Rye City Mayor Douglas French, a Republican, called on Rye Republican Committee Chair Anthony Piscionere to resign from that position in an email sent to the press Tuesday, Dec. 18. French wrote that Piscionere’s involvement in an expensive pending civil rights case against the City of Rye is a conflict of interest given his role as GOP chair in the 2013 election year. But Piscionere, who has publically criticized French’s leadership since his election three years ago, said there is no conflict of interest in a press release sent Tuesday evening. He called French’s claim of a conflict a “belated false allegation,” created because French is aware that Piscionere does not support his wishes to run for re-election next year.
Piscionere represents a Rye City police officer who is a defendant in the case Caspi vs. City of Rye et al, which commenced in 2007. Piscionere was hired by the officer in 2009. So far, the case has cost the city a total of about $300,000, more than most other cases because of the length of the litigation and number of attorneys involved, according to city corporation counsel Kristen Wilson. It has been more active over the last two years and is expected to go to trial in the middle of 2013, Wilson said. Legal costs in excess of $50,000 are covered through the city’s insurance carrier, according to information provided by Wilson, Piscionere and Councilman Joe Sack.
“We were not selected by the City Council, nor the Mayor, but by our client individually, as was his right under the Public Officers Law,” Piscionere said.
French said his decision to call for the resignation came out of a discussion of the Caspi case during a Litigation and Case Management Committee meeting in September. French created that Committee, of which he is a member, in 2010 in “order to evaluate cases and their financial implications for the city,” he said.
French argues that because Piscionere is part of the Rye Republican Committee, which nominates candidates for public office, who are then appointed to the Litigation and Case Management Committee, Piscionere’s role with the RRC represents a conflict.
“Given that this case will continue into 2013, and given that it is an election year when political parties select candidates to serve on the Council that directly oversees and makes decisions on litigation, I think it is in the best interests of Rye that the Chairman step down. This is a direct conflict of interest,” French wrote.
“In essence, the people making litigation decisions on this case are being selected by the GOP.”
In addition to the mayor, Wilson, city manager Scott Pickup and Councilman Joe Sack are on the committee. It was the mayor’s decision to call for Piscionere’s resignation, not the committee’s, Wilson said.
Councilman Joe Sack, another frequent public critic of French’s governing, sent a statement opposing the mayor’s call on Tuesday afternoon.
“(…) I just don’t see what that conflict could be under the circumstances,” Sack wrote in an email to the press. “Mr. Piscionere represents one of the officers, not the city. The city has its own lawyer, who advises the city council on how to handle the case. I frankly do not see the connection that the mayor is trying to draw, nor do I know why he would try to do so.”
Piscionere had his own explanation for French’s call for his resignation:
“While I am only one vote on the Rye Republican Committee, it is well known publicly that I believe that the Mayor has mishandled many important decisions relating to this City and I, in good conscience, could not support his re-election.”
City Manager Pickup did not respond to Patch’s request for comment on the matter. An email to Mayor French was also not returned by the time of this posting.
Read Mayor French's call for Piscionere's resignation here. Read Piscionere and Sack's responses to the mayor's statement here.
Do you think Piscionere should heed the mayor’s call to step down? Why or Why not?