Federal government wants to remove Oyster Bay supervisor and other city officials

Federal lawyers are seeking to impeach Oyster Bay city supervisor Joseph Saladino and other city officials in a housing discrimination lawsuit, according to court documents reviewed by Newsday.

The US Department of Justice sued the city in 2014 in Eastern District Court in Central Islip, alleging that Oyster Bay’s Golden Age and Next Generation housing programs violate federal fair housing law because they give preference to city residents and children of residents who seek the conditions below. housing at market price. Settlement talks in the lawsuit collapsed last year.

The civil lawsuit alleges that the preferences discriminate against blacks because the city is predominantly white and blacks make up a higher percentage of surrounding communities. According to census estimates, in 2014, non-Hispanic whites made up 77.8% of the city’s population of 297,892, and non-Hispanic blacks were 2.8%. For comparison, Nassau County in 2014 had 62% non-Hispanic whites and 11% non-Hispanic blacks, according to census estimates.

The city, which has denied the allegations, created the Golden Age program for seniors in 1993 and the Next Generation program for first-time homebuyers in 2004. The programs allow developers to build denser homes. in return for participating in the city-run program that uses price controls to keep units below the market rate when they are sold and resold.

“The city created and administered the program with residency priorities to help the city’s residents with limited incomes afford to age and stay in their own communities – close to their doctors, family, friends and support systems.” city ​​spokesman Brian Nevin said in a statement.

The city’s preference for the 1,476 Golden Age housing units and the 58 next-generation housing units remained in place, Nevin wrote.

The prosecution was suspended in 2016 during the corruption trials of former city supervisor John Venditto. Venditto was acquitted of federal charges, but pleaded guilty to two state charges. The corruption charges were unrelated to the housing lawsuit.

At a January 23, 2018 city council meeting, Saladino, who took office in 2017, described the lawsuit as “about actions that allegedly took place before any of us became part of the this city council ”, according to a transcript.

Lawyers for the Department of Justice asked the court in an April 15 motion to allow them to depose Saladino, five city council members, the city clerk and the program administrator.

“The depositions of city officials are necessary to fully understand the administration of the programs now,” the US attorney’s office wrote in the petition, noting that Venditto died before he could be filed. “Among other things, the United States is seeking to learn more about the city’s rationale and motives for maintaining the contested residence preference system and witnesses’ knowledge of past rationale and motives.”

The United States Attorney’s Office is also seeking to impeach several attorneys over a 2004 draft memo drafted by Garden City attorneys Berkman, Henoch, Peterson, Peddy & Fenchel PC for the city which the petition says were raising concerns about whether the next generation housing program would violate the Fair Housing Act.

What there is to know

  • The US Department of Justice sued the town of Oyster Bay in 2014, alleging that the town’s senior and next-generation housing programs violate federal fair housing law because they give preference for city residents and children of residents looking for below-market accommodation.
  • The lawsuit alleges that preferences discriminate against blacks because the city is predominantly white while blacks make up a larger percentage of surrounding communities.
  • A city spokesperson said the city created the program with residency priorities to help city residents with limited incomes afford to stay in their own communities.
  • The city’s external legal advisor argued in a court filing on May 25 that the city had already given numerous depositions and that the federal government was on a “fishing expedition.”

The city’s external legal advisor Leo Dorfman of Carle Place-based Sokoloff Stern LLP objected to this in a May 25 court filing, arguing that the city had already made numerous depositions and the government was in “fishing”.

“Now, years later, seemingly frustrated by the reluctance of the current city council to settle the case on the plaintiff’s terms, the plaintiff seeks to remove many current city officials who had nothing to do with the creation or the administration of these programs, ”Dorfman wrote.

Dorfman wrote that any discussions board members had about the programs were in the context of litigation and would be protected by solicitor-client privilege. He wrote that the people the US attorney’s office is seeking to re-file had either answered questions or properly claimed attorney-client privilege. He also argued in the court record that the lawyers involved in the 2004 memo could not be filed due to solicitor-client privilege.

A hearing on the motions is scheduled for Thursday.

Federal government alleges intentional discrimination

The federal government alleges that the city intentionally discriminated against blacks and was also discriminated against by disparate effects. The disparate impact is a legal concept that a policy can be discriminatory if the effect is to deprive protected classes – defined in fair housing law as color, national origin, religion, sex or location. family status – their right to obtain housing.

Not all recent discussions have been in private with lawyers. The senior residence The program, for example, was discussed during a January 28, 2020 city council hearing on a development project at 80 Jericho Tpke. which would include 61 housing units from the Golden Age. At the hearing, Maureen Fitzgerald, commissioner for the Department of Community and Youth Services, told council the program was active.

“We’re still getting inquiries and we’re still selling units,” she said, according to a transcript.

City council voted at a meeting in March 2017 to pay $ 750,000 to Washington, DC-based Covington & Burling LLP to settle $ 1 million in unpaid bills for work on the case and a side case brought by the New York State Division of Human Rights. At the meeting, then-city prosecutor Joseph Nocella said the trial was an attempt to “break up entire neighborhoods and entire communities” and had “frozen our ability to provide housing for the city. golden age for our elderly ”.