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Recent Press Releases from Westchester County Board of Legislators [Democrats]

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Recent Press Releases from Westchester County Board of Legislators [Democrats]

April 12, 2012 - 12:39

KenJenkinsThe Office of the Westchester County Board of Legislators and the Office of the Westchester County Executive are prolific generators of press releases. From time to time, Talk of the Sound just cannot keep up. Rather than catch up by ignoring the backlog, we prefer to publish the entire backlog from the past month in one shot and then get back on track with new ones. Below are recent announcements from the Westchester County Board of Legislators and County Democrats. For a similar batch of press releases from Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and County Republicans click here.

Compensation Advisory Board Proposed to Be Nixed By Westchester Legislators

(White Plains, NY) -- Citing the difficult economic climate, county lawmakers’ salaries and stipends will remain at present levels during the 2012-2013 legislative term, and so the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) have scheduled a public hearing on whether to suspend the requirement that establishes the Compensation Advisory Board this year. The public hearing was approved tonight at the BOL’s regular meeting and will be held at the BOL’s next meeting on Monday, March 26.

The laws of Westchester mandate that the BOL create the Compensation Advisory Board in January of even-numbered years, whether changes in compensation are being sought or not. This advisory board then deliberates on salary, stipends, benefits, reimbursement for expenses and all other forms of compensation to the legislators, and makes recommendations.

The last time the Compensation Advisory Board met was in 2008, when it issued a report that recommended a salary increase for the legislators—just as the national economy was turning for the worse. The recommendation was not accepted by the BOL, and neither were the two prior advisory board recommendations for salary increases. In 2010, the BOL voted to suspend creation of the Compensation Advisory Board for two years; now, the BOL is moving forward with legislation that would suspend creation of the advisory board this year.

“It is just a waste of time, money and energy to ask good citizens of our county to meet and make salary recommendations that are not going to be approved by the Board of Legislators, who know well enough that many of our residents are still dealing with rough economic conditions,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers). “As public servants, we need to lead by example, and that’s why we are committing to no salary increases—once again.”

Westchester legislators make $49,500 a year, with stipends between $3000 and $9000 available for committee chairs and other board positions. Because the BOL voted in 2010 to have its members contribute to health care costs, the legislators are actually bringing home less money in their paychecks.

County’s New Local Development Corporation Draws Guarded Optimism from Legislators

(White Plains, NY) -- Several members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) expressed cautious and guarded optimism regarding today’s first meeting of Westchester County’s Local Development Corporation (LDC). While LDCs are certainly useful in being able to raise private funding and qualify for grants to benefit small businesses and not-for-profit organizations, they have often drawn criticism for existing outside the purview of public scrutiny and laws governing local government operations.

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli issued a report recently stating that use of LDCs was “out of control” and offered a number of reforms to limit their use by local governments. Too often public funds were being used to subsidize questionable activities without much input or monitoring granted to the public.

“Helping to bolster the county’s economic activity is a laudable goal, but efforts in this regard accomplished under the auspices of Westchester government need to be fully transparent and accountable to residents and business owners,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers). “Right now, too many negotiations involving taxpayer dollars are being made behind closed doors without the scrutiny of the public and those elected provide oversight.”

Today’s organizational meeting of the Westchester LDC was helmed by the chair and vice chair of the Industrial Development Agency of Westchester (IDA)—respectively, Stephen J. Hunt and Westchester County’s Deputy County Executive, Kevin J. Plunkett. Also, the Westchester IDA’s executive director, Eileen Mildenberger, was today approved as the LDC’s executive director. Last summer, Mildenberger contacted NY State Senator Greg Ball (R, C-Patterson) and asked him to block a Home Rule bill in the Senate that would allow the BOL to appoint a non-voting representative (not a legislator) to the Westchester IDA board in order to establish a pathway for information to and from the BOL. The legislation was re-introduced in the state legislature this year and has once again passed in the NYS Assembly.

