Whose Responsibility?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Whose Responsibility?

Any who attended the August work session of the Westhampton Beach Village Board could not help but be touched by the plight of the young couple on upper Sunset Avenue. Their basement, in which much of their possessions had been cached while work was being done in the rest of their modest two-story home, had been the repository of "seven feet of water," courtesy of the previous afternoon's mercifully brief but ex­tra­ordinarily intense deluge!

"Ah Ha!" you say, "An act of God."

Not, however, in the view of Mrs. Edwards. She would accept that the intense downpour was the work of a Higher Power, but drew the line well-shy of the flooded basement.

Her measured but barely controlled brief was:

  • She and her family had resided there for four years.
  • The basement had never leaked so much as a drop prior to the previous day.
  • They didn't have "flood insurance" for the simple reason that their house wasn't in a flood plain.
  • The day prior to Tuesday's flooding, the Village's Department of Public Works had resurfaced that portion of Sunset Avenue.

Mrs. Edwards was of the opinion that there was a direct correlation between the municipal actions and her unhappy circumstances.

(So dire were those circumstances that Trustee Joan Levan spontaneously offer­ed the young couple the temporary courtesy of, if I heard her correctly, a "two room apartment" in her own home.)

Village Attorney Hermon Bishop, a prudent and cautious professional when his temper permits, made the appropriate noises on behalf of the Village, indicating that he and the Edwards had had a dialogue about the incident, and that he had recommended that they contact their insurance carrier.

Mrs. Edwards acknowledged that such a step had been taken and that a meeting was in the offing, but expressed a certain dubiety about what sort of advan­tageous resolution might be affected by that approach.

And there it rested until the next month when I passed the Edwards property and realized that it had once been Buddy Kavan's old house, and that the basement was relatively new.

On the way to the Planning Board Work Ses­sion Thursday afternoon to see what Verizon was up to on Brook Road and learn how the interminable Muchnick Application was pro­gressing, I came across Counselor Bishop and asked him:

Me: "Is the Village on the hook for the flooding at 288 Sunset Avenue?"

Bo: "I cannot discuss any matters presently under litigation."

Me: "Well, that answers one of my questions. But is the Village aware that the basement which was flooded is a fairly new one?"

Bo: "What about 'I cannot discuss any matters presently under litigation' didn't you understand?"

Okay, be that way! But would that have been part of the litigation?

I pondered his response, both the tenor and substance, and an idea began to take shape.

Several days later I stopped and spoke with the Edwards couple on what turned out to be their Wedding Anniversary, and learned that, yes, they had filed a notice of claim against the Village, but they had been advised to not discuss it by both their attorney and an un­named member of the Village Board.

(Now who could that be?)

I hope that the Edwards can be made whole, and that whatever insurance carrier(s) are on the hook have their feet held to the fire. My own experience is that insurance companies work overtime to devise ways to not pay claims.

At the same time I am compelled to wonder if any of what befell the young couple would have occurred had the current Village admin­is­tration found a way to retain the services of Joe Benedetto as the Superintendent of Public Works instead of being quick to dump him in the interests of tightening the municipality's fiscal belt.

Mr. Benedetto had brought almost 40 years ex­per­ience to the position, and on his two-year watch had, among other accomplishments, rebuilt the Village sidewalks, brought the drainage systems up to spec, and constructed the entire Six Corners traffic oval at consider­able economy to the taxpayers.

(He also got an honest day's work out of his crews, and that seems to have en­gen;dered some resentment from the rank'n'file.)

We can only hope that letting Joe Benedetto go without exploring ways by which he could stay around, will not prove to be another case of the Village being "penny-wise and pound-foolish."


1. Tony Jo Berk said...

No disrespect to the hardworking DPW but it was a shame, perhaps a scam, that the current Board allowed Joe Benedetto to be let go. It is my understanding that he has had 30+ years of priceless experiance in that field. From what I heard Joe ran a tight ship without cracking the whip. As for Joe leaving his rank of Head of the DPW to me it was put best in the early 1900s with the old catch phrase "Say it aint so, Joe." Or as Simon and Garfunkle once sang, "Joe Benedetto where have you gone?"

Don't kid yourself… Mr. Benedetto did crack the whip, and made sure the good burghers of WHB got great value for their tax dollars, just as Ray Dean did when he became Chief of the Police Village Department.
Guys who are used to doing pretty much as they please aggressively resist structure. Why does anyone think that Village streets are sometimes swept as late as noon now-a-days?!?

2. Fed up said...

Chief Dean has and did crack the whip. That is why the "Older" Members of the department have ganged up with the current board to attack him at every chance. Who does he think he is to try and get them to work. The man does a great job with the do-nothings and the newly promoted members that HE promoted who are after his job.

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