Attorney firing splits Mastic Beach board

Mastic Beach village attorney Joseph Prokop. (Dec. 28, Mastic Beach village attorney Joseph Prokop. (Dec. 28, 2008) Photo Credit: Mitch Freedman

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The decision by Mastic Beach trustees to fire attorney Joseph Prokop, who helped orchestrate the creation of the village, remains a divisive issue in the community more than a month later.

The trustees voted during an open meeting on Feb. 8 to release Prokop. Some members of the board later said Prokop failed to give trustees proper guidance about the creation of the village's zoning code. As a result, the process of crafting a zoning code has stalled.

But Prokop's firing has emerged as a dividing line between challengers and incumbents in the second trustee election in the 2-year-old village's history, which is set for Tuesday. Trustees Robert Morrow and Kenneth Olivo are defending their seats against challengers Alan Chasinov and Gail Cappiello.

Chasinov and Cappiello say the public firing illustrates the need for new voices on the board, and the issue has come up at public debates involving Morrow and Olivo.

"Anyone who witnessed it was mortified; there was no reason to do that publicly," Cappiello said, adding that the firing gave the trustees "a black eye."

But Olivo said the firing is a nonissue, as the village is now represented by Lee Snead. "We had lost confidence in the lawyer," Olivo said.

Prokop -- a private attorney who serves as counsel to Greenport village -- could not be reached for comment. He helped guide the incorporation drive that ended with the August 2010 creation of the village.

After his firing, Prokop served as village attorney for the night at a Feb. 14 village board meeting, even though he had officially been dismissed.

Village officials said at the time that they expected Prokop to formally contest his firing; but Prokop filed a letter of resignation on Feb. 24, village officials said.

Snead, whom the trustees hired as village attorney immediately after firing Prokop, said Prokop has "offered any assistance to the village that it may need," and there is "really nothing to talk about."

Mastic Beach's village attorney is paid hourly. Prokop earned $200 per hour, and Snead earns $150 an hour, a village spokesman said.

William Biondi, the village's mayor, who supported the firing, agreed with Olivo and Morrow that the decision to fire the lawyer shouldn't be an issue in the election. Biondi, Olivo and Morrow are members of the Village Vision party, which dominates village government.

"We felt he wasn't doing the right thing for the village," Biondi said.

But Chasinov said the trustees should have handled the firing more privately. "It's just not a fair way to handle it, out in the public like that," he said.

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