greater good."
Mr. Mcgilloway agreed. Addressing the issue of change, he added, "How do you keep the best of the old and modify it so you stay relevant? It’s exactly why we’re here. It’s why you elect officials who you believe will try to find that right balance – that middle ground."
Resident Doug Barnaby asked the candidates if, as trustees, they were "informed that a member of any of the village boards disregarded and circumvented a resident’s rights what would they do?" He added, "Would you support and help establish an independent ethics review board in Sea Cliff in case questions of that nature came before the village board?"
Ms. Villafane responded that "it has been practice for each of the boards to act autonomously and keep within their area of expertise. There is no interplay or oversight between the various boards. If it came to the attention that a member of a board wasn't attending to their duties … or really acting with impropriety, I think at that point the Village Mayor and trustees might speak to the individual and ask them to step down." But, she said, "I don’t think the board has the authority to tell another board member that they are not doing their job or acting in derogation of a resident’s rights. The resident’s remedy is in the court system not in the village."
Mr. McGilloway replied that "if there is a breach of ethics, there is an obligation to find out through the chain of command if there is something that doesn't feel right." He continued, "if the group of trustees would like to form a special investigative committee - that is always within their purview." "Each case stands on its own merit," he said. "It is up to the community to decide if the trustees and mayor are positioned to do the right thing when faced with those sort of unpleasant situations."
In closing Ms. Villafane, described Sea Cliff as "a vibrant bustling community that accepts all with open arms." She said that she wanted "to be a part of that long tradition of volunteers who step forward to keep our community vibrant and welcomes all."
Mr. McGilloway concluded, "We’re all unified by one thing – we’re all trying to do the right thing. As long as we keep doing that, I am very comfortable that we will continue to have a great place to live and for some to work." He added, "I will try to find the right balance between change and newness and the individual and the community."
In his remarks, Judge Reali, described his many years of service, from coaching little league baseball in the '70s, to serving as a village trustee in the 80s, and then as Village Justice since 1990. Explaining his judicial philosophy, he said, "We try to deliver justice without fear or favor to anyone rich or poor, young or old." He in particular emphasized the importance of treating all who come into his court with dignity and respect, and of finding a resolution, rather than seeking to punish. "We don’t want your money," he said, "we want compliance." He explained that that sometimes meant adjourning a case for a period of time allowing the defendant the opportunity to resolve the issue, and then asking him to return to court to offer evidence of compliance. That, he said, served the village's and the individual's interests more than a heavy fine would.
After thanking his staff, his wife Doreen for her support, and the Civic Association for hosting the forum, Judge Reali said, "Talk about the word volunteer. I think the word volunteer was invented in Sea Cliff."
The election will be held on Tuesday, March 18, and voting will take place at the Sea Cliff Department of Public Works Building at 66 Altamont Avenue from 12 noon until 9 pm.
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