“This confluence of the IDA and LDC boards cannot be good for Westchester,” said Legislator Judy Myers (D-Larchmont), chair of the BOL’s Budget & Appropriations Committee. “Right now, there are questions about the number of jobs created or retained by the IDA, the scope of IDA oversight and project eligibility. The assistance an LDC may be able to offer has to be weighed against the extent and transparency of that assistance.”

The comptroller’s report noted that LDCs can be a good idea, but have been put to bad use “in too many cases.” The report calls for reforms like greater audit authority of LDCs and preventing LDCs from financing local government operations. Contracts also need to be limited to five years and board members should be prohibited from receiving additional compensation if they already serve as officers or employees of the governments and municipalities that will be served, the report also advised.

Additional reforms suggested by Comptroller DiNapoli regard prohibiting the creation of LDCs for the purpose of simply “lessening government” or “acting in the public interest” while being utilized to finance projects and programs not related to economic development, as well as requiring contracts between an LDC and a local government to be of fair market value. DiNapoli’s report also called for public notice for any proposed transfer of municipal-owned property to an LDC, with the price or benefit to the local government plainly set forth. Finally, the report asked that no local government or school district assume the debt of the LDC formed to help said government or school district.

Last month, Comptroller DiNapoli issued an audit of the Ramapo Local Development Corporation and found that financing for a new minor league baseball stadium may end up costing local taxpayers up to $60 million.

“We need more information on how the Westchester LDC will operate, and we’re hopeful that the full scope of its activities will be shared with the Board of Legislators,” said Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson), chair of the BOL Appointments Committee. “In the end, any public funding deserves public scrutiny, and LDCs should not be used to hide public debt or tax breaks.”

Statement from Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Jenkins on Governor Cuomo’s Pension Reform Plan

“It is widely known that neither local governments nor taxpayers can continue to afford New York State’s ever-increasing pension costs. Governor Cuomo’s pension reform plan will provide enormous relief for Westchester taxpayers who are burdened with some of the highest property taxes in the nation. Governor Cuomo has taken the right step in putting forward this reasonable plan that, now passed by the legislature, will help municipalities balance budgets and continue to provide critical services to New Yorkers.

Kaplowitz Statement On Magistrate's Affordable Housing Ruling

“As a member of the Westchester County Legislature who voted to support the Housing Settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), I applaud the ruling by United States Magistrate Gabriel Gorenstein. This ruling affirms the proposition that the primary obligation of the County in regard to the housing settlement is to assist in the building of as many as 750 Fair and Affordable Housing Units, using the $51.6 million that was set aside for this purpose. Once this is achieved, the County has met its side of the bargain. End of obligation, end of monitor, end of story.”

Republican Legislators Push Back Vote on Compensation Advisory Board

(White Plains, NY) -- The Republican caucus of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL), after spending the last two weeks publicly advocating for the reconvening of the citizen-led Compensation Advisory Board, suddenly pushed back the vote on the issue at tonight’s regular meeting of the BOL.

The proposed legislation, if passed, would suspend the requirement that establishes the Compensation Advisory Board this year, thus ensuring that the lawmakers will not receive salary increases for the 2012-2013 legislative term.

Legislator Gordon Burrows (R-Yonkers), the BOL’s Minority Whip, called for the vote to be held over until the BOL’s next regular meeting on Monday, April 16. The Compensation Advisory Board, by law, is supposed to present its recommendations no later than April 30 though. If County Executive Robert P. Astorino uses all of the time allotted to him to consider the legislation, it would not be returned for another vote until April 28, leaving the Compensation Board with little time to do its job.

The laws of Westchester mandate that the BOL create the Compensation Advisory Board in January of even-numbered years, whether changes in compensation are being sought or not. This advisory board then deliberates on salary, stipends, benefits, reimbursement for expenses and all other forms of compensation to the legislators, and makes recommendations. But with the economy still recovering, the legislators had no interest in boosting their pay.

