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Lawsuit Is Gas To The Fire For Greenburgh Troubles

This story has been corrected. The ruling in the Fortress Bible lawsuit said the town "intentionally violated" constitutional rights. 

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Greenburgh may seem like a quiet New York suburb, but when it comes to town government, nothing can get done without a fight.

The town has faced a number of issues this year — losing a lawsuit against Fortress Bible Church, scrambling to fill the empty WestHELP property, a call from Republicans for an investigation by the state attorney general and dealing with a lawsuit over the Game On 365 lease — and some residents credit Town Supervisor Paul Feiner for the endless debates.

Bob Bernstein, a local attorney and director of the Edgemont Community Council, is among them.

"It's amazing how politicized Mr. Feiner has made the town," Bernstein said. "I have never in my 30 years of practicing law seen any public official who single-handedly causes as much damage to taxpayers' pocketbooks as much as Supervisor Paul Feiner has."

Bernstein, who has been involved in multiple lawsuits against the town as an attorney and as a party, said the Fortress Bible lawsuit will be a major hit for Greenburgh taxpayers. Because the ruling stated that town authorities "intentionally violated" constitutional rights, insurance won't cover the cost of the damages. Instead, that money will flow from taxpayers.

"We don't know how this Town Board will decide this issue," he said. "Whatever the matter, it's going to be a tremendous burden."

According to Nicholas Ward-Willis, an attorney who represents Fortress Bible, the church plans to seek at least $5 million in damages from the town, which may include payments from Greenburgh's six villages as well as unincorporated Greenburgh.

The Town Board has made finding a tenant to lease the WestHELP property an endless battle, as well, as town and county officials continue to butt heads on the issue. Before WestHELP's lease ended last year, the facility was generating $1.2 million annually for the town.

"Feiner had the opportunity to renew the existing lease four years ago," county Legislator Alfreda Williams, who represents Greenburgh, told The Daily Voice in September about WestHELP's $1.2 million lease. "To eliminate a perfectly good affordable housing stock when we still have a need in the county — it doesn't make too much sense to me."

Town officials are now potentially facing an investigation by the state attorney general, whom Westchester County Republican Chairman Douglas Colety called upon after Greenburgh allowed a campaign group supporting President Barack Obama to use space at Town Hall as a phone bank for solicitations.

Terry Williams, a member of the Greenburgh Central School District Board of Education, said it's Feiner's lack of leadership that has caused him to "open up a whole can of worms he can't seem to solve."

"You can only fight so many battles," Williams said. "He's a smart person, there's no doubt about that. But sometimes, the mark of being a leader is being able to say, 'No, that's not a good idea.' That's his problem — he doesn't know how to say no to people."

Feiner said the town's troubles come with the job of being a government official, adding he doesn't think the lawsuit claiming lease violations with Game On will succeed.

"I don't think there's a government in the country that doesn't have lawsuits," he said. "We get lawsuits every day — every government does. Anybody can sue, but it doesn't mean they'll win."

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