The “Letters” published on the front page of the June 30th issue of The Rye Record about the City Council and the Board of Ethics raise important questions regarding the conduct of the Mayor and three members of the Council. Having read their Verified Petition and the Affidavit of Mayor Cohn filed in New York Supreme Court against the Board of Ethics, I have even further questions regarding their conduct.
Mayor Cohn’s Affidavit in support of the Verified Petition states: “I became aware that the wooded parcel of property adjacent to my home would be clear- cut of trees within a week. I assumed the City must have some jurisdiction over such an event. . . I also spoke with City Corporation Counsel, Kristen Wilson, Esq., who provided several immediate actions that might be available to address this planned clear-cutting. Ms. Wilson identified implementing a moratorium on clear-cutting, seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO), or trying to trigger the State of Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) endangered species restrictions. Ms. Wilson suggested a special meeting of the Council to accelerate the moratorium process, although the process still might not be fast enough to impact the Turf Avenue grove of trees.” (Cohn Affidavit, ¶¶ 11-14.)
Given these facts, sworn to by the Mayor and relied upon in the Verified Petition, I would ask the following questions:
• Who among us can ask for and obtain free advice and support from the City Corporation Counsel regarding a personal legal matter? How is it appropriate for the Mayor to do so?
• How is it appropriate for the City Corporation Counsel to advise the Mayor on his personal matter (the clear-cutting adjacent to his own home), and then to provide advice involving use of his official position (implement a moratorium and accelerate the process)?
• Despite the Council’s resolution at its July 12 meeting to rescind a request by Mayor Cohn and Councilmembers Carolina Johnson, Julie Souza, and Benjamin Stacks for City funding of their legal costs, how was it appropriate for them to decide to allocate taxpayer funds for their own representation in the court proceed-ing they initiated? (Special Meeting of the City Council, June 16, 2023.) The court proceeding was filed on their behalf “Individually and as Members of the City Council” (emphasis added), and they allege that they had “no choice but to defend themselves and their rep-utations through the only means available — this litigation.” (Verified Petition, ¶ 35, see also ¶¶ 136 – 138). Why are they not paying their own legal fees?
• How is it appropriate for Mayor Cohn, and Councilmembers Carolina Johnson, Julie Souza, and Benjamin Stacks, to control or limit the funds available for the Board of Ethics to defend itself against their claims? Unlike the Mayor and these Councilmembers who are seeking to vindicate their personal reputations, the Board of Ethics must defend its official actions in the lawsuit.
I believe that the residents and taxpayers of Rye deserve answers to these questions before public funds are spent on the Mayor’s and the Councilmembers’ lawsuit against the Board of Ethics.