“Lack of Humanity” at Peekskill Meeting, City Attorney Says

Mayor Mary Foster shut down the May 9 Common Council meeting after the city’s corporation counsel told the crowd that she will not stand for the “lack of humanity” displayed at meetings.

“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

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Jay May 10, 2011 at 04:16 AM
ah....Peekskill. I'm sure they had a list of someone more qualified for the job. :-) You get jobs through networking and experience. Chances are if you know someone at the job you're applying for, it's a good sign for you. That's how things work. I probably wouldn't have my current job if my skills and reputation from my old job hadn't been brought up by someone I worked with previously. Question really is...how well did they work together and what did they do? Cuz if they did a good job...then...
leesther brown May 10, 2011 at 05:34 AM
This the second time this woman has attacked someone who questioned the Mayor on recent job appointments (Corp/Asst Counsel) The Mayor had no reason to close the meeting,my question was valid and with concern considering the many hot button issues facing the city. Giving Shapiro/Nelson's rant there's truth to the saying "It Only Takes One To Puncture A Conscious"
Patty Villanova May 10, 2011 at 11:53 AM
I attended the meeting last night and spoke first, before the circus began, to tender my resignation from the Peekskill BID. The issues I addressed in my remarks speak directly to the real issues affecting Peekskill, including the total lack of leadership that has been shown by Mayor Foster and the council members in dealing with the thuggery they have allowed to take place at their meetings. Darrel Davis and his crew are outside agitators who are playing the race card for everthing it's worth. Foster et al are such politically correct, bleeding heart liberals, that they're afraid to do anything, even at the expense of the civil rights of the other citizens who take time out of their busy lives to attend the meetings. Instead of instructing one of the 4 cops who was there last night or the chief Tumolo, to remove Davis from the room after he was done speaking, Foster allowed the disruption & shut down the meeting. I give Ms. Nelson a lot of credit for her courage in standing up for herself. I hope that Liz will cover the other important things that occurred at the meeting, not just the sensationalism.
Frank Cimino May 10, 2011 at 12:57 PM
Watching the video above I can't help but wonder how it is appropriate or in any way respectful to call the Mayor or any elected official disparaging names. This is a disgrace. Issues and causes become begnin when you show a lack of respect for any human being. Additionally, the meetings follow procedure for all to comment. So lets follow protocol for the benefit of all. Rules require we all have to wait until the end of the meeting to ask a question or speak on any concerns you might have. We cannot move items forward when theres a combative spirit.
leesther brown May 10, 2011 at 01:33 PM
I was at the podium and not once did I utter a word of disrespect, I welcomed the new Asst Corp Counsel,then asked about her being of Counsel in New Rochelle during Shapiro/Nelson's tenure in New Rochelle, I was leading to the fact that she is a personal injury attorney,and the fact that Shapiro/Nelson has to abstain from two hot button issues in the city (White Plains Linen,and the Cove) but before I could get it out the Corp Counsel became combative,I certainly did not say a disparaging word to either the Mayor,or Counsel Shapiro. The Patch should have put up the tape in it's entirety and you will see that there was nothing said that warranted Shapiro/Nelsons outburst,but I will say she said what the Mayor should have said long ago,and to Mr. Cimino I will urge you that while the Mayor is ticking you with one hand watch what she's doing with the other,ask Patty she'll tell you.
Patty Villanova May 10, 2011 at 01:58 PM
I was there the first time Leesther tried to speak, the operative word being "tried." This was not on the tape with this article, but it's probably on the City's website. Leesther is not the problem. She was respectful to the Mayor, but the Mayor did not react in kind, and tried to bait her. Leesther went back to her seat and did not instigate anything. The mayor and council over-reacted because of the Davis crew that was lurking about in the back of the room. Leesther, to her credit, is not playing the race card; unlike many, she is aware of what the real problems are with our city- conflicts of interest, corruption and cronyism. I applaud Leesther for having the character to stand up for what she believes in, despite the efforts of politicians (black, white, Republican & Democrat) who try to marginalize her. Instead of responding to the genuine concerns that have been voiced by myself, Leesther and others, the politicians engage in character assassination of the worst kind. This beautiful city with its many wonderful people, is being destroyed by the rapacious politicians and bureaucrats who are only interested in making money off the backs of the poor and disadvantaged whom they profess to serve. No wonder they have no interest in promoting small businesses- there's just not enough money compared to what they get for serving the poverty industry.
leesther brown May 10, 2011 at 02:46 PM
Liz Giegerich May 10, 2011 at 02:48 PM
Thank you for your comments. I did not tape the entire meeting, which is why Leesther's first comments are not shown. You can find the full video of the meeting on the city's website here: http://www.cityofpeekskill.com/videos. More on the meeting to come on Patch later today.
leesther brown May 10, 2011 at 02:53 PM
Leslie Lawler May 10, 2011 at 03:33 PM
When a single voice controls the forum and shuts the sound of the people out, it is no longer democracy, but dictatorship. I, too, attended last night's meeting, and what I find completely puzzling, is although the Mayor was quick to grab her new toy and start banging the gavel (as she laughs at her Corp Counsel's complete lack of decorum and professionalism) she chose to linger about continuing to banter with Mr. Davis. While the rest of the Council filed out, she chose to confront him at the podium to continue the drama. Watch the tape, folks, and assess for yourself. This is shameful government. If elected officials do not comprehend that their actions will be questioned by the voting and taxpaying public, may I suggest they step down. The only thing Ms. Brown is guilty of is bringing the truth to the podium and she had every right to pose the questions she did. Every resident has that right. Councilwoman McGowan publicly stated so at the last Council mtg. Lastly, shame on Don Bennett for failing to recuse himself from the bid award to Manzer Landscaping. Mr. Bennett's campaign disclosure statements do show that he took campaign contributions from Manzer, and yet he voted in favor of the bid award last night. Shameful.
elizabeth mclaughlin May 14, 2011 at 06:43 PM
I am not a Peekskill resident but I find that a citizen can comment and it really does not matter. They go ahead and do what they want to do anyway. It is best to educate yourself on COMMON LAW and practice it.
elizabeth mclaughlin May 14, 2011 at 07:08 PM
What the citizens fail to realize is that debt brought onto the community by greed. They fell for the ponzi and the grants, programs for projects etc. that can not be supported by the taxpayers. All planned by the EU and Cuomo knows it too. Until the State declares the debt as a fraud for what it is you will continue to see it running rampant throughout government. The State must rid itself from the EU, WTO, UN, IMF. Why has the Attny General even allowed interest rates on credit cards to even be manipulated at exhorbanant rates to bankrupt most citizens? How come FICO clients never been investigated? Or why has FICO = Fair Issac Corp never been regulated? I pray for us all.
Luci Vale June 13, 2012 at 06:09 PM
I have lived in Peekskill for 2 1/2 years now, and very concerned about the future of this city. Bernis Nelson is a fine person, and I trust her judgement. For her to be so obviously frustrated with the present management, then abruptly packing up to walk out of the meeting speaks volumes. I was not at the meeting on Monday night, but did see the whole chaotic episode on video today. How outrageous, and disapointing to see something like this happen here. It has become much too complicated for the average person to understand this polical machine, so that may be why they have given up on trusting their leadership. Something is not right with this management, and it needs to be addressed now.


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