“You can fire me if you want to, but I am going to speak on some issues,” Peekskill’s new corporation counsel Bernis Nelson told council members last night as she struggled to make her way to the podium.
The Mayor and council members had asked Nelson not to speak in response to Peekskill resident Leesther Brown’s accusation that the newly appointed assistant corporation counsel, Marie Hodukavich, was hired because she is Nelson’s “home girl,” because the two attorneys had worked together before. Brown also stated that Hodukavich's background was in personal injury law, and asked if she was qualified to handle the city's heavier legal issues.
After failing to make it past city manager Rick Finn’s seat to reach the podium, Nelson interrupted Brown and spoke from where she stood.
“There is a lack of humanity from person to person,” Nelson said of what she’s observed at council meetings.
“We are all human beings, we all came out of the same place…and we are all going to one day go to the same place all together,” Nelson continued, pointing her finger at the crowd.
Hodukavich had just been appointed as the new assistant corporation counsel about 30 minutes earlier. During the citizens desiring to be heard portion of the meeting Brown said that Hodukavich and Nelson had worked together before in New Rochelle. Mayor Foster and city manager Finn explained the city had reviewed a number of resumes and interviews and had decided on Hodukavich, who's resume can be found here on the city's website. Hodukavich served as special counsel to the city of New Rochelle from 1999 to 2009, during which time Nelson worked as Corporation Counsel of the City of New Rochelle (Nelson was in New Rochelle from 1997 – 2009). Nelson started as Peekskill's corporation counsel after serving 14 months in that position for the City of Newburgh.
As Brown started to respond to Nelson, asking if Hodukavich had the necessary background to serve in her new staff position, Mayor Foster pounded the gavel and ended the meeting, sparking uproar in the crowd. Foster and council members exited council chambers as CPARC’s Tracy Breneman and Committee for Justice’s Darrell Davis flung accusations of racism and failure to follow procedure in their direction. Breneman, Davis and their supporters were angry that the early adjournment had eliminated their chance to speak at the podium.
Watch Nelson's remarks and the end of the meeting in the video above. To view the entire video of the Common Council meeting click here.