“Since we are not pursuing salary increases, there is no reason to convene a board of citizens to discuss the issue,” said Judy Myers (D-Larchmont), chair of the BOL’s Budget & Appropriations Committee. “Frankly, I’m surprised my Republican colleagues spent so much time and energy on this subject. We have so many more important things to work on, like investing in our infrastructure and protecting services for Westchester residents who need them.”

The last time the Compensation Advisory Board met was in 2008, noted Myers, when it issued a report that recommended a salary increase for the legislators—just as the national economy was turning for the worse.

The Advisory Board, then chaired by Westchester County Association President William Mooney, Sr., actually framed its recommendation within the context of the worsening economic crisis, implying it would have called for even higher salary increases for the legislators. Even so, the Compensation Board thought legislators should receive a 7.5% increase, which was consistent with a 2.5% increase in the Consumer Price Index experienced in the three years since salaries were last looked at. The Chairman would receive a $3000 increase in his stipend. Committee chair stipends would increase by $1000.

These recommendations were not accepted by the BOL, and neither were the two prior advisory board recommendations for salary increases.

In 2010, the BOL voted to suspend creation of the Compensation Advisory Board for two years because the legislators were not going to look for salary increases at a time when many in Westchester were still suffering from the economic downturn.

“Because the legislators have not received a salary increase in nearly a decade, there is no reason to think that the Compensation Advisory Board would come to any conclusion other than wanting to advance our salaries and stipends,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers). “But an increase is not on the table for this term, at all, so it is just a waste of time, money and energy to ask citizens of our county to meet and make salary recommendations that are not going to be approved by the Board of Legislators.”

Westchester legislators make $49,500 a year, with stipends between $3000 and $9000 available for committee chairs and other board positions. Because the BOL voted to have its members contribute to health care costs, the legislators are actually bringing home less money in their paychecks.

Added Legislator Pete Harckham (D-Katonah), the BOL’s Majority Leader: “If the County Executive plans to veto this legislation, then he should be prepared to explain why he thinks the legislators’ salaries need to be adjusted, either upward or downward, and explain the two million dollar increase for 2012 salaries in his office as well.”

Westchester Legislators Approve Extension of Term for County Charter Revision Commission

(White Plains, NY) -- The Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) approved an extension of the term for the Westchester County Charter Revision Commission (WCCRC) last night in a bi-partisan, unanimous vote held at the BOL’s regular meeting.

The original legislation creating the 23 member WCCRC required that, amongst its duties and responsibilities, a final report of its findings, conclusions and recommendations be presented to the BOL and the County Executive by April 30, 2012. In addition, the legislation mandated that the WCCRC be terminated on June 30, 2012, unless the BOL voted to extend its term.

The BOL vote last night extends the WCCRC term until December 31, 2013, with a final report due by December 15, 2013.

“The comprehensive and diligent efforts demonstrated by the members of the County Charter Revision Commission since their first meeting last June have amply demonstrated the worthiness and importance of their mission,” said Legislator Bill Ryan (D-White Plains), chair of the BOL’s Legislation Committee. “I’m pleased that my colleagues on the Board recognize the Commission’s steady progress toward reaching its conclusions. Giving the Commission’s members extra time to do their job makes sense.”

The WCCRC, led by its Chairman Richard Wishnie, has been spent a good deal of time talking with various members of Westchester County government, and learning more about the County Charter, the Administrative Code and the daily operations and responsibilities of the numerous departments of the county government.

County Board Leaders Seek Court Ruling to Make County Exec Follow the Law

(White Plains, NY) -- Three leaders of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL)—Chairman Jenkins (D-Yonkers), Vice Chair Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) and Majority Leader Peter Harckham (D-Katonah)—filed court papers today that call for a preliminary injunction directing County Executive Robert P. Astorino and his Administration to comply, implement and enforce the laws of Westchester.

