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Sep 17, 2014 12:37 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

West Hampton Dunes Trustee No Longer Lives In Village

Sep 17, 2014 12:58 PM

A West Hampton Dunes Village trustee has not lived on or owned property in the oceanfront municipality for the past several months—and possibly more than a year—violating a state law requiring that such officials reside in the town or village that they are representing.

Catherine Woolfson, who has served on the five-member Village Board since 2008, sold her Dune Road home at some point within the past year and, according to the village’s finalized 2013-14 tax rolls, no longer owns any property within the municipality. An examination of Southampton Town tax records, as well as those records kept by the incorporated villages of Quogue and Westhampton Beach, also indicate that she does not own any property in those municipalities.

According to the Department of State (DOS), all village officials must reside in the municipality in which they are elected.

“The Department of State can find no state law that would allow the member of the village board of trustees here being discussed to continue in office after she fails to maintain residency within the village during her term of office,” Edison Alban, a spokesman from the DOS, wrote in an email last week.

He added that the DOS does not have the power to reprimand the village. He did note, however, that the state attorney general’s office could take legal action if it so chooses. A representative of that office could not be immediately reached for comment.

Ms. Woolfson, who has declined to discuss the situation over the past two weeks, on Tuesday afternoon emailed the following statement: “I have been advised (by counsel) that I meet the requirements to serve as trustee.”

That counsel, West Hampton Dunes Village Attorney Joseph Prokop, did not return several calls over the past week seeking comment on the legality of the decision to allow Ms. Woolfson to continue serving.

Ms. Woolfson, whose four-year term expires in 2016, would not confirm when she moved out of the village, to where, or when she intends to return. She makes $3,000 annually as a trustee and does not receive any benefits.

At the most recent Board of Trustees meeting, held outdoors at Pikes Beach on Saturday, September 6, Ms. Woolfson did not take her place with the rest of the trustees at the dais. Instead, she opted to help set up for the village’s annual beach party, which began right after the meeting’s adjournment.

“It is our intent to move back to the village, yes,” she said after the meeting, “but I don’t think a beach party is the proper place to have this discussion.”

Since then, Ms. Woolfson did not respond to emails sent to her on Monday, September 8, and again on Wednesday, September 10, until this past Tuesday afternoon.

West Hampton Dunes Village Mayor Gary Vegliante said this week that he believes Ms. Woolfson has the right to continue serving because she intends to move back to the village soon. The mayor said he did not know when Ms. Woolfson moved out of the village.

Mr. Vegliante, along with the three other village trustees—Renee Brown, Gary Trimarchi and Michael Craig—all own property in West Hampton Dunes, according to the village’s 2014-15 tax rolls.

Mr. Alban noted that a village can request special permission from the state to bypass the law, allowing a member of its board to continue serving while living outside the borders of the municipality, though it does not appear that West Hampton Dunes officials went that route.

Mr. Vegliante refused to say whether or not the board took such action, and Village Clerk Laura Dalessandro did not return calls seeking clarification.

“The village here may seek from the State Legislature enactment of a special law that would except members of the village board of trustees from the statutory residency requirements,” Mr. Alban wrote. “In the absence of such a special law ... as a public officer, the member of the village board of trustees must be a resident of the village to continue in office.”

Without such a resolution, Ms. Woolfson’s position as a trustee is automatically deemed vacant, according to Mr. Alban, who also noted that it is rare for Albany to honor such a request. “The statutory residency requirements apply to the actual residency of a local official rather than that official’s intention to later comply with all applicable residency requirements,” he wrote.

But Mr. Vegliante is alleging that a court decision—one he believes allowed a district attorney in Erie County, New York, to continue serving even though he lived outside the district—proves that Ms. Woolfson can continue serving. The mayor, however, said he could not recall the name of the court case or provide any additional details.

“All I can tell you is that our legal advice says we’re fully compliant with the law,” Mr. Vegliante said.

Three different clerks working in the Erie County district attorney’s office said this week that they have no knowledge of such a case in their district.

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According to Zillow, Wolfson sold her property in West Hampton Dunes back in December 2013. According to the article, the village and the Mayor have violated state law. Further every vote that she has cast as a Trustee should be thrown out which would invalidate most of the meetings and votes taken at the village meetings.
By harry1 (7), westhampton Beach on Sep 19, 14 11:08 AM
2 members liked this comment
West Hampton Dunes PC do not patrol Cupsogue, which is in Brookhaven, Suffolk County Parks Police patrol it. In fact, SC Parks Police requested that WHDPC stay out of their jurisdictional the beginning of the summer. FYI
By MichaelHunter (76), East Quogue, New York on Sep 19, 14 2:06 PM
2 members liked this comment
Furthermore, they couldn't exactly put out the fire... once that fire started there was nothing anyone could do since the nearest fire truck was in WH Beach
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Sep 21, 14 10:07 AM
There seems to be no end to the bad news coming out of West Hampton Dunes, all of it self-inflicted. Now we have a phantom trustee on top of everything else. This "Village" is nothing but a scam, a vehicle for the greed of those who dreamed it up and continue to run it.

What should happen is that its residents and/or the State of New York should take action to terminate the sad charade of "West Hampton Dunes," but don't hold your breath.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Sep 19, 14 3:23 PM
1 member liked this comment
Could it be so simple as she is moved in with another resident or is renting?
By Duckbornandraised (184), Eastport on Sep 19, 14 4:13 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By johnnyhampton (82), Southampton on Sep 19, 14 8:28 PM
Can't make this stuff up.
By lazymedic (100), southampton on Sep 20, 14 7:16 AM
In point of fact, you CAN, so your comment is not only pointless, but silly!

Creating a controversy is what this stuff is usually all about!
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Sep 21, 14 9:57 AM
1 member liked this comment