Earlier this week, the administration of Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas suffered another legal defeat in the contentious courtroom battle in which the administration has been embroiled with Councilman Andre Wallace over outstanding payments for an emergency command center constructed by Wallace’s firm, Creative Direction Construction & Design, LLC.
The facility became the focal point in the city’s increasingly fractious politics shortly after Thomas and Wallace—one-time political allies who cast themselves as reformers during the 2015 election season—had a very public falling out almost immediately after being sworn into office in January 2016.
The dispute over the payment of the monies is just one in a series of bruising battles that have left the city deeply divided, and there is no agreement among the city’s elected officials, or their supporters, regarding the ultimate cause of the dispute.
Casting himself as a responsible guardian of the taxpayer money, Thomas has repeatedly stated that his sole concern was to fulfill his fiduciary responsibility to ensure taxpayer money is spent prudently wisely. In his public pronouncements and court filings, Thomas insisted that his refusal to approve payment of the outstanding balance the city owes to Wallace’s was due to the latter’s failure to fulfill the terms of the contract.
Councilman Wallace, on the other hand, contends that it is part of a political vendetta that Thomas has been waging, at the behest of political boss Joseph Spiezio, after he rejected a backroom deal that the Mayor asked him to broker with the Council as negotiations over the 2016 budget were beginning to falter.
Whatever the cause for the feud, Monday’s ruling by the court is a welcome one, promising to bring an end to the swashbuckling, legal misadventures of a mayor whose actions are more reminiscent of a knight-errant, than the high-minded crusader he poses as. The crux of the court’s argument for rejecting the Mayor’s request to compel the NYS Department of Labor to furnish internal, administrative documents regarding the construction of the center shows just how questionable the methods and motives of the Thomas administration actually are.
To begin with, even though Thomas portrays his administration as embodying a new level of professionalism in city governance, it is shocking to learn, on reading the decision, that the city’s recent motion in the Wallace case was rejected because the motion was filed late.
Far from being professional, it is the kind of irresponsible misstep you expect from college students turning in term paper, not from seasoned, well-compensated attorneys who are supposedly fighting a major case of financial wrongdoing. The attorney of record, it should be noted, was not Corporation Counsel Lawrence Porcari—who’s considered by some to be legally slow-footed—but the outside firm of Smith, Buss & Jacob, LLP, home to Joe Spiezio’s long-time attorney, Jeffrey Buss. Since the tardiness of the filing was automatic grounds for rejecting the city’s motion, perhaps the city should take Smith, Buss & Jacob to court to recover fees from the firm for failing to file the court motion on time.
Beyond the procedural demerits of the motion, though, the court found substantive grounds for rejecting the Thomas administration’s request as well. Siding with Councilman Wallace, the court found that the issue of prevailing wages had been ruled upon by a previous court, and that the entire attempt to force the NYS Department of Labor to produce records regarding prevailing wages was nothing but a thinly-veiled effort to relitigate an issue that had, in fact, already been settled.
It’s really is no surprise, then, that Buss and company were schooled like a bunch of college sophomores: not only did they submit their assessment late, they also tried to sneak and retake the legal test after failing it the first time out.
It’s probably too much to hope for, but perhaps now Mayor Thomas and Joe Spiezio will come to their senses and bury the legal hatchet with which they sought to bludgeon Councilman Wallace into submission these past months. Until this is done, it’s the city’s residents and taxpayers who will continue to get caught in the crossfire as the Mayor focuses his energy on his perceived political enemies instead of the serious public challenges the city confronts.