At the BOL’s Committee of the Whole meeting on March 12, 2012, Republican Legislator Gordon Burrows, a practicing attorney, stated that the County Executive “should file a motion” if he wants to challenge a law.

“This legal action for declarative judgment is being undertaken as a matter of last resort and with great reluctance,” said Jenkins. “County Executive Astorino and the members of his Administration were given numerous opportunities to abide by local laws and the County Charter. Their stubborn, obstinate refusal to heed the laws of Westchester now jeopardizes over $80 million in contracts.”

Added Jenkins: “The Astorino Administration has insisted it does not need to follow the laws of Westchester County, and this continues to affect the working of County government. This lawsuit is about seeking clarity and closure in order to move forward with the business of governance for the residents of Westchester.”

While members of the Board of Legislators have experienced numerous instances in which County Executive Astorino and members of his Administration have deliberately and knowingly disregarded the County Charter and laws of Westchester, at the root of this lawsuit is a conflict regarding the County’s Board of Acquisition and Contract (A&C), which handles contracts for capital projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars yearly for Westchester.

In December 2011, the BOL voted to change the composition of the three-member A&C Board, replacing the Commissioner of the Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) with the County Budget Director. Both positions are named by the County Executive and are subject to BOL approval. The County Executive and BOL Chairman make up the other two A&C members. Even after the law was duly filed with New York State, however, Astorino continued to direct the DPWT Commissioner to sit at the A&C meetings—and vote.

Exacerbating the issue further, Jay Pisco, named by Astorino as DPWT Commissioner, had his nomination rejected by the BOL. Yet he continues to serve as “Commissioner” and participate at the A&C meetings. Up to now, County Executive Astorino has relied on an opinion from County Attorney Robert Meehan—whom he hired and is charged by the County Charter to work for the entire county government, not just the executive branch—to disregard the laws on A&C membership and BOL approvals of Commissioners because of “procedural” reasons.

“A Law is a law, and the rule of law must apply to everyone, regardless of their position or office,” said Williams, a practicing attorney. “That means the County Executive and members of his Administration must abide by the law like any other citizen. Also, the County Attorney should not be advising anyone to break the law. Only a court can decide a disagreement of law—not the county attorney. We’re taking this action to restore trust and confidence in Westchester government. The County Executive’s continuing unlawful actions need to be stopped now—tens of millions of taxpayer dollars are at risk.”

“The people of Westchester should know this is the most serious and profound challenge to open government in anyone’s memory,” Williams continued. “Through his actions, Astorino is ignoring one of the most basic and hallowed principles of our democracy—the Separation of Powers. The County Executive has been disregarding the laws of Westchester for almost two-and-a-half years. Now, a court should rule whether County Executive Astorino should follow a legally enacted law, or not. We’ll respect the judge’s ruling either way, and we invite the Administration to do so as well.”

Prior to the lawsuit, the BOL asked the Administration to seek judicial clarity on the issue of the A&C Board composition jointly, but the Administration declined.

No one is denying the facts here.

The BOL approved legislation last December, which was vetoed, and then legally and lawfully overridden, to remove the Commissioner of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) from the A&C Board and replace him with the County Budget Director.

Now, the Acquisitions & Contract Board is operating illegally and making decisions on behalf of the residents of Westchester with a vote made by an individual seated illegally at the Board.

Chairman Jenkins, along with Vice Chair Williams and Majority Leader Harckham acting in place of the BOL Chairman at recent A&C meetings during his absence, protested to the County Executive and the Deputy County Executive that the composition of the A&C Board had been changed by law, and that the proceedings and votes from Jay Pisco would be illegal. At each meeting, the objections and protests were duly noted for the record, and the A&C meeting proceeded anyway.

Indeed, County Executive Astorino has indicated that A&C will continue to meet with Pisco at the table, regardless of local laws and BOL protests.

