ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) - A New York appeals court named a retired jurist to look into allegations of misconduct that could oust the mayor of a once-popular resort village in the Catskills.
Four residents of Monticello, the Sullivan County seat and a former "Borscht Belt" summer destination about 90 miles northwest of New York City, filed the complaint with the Appellate Division under state public officers law.
They contend Gordon Jenkins, mayor and village manager, should be removed after several brushes with the law, including a 2011 conviction for selling counterfeit Nike sneakers at his retail store and a 2013 drunken-driving arrest that led to an expletive-laced tirade at the police station. Surveillance footage of the latter incident has more than 90,000 hits on YouTube.
Jenkins moved to dismiss the petition, but the appeals court refused Thursday.
"To our analysis, the foregoing allegations, if true, rise to the level of 'unscrupulous conduct or gross dereliction of duty or conduct that connotes a pattern of misconduct and abuse of authority' and are, therefore, sufficient to survive respondent's motion to dismiss," Justice John Egan Jr. wrote for a four-judge panel of the Third Judicial Department in Albany.
He noted the petition included affidavits "detailing respondent's misdeeds" from the Sullivan County district attorney, a Monticello village trustee and a member of the police department. The justices also reviewed the police station video, which was submitted with the petition.
Egan described it as showing Jenkins "uttering numerous racist remarks" and "reminding officers, 'You still work for me, don't you?', advising officers that he would make sure they 'pa[id] for it' (an apparent reference to his detention), threatening that he would 'do something tomorrow' about the manner in which he was being treated, and, finally, warning the officers, '[Y]ou ... guys [screwed] my life up - it's on. It's on. It's on. It's on.'"
Jenkins, elected in 2008, became Monticello's first black mayor, according to a New York Times story at the time that looked at the "faded" village. In its heyday, Monticello's streets bustled with vacationers to the many resorts in the Catskill Mountains that catered to New York City Jews in the 1950s and 1960s. The popular movie "Dirty Dancing" was set at one such fictional resort in the period.
The petition also alleges Jenkins engaged in retaliation, such as withholding money from the police department, which left it understaffed and forced to seek business donations to buy a new heating system for its building, Egan noted.
And the petition claims Jenkins "has repeatedly threatened various local law enforcement officials with termination or disciplinary action" unless he receives "special treatment" on his criminal charges, according to the ruling.
Section 36 of Public Officers Law allows towns and villages to remove "unfaithful or dishonest" public officials, Egan said. To state a cause of action under the law, a petition must allege self-dealing, corrupt activities, conflict of interest, moral turpitude, intentional wrongdoing or violation of the public trust.
Egan disagreed with Jenkins that the petition fails to state a cause of action.
'We must afford the petition a liberal construction, accept the allegations contained therein as true and accord petitioners the benefit of every favorable inference to be drawn therefrom," the ruling states.
The appeals court named retired Broome County Surrogate Judge Eugene Peckham to serve as referee and directed him to hold a hearing on the allegations. Peckham is to report back to the court on his findings.
Presiding Justice Karen Peters and Justices Leslie Stein and William McCarthy concurred.
Kirk Orseck of Liberty represented the four Monticello residents who brought the petition. Local media identified them as Michael Greco, Adriana Greco, Julian Dawson and Elaine Williams.
Michael Sussman of Sussman & Watkins in Goshen represented Jenkins.