Tennis instructor faults Mount Vernon mayor in court dispute

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MOUNT VERNON -

The owner of the Kela Tennis Center in Mount Vernon's Memorial Field is serving up accusations that Mayor Richard Thomas caused about $1 million in damage to an air bubble he had installed over the field -- deflating it overnight in a surprise drop shot.

Kela Simunyola says that in the middle of the night Thursday, workers cut the power and deflated the bubble as police stood by.

That came after Thomas called for the tennis center to vacate the courts as part of his plan to revitalize Memorial Field.

But Simunyola has a 15-year lease. He says his attorneys advised him to remain in place because he is operating a legal business.

Thomas was heckled relentlessly Friday as he tried to explain why he sent in crews in the middle of the night to deflate the bubble protecting the clay courts.

Thomas says he's reclaiming two of the tennis courts to widen the track at Memorial Field. He also said he tore up Simunyola’s lease because he insisted that they owe the city a lot of money.

“Our taxpayers are owed half a million dollars in back rent. I don't know where else you can have a free business dump on a public park and have no actions to find anyone responsible,” said Thomas.

City Councilman Marcus Griffith says the mayor was too heavy handed and is hurting the very people he promised to protect.

“This bubble cost $1 million for Kela and without moving the stuff underneath, it's damaged and it's a waste of $1 million. The mayor did it all wrong,” said Griffith.

The owners of Kela Tennis Center say they are not going out without a fight. They say they plan to take the mayor to court and fight to keep their tennis courts.

City Council members passed a resolution Friday night to turn over the renovation of Memorial Field to the county.

Thomas has 10 days to respond to the resolution, and he has the power to veto it.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer released a statement Friday night saying he's pleased with the council's vote, adding that the county is prepared to go in and get the work done.

Thomas responded in a statement saying, "The process involves removing both the dirty dirt and tenants that refuse to pay back-rent amounting to more than hundreds of thousands. We will give Mount Vernon back a bigger, better revenue-generating Memorial Field no matter what is in the way."

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