“Any challenges to a local law must be brought to court,” said Harckham. “County Attorney Meehan’s opinion that a mandatory referendum is needed to change the local law is just that—an opinion, and no different from any else’s opinion on the subject. The county attorney’s opinion here is also irrelevant. A law is a law until ruled on by courts.”

The three plaintiffs agree that County Executive Astorino has failed to enforce the provisions of a local law, thus violating his statutory duty as written as law in the County Charter, and that too much County business is now being accomplished in this illegal fashion.

“Staying silent, and allowing the Board of Acquisition and Contract to continue as such with Mr. Pisco at the table is akin to acquiescing, which is contrary to oaths of office we have taken,” said Harckham. “Now we have reached the tipping point.”

Legislators Jenkins, Williams and Harckham remarked that they were troubled when County Executive Astorino’s Administration, operating illegally and without transparency in the County’s Board of Acquisition & Contract (A&C), “approved” a $13 million capital project on February 16 without first presenting it to the BOL—contrary to the laws set in the County Charter—for any discussion, vetting or due diligence whatsoever regarding the funding, despite information about bonding options that could save the County over $1 million. As it stands, this project would be subject to a public referendum since it exceeds the County’s bond cap of ten million dollars.

Moreover, the 2-1 voted A&C “approval” included an illegal vote from Pisco, whose appointment as Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPW) was turned down by the BOL on Monday, February 13 at its regular meeting. Because the BOL voted not to refer his appointment, already back dated to January 23, 2012, to the BOL Committee on Appointments, he is not able to legally act as Commissioner or vote on County matters as specified by the position. Section 110.21 of the County Charter explicitly states the Commissioner and Acting Commissioners need BOL approval before they can assume the duties of the office.

Pisco’s appointment failed because it did not follow the Charter process for recommendation of a Commissioner of Public Works and Transportation to the County Executive by the citizen oversight Board.

Nonetheless, the appointment of Pisco to DPWT Commissioner, in fact, was announced two weeks before the citizen committee’s January meeting.

Pisco’s illegal participation as such in the A&C meeting on February 16 was brought to Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett’s attention at the onset of the meeting by Chairman Jenkins, who even suggested that the Deputy Commissioner of the County’s DPWT be brought in for the vote to make it legal. Plunkett, who was acting as chair of A&C in the absence of Astorino, opted to proceed anyway with Pisco at the table.

On February 23, at the onset of the A&C meeting, BOL Vice Chair Williams read into the record a statement explaining the BOL vote that rejected Pisco’s appointment, and also requested that the Astorino Administration provide the BOL with the County Attorney’s legal opinion that they are relying on to support these unlawful actions. The Administration has failed to do so.

Williams then presented Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett, who was presiding over the A&C meeting, with the legal basis, accompanied by citations to numerous legal authorities, as to why the BOL’s vote against Pisco will stand.

On March 12, the BOL met in its Committee of the Whole and asserted that Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino should either stop breaking laws or commence court action to overturn laws.

The legislators again voiced their concern that the Astorino Administration was exposing the County to possible lawsuits about the validity of contracts that A&C is “approving” with the vote of Pisco.

“The County Executive has a responsibility to uphold the laws of Westchester and New York State, but here he is ignoring the County Charter and laws approved by the Board,” said Jenkins at the time. “He has to stop breaking the law—it is as simple as that—or challenge the law in court, like any other citizen in the United States would have to do. No one is above the law.”

At the Committee of the Whole meeting, Republican legislator Michael Smith remarked, “We gotta do something…we gotta move this issue forward.”

Westchester Legislators Announce Landlord Opening on County’s Rent Guidelines Board

(White Plains, NY) -- The Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) announced today it is seeking an owners’ representative to serve on the Westchester County Rent Guidelines Board.

“The Board of Legislators is searching for qualified owner candidates to be considered for this important board,” said Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson), chair of the BOL’s Appointments Committee. “This member of the Rent Guidelines Board should be in place in time for the public hearings in June.”

