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Mamakating Planning Board chair not a resident

By Dan Hust
WURTSBORO — June 29, 2010 — The Sullivan County Board of Elections ruled last week that Mamakating Planning Board Chairman John Piazza is not actually a resident of the Town of Mamakating or even of Sullivan County.
On Friday, Elections Commissioners Faith Kaplan and Rodney Gaebel sent a letter to Piazza and the man who challenged his residency – Summitville resident Richard Morris – stating that Piazza “does not presently reside in Sullivan County.”
“We don’t feel that Mamakating is his primary residence,” explained Gaebel in a subsequent interview.
Kaplan agreed with him, both stating that a Sheriff’s Office investigation earlier this year, documents submitted by Morris and a questionnaire filled out by Piazza brought them to that conclusion.
“We told him to vote where he lives: in Middletown,” said Kaplan.
Piazza maintains a home near that Orange County city but has claimed in the past that he resides in Bloomingburg in a house currently in the name of his mother.
In the questionnaire provided to him by the Board of Elections, Piazza said he does live in Middletown, but he intends to live at either his mother’s house or one of the four vacant lots he owns within Mamakating.
However, the Board of Elections recently discovered that his mother’s house is in contract to be sold, and Kaplan and Gaebel said vacant land cannot be considered a residence.
The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office also investigated at the Board of Elections’ request, but it could not verify whether anyone lived at the Bloomingburg address, with a neighbor outright refusing to answer an investigator’s knock.
Piazza could not be reached by the Democrat yesterday, but Morris returned a request for comment, saying he’s happy years of his own investigation and work have paid off.
“I feel real good about it,” Morris remarked. “This indicates that Piazza, as of the date of this letter, is not a resident.”
Morris said he had tried to get the past three town supervisors to investigate further but was continually met with inaction or weak promises.
“The arrogance of many of our elected and appointed officials and the idea they can do what they want has been a driving force behind this effort,” he explained.
However, Morris was not the first to challenge Piazza’s residency, with fellow Summitville resident Eileen Haworth Weil – following up on concerns from former residents Kevin and Tish Moore – initiating a challenge in 2004 that was denied by the Board of Elections.
Kaplan said records for that challenge no longer exist, but as recently as December, the board upheld the prior ruling, not changing its stance till Morris provided reams of documents – license registrations, tax info, real estate records, and the like – indicating Piazza lives in Middletown.
Both Morris and Weil said yesterday that they hope the town leaders follow the law, which stipulates that planning board members must be residents of Mamakating.
Indeed, Morris has already sent a letter to Supervisor Harold Baird and the town board about the decision.
“I’m waiting to get the official word from the Board of Elections,” replied Baird yesterday. “We’ll look into it.”
Baird called Piazza – who has served on the planning board for at least the past decade, if not two – “one of the best people who could be in charge of running a planning board.
“He’s got the knowledge of the town, and his heart is in the town,” said Baird.
Piazza could challenge the Board of Elections decision in court, but Gaebel stood by it.
“My gut feeling is that this is the right thing to do,” he explained.
Still, Gaebel worried that the county was getting involved in a political fight in Mamakating.
Morris acknowledged concerns with a number of Piazza’s past actions as planning board chair, but Weil said the intent is solely to right a wrong – not chastise Piazza for decisions he made with which they might disagree.
“That would be a whole ‘nother process,” said Weil, referring to the fact that, even if Piazza is now off the planning board, prior decisions are not nullified.
Baird said he expects the matter will be a topic at the next town board meeting, set for July 6 at 7 p.m. at the town hall in Wurtsboro.
The planning board itself will next meet the following Tuesday, July 13 at the same time and place.

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