Judging from the mood and the questions asked at a special meeting at Island Park Village Hall on Jan. 9 to address the consent agreement between the village and the federal government that would finally end a decades-old lawsuit, residents agreed with attorney Paul Millus that the community dodged a $5.4 million bullet, which would have cost every homeowner in the village more than $1,130.
The federal suit, initially filed in 1995, alleged that the village discriminated against minorities and violated the mandates of a federal housing program in 1990, when homes meant for low-income minorities went instead to town residents and insiders, none of whom were minorities. A court decree issued in 1995 ordered that the town pay a penalty of $5.4 million. For the last 18 years, town attorneys have been fighting that judgment, arguing that paying it would effectively bankrupt the village.
Those negotiations led to the agreement signed last November.
Under the consent agreement, signed by Millus and U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, the judgment was reduced to $1.9 million, with $900,000 to be paid by the village’s insurance carrier. At press time, the agreement was awaiting the signature of U.S. District Judge I. Leo Glasser. Millus said at the meeting that Glasser’s signature was largely a formality. “I am hoping it will be signed tonight, or at least by Monday [Jan. 13],” he said.
Of the 80 people who crowded into the small meeting room — which usually serves as the village courtroom — only four had comments or questions, and most of the questions focused on the town’s actions early in the lawsuit, how attorneys were paid, the residents who were part of the lawsuit and the payout the consent agreement mandates.
Millus outlined the history of the suit and its ramifications for current taxpayers. “This is the end of a long, tortured story,” he said. “It’s pointless to review the past, but as soon as the judge signs off on the agreement, this two-decade nightmare will be over.