The New York State Emergency Tenant protection Act of 1974 (ETPA) provides for the establishment of County Rent Guidelines Boards in Westchester, Rockland and Nassau counties. The boards independently se the maximum allowable rates for rent adjustments effective October 1 of each year, for renewal and vacancy leases in ETPA apartments.

Presently, there is a vacancy on the Westchester County Rent Guidelines Board for an owners’ representative. To be qualified to serve, applicants must be residents of Westchester County. No member, officer or employee of any municipal rent regulation agency or the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, and no person who owns or manages real estate covered by this law, or who is an officer of any owner or tenant organization, shall serve on a rent guidelines board.

The BOL makes recommendations to the Commissioner of the NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal and appointments are made by the State.

Interested individuals with suggestions or questions can call Wendy Wild, the coordinator for the BOL Appointments Committee, at (914) 995-2883.

Court Rules in Favor of County Board Leaders Against County Executive’s Unlawful Acts

(White Plains, NY) -- Westchester County Court Judge Barry E. Warhit granted the request today of the three leaders of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL)—Chairman Jenkins (D-Yonkers), Vice Chair Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) and Majority Leader Peter Harckham (D-Katonah)—who had filed court papers and called call for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction directing County Executive Robert P. Astorino and his Administration to comply, implement and enforce the laws of Westchester.

Judge Warhit issued the order and prevented the County’s Board of Acquisition and Contract (A&C) from meeting today, recognizing that further action by this Board could expose and subject Westchester County taxpayers to millions of dollars in legal claims. The A&C Board handles contracts for capital projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars yearly for Westchester; on the agenda for this week’s meeting were contracts totaling over $19 million.

“This is an important step forward or the people of Westchester, who expect their elected leaders to obey and uphold the laws,” said Jenkins. “Millions of dollars of contracts were being jeopardized by the unlawful actions of County Executive Astorino, so Judge Warhit granted our request for immediate action.”

The three Westchester legislators brought their legal action forth “as a matter of last resort and with great reluctance,” they said.

Judge Warhit rejected all of the County Attorney’s arguments this morning, though, and issued the temporary restraining order to stop the A&C Board from “approving” any contracts until the matter is settled. The next court day to further discuss the issue is scheduled for April 9.

“All we want is for County Executive Astorino to uphold and follow the law, as he swore to do when he took his oath office, so the business of the people of Westchester County can proceed again in an open and transparent fashion with full accountability,” said Jenkins.

Democratic Legislators Push for Protecting Women’s Right to Health Care Access

(White Plains, NY) -- Members of the Democratic Women’s Caucus of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) stated today they will continue to fight for important legislation that will provide safe access for both women and men to reproductive health care facilities.

Myers noted that the BOL Legislation Committee had worked on the clinic access legislation for two years, and that numerous changes were made to the bill after a public hearing and in-depth discussions at the committee table with dozens of health care officials, pro-life and pro-choice advocates, and First Amendment experts.

Problems arise when individuals and groups exceed the boundaries of lawful First Amendment expression by engaging in activities that physically prevent or otherwise unlawfully intimidate people from entering facilities that provide reproductive health care services. The BOL Legislation Committee found that current law does not protect those who work in or seek services from these public health facilities, and so legislation has been proposed to prohibit interference with access to the facilities.

The legislators, though still disappointed and dismayed by the Republican caucus’ denying the public an opportunity to voice its opinions and ideas about the revised legislation, vowed to keep pushing for the BOL to approve the protections written into the bill.

“I’m looking forward to a public hearing taking place to hear from our residents once more before the Board of Legislators votes to make sure women and men can safely access the health care facilities of their choosing,” said Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson), chair of the BOL Appointments Committee.

Republican legislator Gordon Burrows (R-Yonkers), the BOL’s Minority Whip, held over the vote on approval for the public hearing on clinic access at the BOL’s regular meeting on Monday night. The matter will now be taken up at the next regular meeting of the BOL on Monday, April 16.

