It took the deaths of two innocent people at Evergreen Court Nursing Home– volunteer firefighter Jared Lloyd and 79-year-old resident Oliver Hueston—for New York State to finally intervene in the quagmire known as the Spring Valley Building Department. Six people have been charged in connection with the deadly fire that saw the four-story nursing facility burn to the ground on March 23, 2021, two of them former employees of the Spring Valley Building Department. That tragedy, coupled with years of mismanagement, prompted the state to order Rockland’s government to assume responsibility for enforcing building codes in the village.
The Legislature finally voted Tuesday evening to create the Office of Buildings & Codes, but it failed to obtain enough “yea” votes for $1.5 million to fund it after three legislators abruptly exited the WebEx meeting: Toney Earl (who earlier said he had spoken with Lloyd’s mother before the meeting); Alden Wolfe; and Aney Paul faded from sight after the vote to create the new department was taken. Chairman Jay Hood vowed to complete the task of funding the new department before the February 14 deadline.
“I’m extremely disappointed that three legislators disappeared from the session,” said Legislator Lon Hofstein. “To suddenly sandbag this movement is an embarrassment…when they come back and say they ‘feel terrible’ about what’s transpired, I hope (the public) will come and challenge them.”
County Executive Ed Day expressed similar frustration in a statement shared with the Rockland Times
“Regardless of this attempt to sabotage our process, we are moving forward. While I have been assured by Chairman Jay Hood that these Resolutions will be voted on during a special meeting of the Legislature on Tuesday, February 8th we are preparing for every eventuality,” wrote Day.
Prior to the meeting, Legislator’s Earl and Wolfe had requested to leave the session after the vote to establish the new department, according to a statement issued by the county legislature, while Legislator Paul reported having technical issues while attempting to connect to the WebEx interface.
Legislator Wolfe, speaking for his colleagues, stated that their absence was not intended to disrupt the formation of the new department. “The simple fact is that Legislators Earl, Paul and myself all oppose illegal housing and support proper code enforcement in the Village of Spring Valley and across the county. If we had been at the meeting we would have supported waiving the rules and adopted the measures. The truth will be borne out at the next meeting with our votes,” wrote Wolfe.
Spring Valley’s building department’s employees, record keeping software and equipment will be maintained by Spring Valley Building Department’s current employees under the supervision of the new Office of Buildings & Codes. Executive Day chose former Suffern mayor Edward Markunas as director of the new agency, 20-year veteran of police department who created a similar building code initiative for the Village of Suffern. Markunas expressed his concern “for Spring Valley first responders and for every resident that lives here. This is only the beginning. We need to fix the conditions that exist in the village of Spring Valley. I believe I’m the man to manage this department appropriately and fairly and appropriately enforce the codes that we will adopt in the county of Rockland. The goal is compliance.”
Representatives from Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods were hoping to see both CUPON and Rockland County Illegal Housing Task Force members working with the process of cleaning up the code violations that have run rampant in the Town of Ramapo. Legislator James Foley thanked both groups, saying “I wish all of you were part of the solution—there’s a very dangerous situation going on here.” No doubt both groups will continue to keep the public informed of how the new Rockland Building & Code Dept. fares in trying to straighten out the crazy quilt of building code violations in Spring Valley before returning the department to the jurisdiction of the village.