TOWN ATTORNEY BLOCKS ECC’S PROPOSED MASSAGE LAW PENDING LEGAL OPINION FROM ATTORNEY GENERAL

The Edgemont Community Council’s proposed law barring brothels from fronting as massage parlors in the Town of Greenburgh is apparently on indefinite hold, it was learned today, after the Planning Board notified the Town that it will not even consider the measure until state attorney general Eric Schneiderman weighs in on its legality.

The Town’s Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, which met this morning, was told that the Planning Board will not consider the proposed massage law until the Town receives a legal opinion from the attorney general’s office.  This was the first anyone had heard that the town attorney had taken such action, but he presumably did so at the direction of Town Supervisor Paul Feiner and other members of the Town Board.

Even though other towns and villages in New York have enacted similar legislation, Town Attorney Tim Lewis does not believe towns in New York have the legal right to enact such legislation and, for that reason, refused to draft such a measure when he was asked to do so last fall by Police Chief Chris McNerney, and has apparently been working behind the scenes to find ways to block the Town from adopting it.

In October, Chief McNerney told the ECC that Edgemont had become the “illicit massage parlor capital of Westchester County.”

ECC president Bob Bernstein stepped in to draft the measure when Mr. Lewis refused to do so.  At its January meeting, the ECC unanimously endorsed the measure and the Town Board held a special meeting to introduce it after the ECC showed on its website that two illicit massage parlors posted x-rated ads on the internet advertising “grand openings” in Edgemont.   The “grand openings” were advertised two days after the Town Board had failed to introduce the ECC proposal when the Town Clerk filibustered it.

The Planning Board is required to weigh in on the proposal because a small portion of the draft law requires a change to the Town’s zoning law.   Specifically, the proposal calls for the town clerk to license massage establishments, subject to background checks from the police chief, the building inspector and the fire marshal, and then for such establishments to obtain a special permit to operate from the Town Board.  Only the special permit requirement involves an amendment to the zoning law and Greenburgh law requires that the Planning Board issue a report and recommendation to the Town Board on that aspect of the law before the Town Board can hold a public hearing prior to a vote on whether to enact the measure.

On February 11, the Town Board held a “public discussion” on the measure  during which time Mr. Lewis had announced that the Planning  Board would consider the measure at its March 18 meeting.  Mr. Lewis did not disclose that he had told the Planning Board that he was seeking a legal opinion from Mr. Schneiderman and that he was recommending that the board take no action on the massage law until after the opinion is received.

It is not known whether Mr. Lewis took these actions on his own, or whether he was directed to do so in executive session by the Town Board.  Mr. Feiner has publicly stated his support for the ECC’s proposed law, but has done nothing else to advance the legislation.  The Planning Board met Wednesday night.

Specifically, Mr. Feiner said he would not ask the Planning Board to expedite its consideration of the law; he also did not direct the town attorney’s staff to prepare any written changes to the Town’s zoning law so that the Planning Board would know what specific portion of the 11-page proposed law it was being asked to review.  Nor did Mr. Feiner inform Mr. Bernstein or anyone from the ECC of the Town Attorney’s plan to seek an opinion from the state attorney general.   Nor has anyone from the ECC seen a draft of whatever it is that Mr. Lewis supposedly sent.

Mr. Lewis has a history of asking for legal opinions from the state attorney general or the state comptroller’s office by framing the discussion in such a way that critically important information is omitted.  As a result, the opinions he receives are often of little value.

For example, in an attempt a few years ago to block Edgemont from getting town funds for the construction of sidewalks needed to protect children walking to Edgemont’s elementary schools, Mr. Lewis wrote to the state comptroller asking about the application of a state highway law which allowed for the funding of sidewalks and was told that funding under that law would have to be charged to all town taxpayers, including those residing in incorporated villages, which was politically unacceptable to the Town; the alternative, Mr. Lewis was told, was to require that sidewalks for Edgemont children be charged only to Edgemont taxpayers, which is what Town Supervisor Paul Feiner for years said Edgemont taxpayers would have to do if it wanted sidewalks to protect its schoolchildren.

Years later, after receiving the opinion, and examining what Mr. Lewis had actually asked, it became clear that Mr. Lewis had omitted any mention of the state suburban law which expressly provides that sidewalks for public safety in unincorporated areas of a town may be charged to all of unincorporated Greenburgh.  Consequently, the state comptroller did not address that possibility.

Here, by not presenting the public with a copy of whatever it is Mr. Lewis apparently prepared on the proposed massage law, there is no way to know whether Mr. Lewis is once again presenting a one-side version of the facts in order to obtain an opinion that would support his opposition to enactment of the proposed law.

At last week’s “public discussion,” Town Clerk Beville also repeated her opposition to any requirement that licensing of massage establishments be the responsibility of the town clerk — even if, as the proposed law makes clear — the town clerk would only be following the recommendations of the police chief, the building inspector and the fire marshal.  Repeated misstatements by Ms. Beville as to what the proposal actually says went unanswered by Mr. Feiner and other members of the Town Board.

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