“The Board of Legislators has toiled to balance the rights of women to safe access to health care with upholding our rights to free speech,” said Legislator Judy Myers (D-Larchmont), chair of the BOL’s Budget & Appropriations Committee. “This revised legislation reflects a tremendous commitment by numerous parties to create protections for residents that don’t exist yet in other laws.”

“Our residents should be able to get proper health care without being demeaned and threatened in public,” said Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), chair of the BOL Community Services Committee. “It’s simple as that.”

“It is un-American to threaten or physically obstruct and intimidate people who are seeking health care services,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), chair of the BOL’s Government Operations Committee. “Physically abusive behavior as such is not right for Westchester and is certainly not protected by the First Amendment.”

Over 250 Attend Board of Legislators’ Public Hearing on Changes at the Westchester Medical Center

(White Plains, NY) -- Over 250 people crowded the board room of the Greenburgh Town Hall for a public hearing last night, hosted by the Westchester County Board of Legislators’ Committee on Community Services, chaired by Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), on changes taking place at the Westchester Medical Center.

There are concerns among employees at the Westchester Medical Center that job cuts and changes among program providers are now affecting service levels. These changes include outsourcing the management of programs to private companies, staffing changes and the manner in which services are delivered. In recent months, the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency program, a mobile health crisis unit deployed in the community with first responders, has been closed down, and the Behavioral Health Center has been put under the supervision of a private company, Liberty Healthcare.

Dozens of Westchester Medical Center employees and a number of patients offered testimony to the BOL Community Service Committee members in attendance, including BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers).

“This public hearing gave us an opportunity to gather important information about the quality of patient care at the Westchester Medical Center from the people who are actually doing the work,” said Williams. “We hope the issues between the employees and the medical center’s administration can be solved amicably and without any further detriment to patient care. Both sides should be working to maintain and improve the high quality of health care that everyone expects at the Westchester Medical Center.”

Michael Israel, chief executive officer of the Westchester Medical Center, is expected to give a report to the BOL within the next few weeks.

Democratic Legislators Ready to Accommodate Astorino’s Abrupt “State of the County” Postponement

(White Plains, NY) -- The Democratic caucus of the Westchester County Board of Legislators noted that it was ready to accommodate County Executive Robert P. Astorino following his abrupt postponement of the “State of the County” address, which was to be delivered in the BOL Chamber on April 4 and has been rescheduled for Wednesday, April 25.

Although County Executive Astorino’s postponement and rescheduling of the “State of the County” address was not communicated to BOL Dems until the afternoon of March 29—during the BOL’s regular meeting on Monday evening, March 26, Legislator Sheila Marcotte (R-Tuckahoe) was overheard telling someone that the “State of the County” address had been postponed but she was advised to not speak further on the subject—BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) promised every measure would be taken to ensure that the address will be a successful event, and that guests and members of the media will be comfortably situated in the BOL Chamber, as in years past.

“Plans and arrangements were moving forward, and personal schedules were being made accordingly for the ‘State of the County’ to be held this week, but I’m confident the legislators and our staff members will ready to welcome County Executive Astorino here in our Chamber on April 25 instead,” said Jenkins.

With many of the public schools out on Spring Break this week, a number of Democratic legislators and BOL staffers did not make any vacation plans because County Executive Astorino was expected to make his address to the BOL in mid-week.

County Executive Astorino requested use of the BOL Chamber on February 8 for the April 4 “State of the County” address, and Chairman Jenkins granted the request. The address is delivered during a Special Meeting of the BOL and in the Chamber.

The Astorino Administration said that “in an effort to better accommodate the public and the media,” the location was being moved to the Jury Room of the County Courthouse.

