2004-07-02 / Front Page

Pheffer: Parks Dept. Top Dogs Are Liars Meanwhile, Cat Has Benepe and Kavanagh’s Tongue

By Brian Magoolaghan

Pheffer: Parks Dept. Top Dogs Are Liars
Meanwhile, Cat Has Benepe and Kavanagh's Tongue

By Brian Magoolaghan

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer threw down her gloves this week and charged the commissioner of the Department of Parks Recreation and his deputy with lying and dancing around two of Rockaway's major beach issues.

"He's a liar!" Pheffer said of Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe this week. That allegation from Rockaway's senior political leader follows last week's Wave Page 1 story describing the he-said-she-said mess between Pheffer, City Councilman Joe Addabbo Jr. and top Parks Department officials - with the future of "surfing only" and "fishing only" beaches languishing in the balance.

"They are dancing on this and being very unfair," said Pheffer.

For more than a year Addabbo said all that the city wanted, before designating beaches specifically for those recreational purposes, was for the state to clarify their definition of "bathing" to exclude fishing, scuba diving and surfing. Benepe and Corporation Counsel, legal representatives for the city, with whom Addabbo maintained close liaison, said the change would protect the city against lawsuits. Corporation Counsel, however, could not cite one open surfing-related suit against the city.

Pheffer was approached with introducing the clarification at the end of last summer and a 10-month-long process began. News that the state had approved the change became public early last month and Addabbo told The Wave that he was working with Corporation Counsel and Parks to be "ahead of the curve" when the state officially adopted the change on June 23.

But Corporation Counsel and Parks had a different reaction to the news: City lawyers said it was a Parks issue and Kavanagh said his department would not take action until a second state-level change to the general liability law took place. Kavanagh told The Wave that that he and Benepe were up front about that from the get-go.

In a recent interview, Kavanagh made similar claims and said Parks had sent a letter to the state Department of Health during an open comment period. Kavanagh backed away from that statement when he was told that The Wave had obtained copies of all of the correspondence under the Freedom of Information Law, and that nothing from Parks was included. The only city agency to weigh in on the issue was the Department of Environmental Protection, according to the Assessment of Public Comment contained in the state register.

Pheffer and Addabbo adamantly reject Kavanagh's assertion as well.

"As far as I'm concerned, [the bathing clarification] is the only piece of legislation we discussed," Addabbo said.

Pheffer, who was in the hot seat while the bathing clarification worked through the state legislature, took a more rigid stance.

"For [Kavanagh] to say that was always part of the conversation is a lie," Pheffer charged. "I know exactly when this was discussed."

Pheffer says she talked with Benepe twice in April, once at Gracie Mansion and again in Broad Channel, and with Kavanagh at the local beach opening ceremony on Friday May 28 - and that while a change to the general liability law was discussed, it was separate from the surfing, fishing and scuba diving issues.

That act, which was introduced in the assembly on April 20, calls for an amendment to the general obligations law to exempt "the state and public corporations from liability for injury to property or personal injury, including death, of persons who use public beaches for fishing, surfboarding or scuba diving when lifeguards are not on duty." Pheffer says it's going to be tough to pass, because limiting liability is traditionally difficult for legislators.

Addabbo was trying to contact Benepe at press time. Calls to Parks for comment went unreturned.

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