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Aug 22, 2008 11:05 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Catz resigns from school board

Aug 22, 2008 11:05 AM

The Hampton Bays School Board now has one vacancy after Chris Catz, sentenced last week for stealing more than $16,500 in loose coins from his former employer, formally resigned from the board last Thursday, August 21.

Mr. Catz stepped down after being sentenced to a three-year conditional discharge last week for stealing money from Verizon Communications. He was terminated from his post after the thefts were discovered.

Now that he is considered a convicted felon, Mr. Catz could no longer serve on the School Board, according to New York State Public Officers Law. Mr. Catz was arrested in January 2007 and was charged with one count each of third- and fourth-degree grand larceny, both felonies. The third-degree grand larceny charge was dropped in exchange for his pleading guilty to the lesser charge.

Hampton Bays School District Superintendent Joanne Loewenthal said this week she has provided the remaining four members sitting on the board with the option of either holding a special election or appointing someone to fill the vacant seat. The School Board, which has five seats, could also technically leave the seat empty until Mr. Catz’s term expires on June 30, 2009. However, an attorney for the district has advised the board to fill the seat as soon as possible.

The issue will most likely be discussed during the next board meeting scheduled for Tuesday, September 16. “The board will talk about it at the next meeting,” Ms. Loewenthal said. “It’s up to them to fill [the seat].”

Ms. Loewenthal added that, in her experience, many school boards in a similar position decide to appoint someone to fill a vacancy, as holding a special election is both costly and time consuming. “There are always costs associated with special elections,” she said.

School Board President Doug Oakland said on Wednesday that no decisions have been made regarding the board vacancy. “We haven’t had a chance to meet yet,” he said. “We are having a meeting on this soon and we will discuss our options.”

However, Mr. Oakland did indicate that the board would most likely come to a decision before the next month’s board meeting.

The three other School Board members—George Leeman, Marie Mulcahy and Lisa Fotopolous—could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Catz was arrested in January 2007 and accused of stealing the change from the coin vaults of Verizon pay phones over a three-month period, beginning in September 2006. He was terminated from the company in December 2006.

Although the conditional discharge allows Mr. Catz to avoid both jail time and probation, he must avoid any arrests within the next three years or the court will most likely revisit his case, as well as prosecute him for the theft.

Mr. Catz, who is married with two children, has previously declined to comment on his arrest and subsequent plea deal. His attorney, Patrick O’Connell of Central Islip, has not returned calls seeking comment.

Investigators with the Suffolk County district attorney’s office previously stated that they have surveillance video, provided by Verizon, that shows Mr. Catz removing money from the coin vaults. During their investigation, detectives learned that Mr. Catz cashed the stolen change in $99 increments at different Coinstar self-service coin processing machines in western Long Island.

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