A member of the West Hampton Dunes Village Board continues to cast ballots on municipal matters even though she moved out of the village last year, and her colleagues never approved legislation permitting her to continue to serve on the board.
Catherine Woolfson, who has served on the five-member board since 2008, attended and voted at Friday’s monthly board meeting, though the other members of the board have never approve a resolution permitting her to retain her seat, which is a violation of state law, according to state officials.
A Freedom of Information Act request filed with the village earlier this fall by The Press, requesting any documentation which authorized Ms. Woolfson to continue serving, was answered on November 13 by Village Clerk Laura Dalessandro, who stated that no such records could be located.
“The village has reviewed the records and has not found any documents responsive to your request,” Ms. Dalessandro wrote in her response, which came after The Press’s first request for the information was bounced back for allegedly being “too vague for the village to respond to,” according to an earlier email sent by Ms. Dalessandro.
In a previous interview, a representative from the New York State Department of State stated that it is illegal for someone not living in a municipality to serve in public office.
“The Department of State can find no state law that would allow the member of the village board of trustees here being discussed to continue in office after she fails to maintain residency within the village during her term of office,” Edison Alban, a spokesman from the DOS, wrote in an email in September.
The state agency, however, was alerted to the situation in September, and a representative requested copies of documents—including a copy of the village’s tax rolls and minutes from 2014 board meetings—from The Press at that time. Officials have yet to comment on the situation, and Mr. Alban did not respond to requests seeking comment this week.
Meanwhile, at Friday’s meeting, Ms. Woolfson was again advised by West Hampton Dunes Village Attorney Joseph Prokop not to respond to a reporter’s request inquiring about her place of residence or when she intends to move back into the oceanfront village. “I’m going to respectfully decline to answer,” she said during the public comments portion of the meeting, which was held in the village.
Ms. Woolfson, who makes $3,000 annually and whose four-year term expires in 2016, has refused to confirm when she sold her home in the village, where she is currently residing, or when she intends to return to West Hampton Dunes.
“It’ll all come out in the wash,” Mr. Prokop said after the meeting, explaining that it is his opinion that Ms. Woolfson, who has attended nine of the board’s 11 meetings this year, will be allowed to continue serving on the board.
Ms. Woolfson cast a total of 62 votes during the first six meetings of the year, according to an examination of board meeting minutes. It remains unclear if her votes could eventually be deemed null and void by the state.
If that does happen, nine pieces of legislation could be affected, all of which were passed in May when only three members of the Village Board, including Ms. Woolfson, were present. One of the resolutions approved at that meeting authorized the transfer of $100,000 from a reserve account to the “village improvement district fund,” which was created moments earlier. The board has not announced how that money will be used.
Friday’s meeting discussion, meanwhile, focused primarily on the ongoing beach nourishment project that now under way between Westhampton Beach and West Hampton Dunes, work that could be completed by Christmas.
Aram Terchunian, a coastal geologist with the First Coastal Corporation in Westhampton Beach, told board members that the $14.2 million federal project had about 20 “pump days” remaining. The work, which is being overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, focuses on rebuilding the shoreline between the Lashley Beach pavilion in Westhampton Beach and Cupsogue Beach County Park, just west of West Hampton Dunes Village.
“So far, so good,” Mr. Terchunian said on Friday, while showing board members photographs of the work thus far. “Hopefully, they’ll end on a good note.”
At the same meeting, the board voted to consolidate all of its local laws into a formal village code, and to post that document on the village’s website, www.whdunes.org. Prior to that change, the various local laws were only accessible in separate files organized by year of adoption.
“It was a long time coming,” Mayor Gary Vegliante said. “Nothing’s changed, but everything is now much easier to access.”