After months of intense public argument, mayor Jason West has decided to officially sue the New Paltz Village Board regarding his salary decrease. He also announced that he will take a paid one-month leave of absence due to unspecified medical reasons. And earlier this month — due to his cut in pay — West said he’d clock no more than 14 hours each week. And last week, West fired village planner Curt Lavalla, whom he had hired in 2012. “It is a personnel issue at the moment and I am not prepared to comment,” stated Acting Mayor Rebecca Rotzler regarding Lavalla’s termination.
Back in April, trustees voted to cut West’s $35,000 salary down to $22,500. He had submitted a budget giving himself a raise up to $48,000.
During that meeting, trustees also voted to cut their own stipends — knocking down the deputy mayor’s pay from $8,200 to $7,365 and knocking down pay for the trustees from $7,200 to $6,232. When trustees first made the cut, the mayor threatened to resign. He later changed his mind.
In an e-mail dated Aug. 7, Mayor West told his board that “Beginning next week, I will no longer be working full-time for part-time compensation. My financial, physical, emotional and mental health won’t survive it. So I will be tracking my hours. Once I hit 14 hours I will simply stop working and turn on the ‘out of office’ autoreply explaining the situation on my e-mail and voicemail. This may involve canceling or rescheduling meetings, delayed agendas if I run out of hours before Friday, missed deadlines for grants, my absence at the scene during states of emergencies, et cetera.”
Michael Sussman, the lawyer representing West in the Article 78 lawsuit, officially filed the legal action in state Supreme Court in Ulster County on Aug. 15. The lawsuit alleges that the Village Board’s actions to reduce the mayor’s pay were illegal. It seeks to restore his pay back to $35,000.
West also accuses his board colleagues of breaking Open Meetings Law by agreeing on his pay cut outside of an official meeting.
“The Village Board took this action without a single trustee discussing the issue with the mayor — and without the matter being raised at a Village Board meeting — despite the fact that there were about a half dozen public meetings and hearings concerning the village budget beginning in January 2013,” the lawsuit reads.
During the April 17 meeting where the board cut West’s pay and their own, they said they wanted to do that to show union members they weren’t alone in giving concessions during upcoming contract negotiations.
“If we’re going to ask employees to pay for things … how can we do that, if for two years in a row we gave ourselves raises?” said former Trustee Stewart Glenn back in April.