Edgemont Community Council president Bob Bernstein tonight sent an open letter to Town Supervisor Paul Feiner asking that he stop using private investigators to enter people’s homes to look for evidence to support a decision by Mr. Feiner not to certify the incorporation petition and not to allow any unsworn statements from Edgemont residents already obtained by the investigators to be used in support of any objections to certification at the public hearing Wednesday, April 5 at the Multipurpose Building at Anthony Veteran Park.
Mr. Bernstein’s letter was sent after the Town Board today, deliberating in secret, came out from behind closed doors to unanimously approve a resolution authorizing the Town to spend up to $50,000 on the services of lawyer Robert Spolzino, a former judge, to give legal advice to Mr. Feiner on how to conduct the public hearing on whether to certify the petition. The resolution also authorized Mr. Spolzino to retain the services of the paid private investigators that Mr. Feiner had apparently been using on his own, without any prior town board authorization. The authorization did not appear to be retroactive, however.
Mr. Bernstein’s letter is as follows:
Dear Supervisor Feiner:
I am writing as president of the Edgemont Community Council. I understand that the Town Board approved a resolution giving your outside counsel, Robert Spolzino, the legal authority as of today (but not retroactively) to hire outside private investigators to speak with “any resident of the Town of Greenburgh regarding the signed petitions” — but only provided certain disclosures are made. A copy of the resolution is enclosed.
Based on the information we have received to date, including a live video feed and sworn affidavits from residents, we believe none of the newly required disclosures were ever made by your private investigators prior to today with anyone who signed the incorporation petition. Accordingly, the ECC respectfully requests that you not permit your private investigators, or anyone acting on their behalf, to introduce at tomorrow night’s hearing any such unsworn “statements” that they may have collected up until now.
We also find the “due diligence process” you have elected to employ to be riddled with built-in bias and prejudice, not required by any relevant law, and without legal precedent. What’s worse is that it proceeds on the baseless assumption that the petition signatures were somehow obtained improperly and seeks to find evidence to support these unproven beliefs on your part. Consistent with your longstanding negative position on the merits of incorporation, which should have no bearing on certification, what you call “due diligence” is nothing more than a transparent attempt to undermine the First Amendment rights of Edgemont residents to petition their government. That you need to instruct deputized paid private investigators to tell residents in their own homes they have the right not to say anything at all and be left alone, conjures up moments in the past we would all rather not revisit knowing history has its eyes on you.
Indeed, you have no more authority to hire paid investigators to undermine a petition to put an issue on the ballot than the board of elections would have to do the very same thing to you every two years petitions are filed to get yourself on the ballot. In short, the board of elections has no such authority and neither do you.
Nevertheless, if you persist in subjecting Edgemont residents who signed the incorporation petition in good faith to uninvited visits in their homes from paid private investigators seeking to invalidate their signatures — an overreaching practice we are appalled an elected official would even consider — we must ask that your investigators be required in all cases, at the very minimum, to make the disclosures you now require in writing to each person they contact. We also ask that each person contacted be required to acknowledge, in writing and before a notary, that such disclosures were in fact made, and that all statements purportedly made by such residents in the presence of your paid private investigators be made under oath before a notary. Without such checks and the ability to audit the quality of your investigators (particularly in light of the video evidence and resident accounts), neither the Town nor residents will know if these new procedures have been followed.
If going forward, you are now authorizing paid private investigators to begin collecting such statements provided the required disclosures are made, we still object. Not only is such activity not authorized by any provision of Village Law on incorporation, but the use of taxpayer funds for this purpose is improper as well. Indeed, your use of private investigators knocking on people’s doors and questioning them about documents they read and signed months ago is a bad situation made worse. It violates all manner of decency, civility and common sense for you to be using taxpayer funds to pay private investigators to gather evidence to support a decision you’ve apparently already made not to certify a petition merely asking for the right to vote, instead of just letting the people of Edgemont decide the issue for themselves in a referendum as provided by law.
Finally, this email is of course being sent without prejudice to any rights the ECC or anyone else may have to challenge your use of such private investigators and all rights we or anyone else may have in that respect are hereby expressly reserved. Regardless of one’s position on incorporation, the ECC firmly believes that the petitions put together by the Edgemont Incorporation Committee were in all respects fair and accurate, and in accordance with all applicable laws. We hope you conclude the same, certify the petition, and provide the residents of Edgemont their legal right to vote on incorporation.