“Traditionally, the ‘State of the County’ address is a report to the Board of Legislators, and we will receive it in our Chamber,” said Jenkins, who noted that the Court House usually closes at 6 PM and would have to be staffed by employees on overtime—at an added cost to Westchester County taxpayers—if the County Executive were to make the change.

Westchester’s Democratic Legislators Support Reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act

(White Plains, NY) -- Seven Democratic members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) joined U. S. Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester / Rockland), Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore and Jane Aoyama-Martin, Executive Director of the Pace Women’s Justice Center today in calling for immediate reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The landmark legislation, which is currently stalled in Congress, will protect women and families across the nation and help victims escape abuse.

“We cannot rest until this crucial legislation is made the law of the land again,” said Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson). “There is funding in the bill that will help stem domestic abuse and sexual violence, which is epidemic in our country and affecting too many innocent lives. I applaud Congresswoman Lowey, District Attorney DiFiore and Ms. Aoyama-Martin for their leadership and advocacy in this regard, and I was proud to stand with them today. A failure by Congress to reauthorize these funds will hurt Westchester’s women and Westchester’s taxpayers regardless of gender.”

The first federal Violence Against Women Act, drafted by then-Senator Joseph Biden, was passed in 1994, and the law has been reauthorized several times with bipartisan support since then. The law supports and funds a number of services and programs nationwide to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault while providing necessary assistance to victims. Presently, House and Senate Republicans are blocking the bill because of provisions about sexual orientation or gender identity and assistance to immigrants.

The Westchester legislators present at today’s press conference in White Plains were BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers), Vice Chair Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon), Majority Leader Pete Harckham (D-Katonah), Majority Whip MaryJane Shimksy (D-Hastings-on-Hudson), Budget & Appropriations Committee Chair Judy Myers (D-Larchmont), Community Services Committee Chair Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh) and Public Safety Committee Chair Virginia Perez (D-Yonkers).

“This important federal law has always been a bi-partisan cornerstone of public safety for women and children,” said Perez. “Thanks to Vice President Biden and many others, this law has protected untold millions. It’s our responsibility as leaders to keep pushing for its support and even tougher laws.”

Democratic Legislators Condemn Astorino’s “Cruel” Decision to Spike Child Care Costs for Working Mothers

(White Plains, NY) -- Democratic members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) reacted with disappointment and disgust today upon learning that County Executive Robert P. Astorino has ordered the Westchester County Department of Social Services (DSS) to increase the family contribution to the daycare funding from 20% to 35% of the portion of income that exceeds the federal poverty level. A public notice has since been published. Public comment on the change ends on May 14.

This unilateral decision comes after DSS Commissioner Kevin McGuire, under questioning from members of the BOL’s Community Service Committee, chaired by Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), agreed that a full financial analysis of 2012’s first quarter child care costs would be shared with the BOL before any changes in the family contribution would be proposed. Williams plans to introduce a resolution to prevent this modification or any other in the family share rates during the year.

“These programs are designed for mostly working mothers who are near the poverty level to stay in the workforce and contribute to the local economy—while paying their bills and providing for their families,” said Williams. “Commissioner McGuire promised there would be more discussion before changes were made. To suddenly push up family costs that will push many out of this program is just plain cruel.”

The BOL overrode Astorino’s vetoes of two acts that restored $4.3 million of child care subsidies for low-income workers in December 2011, a move that child care advocates and community leaders acknowledged was right for Westchester. In February 2012, obviously still feeling the sting of this legislative rebuke to his attack on an important safety net program, Astorino claimed that the County’s programs that run the child care subsidies “will run out of money” before the end of the year, and that “emergency steps” were necessary to cap the number of child care slots available through the Title XX program at 206 (the number of slots currently funded) and increase the family contribution to the daycare funding from 20% to 35%.

When two BOL committees met with the DSS Commissioner Kevin McGuire and his staff in December regarding the programs for daycare subsidies in anticipation of finalizing appropriation amount in the 2012 County Budget, there was no mention of any dire financial circumstances for these programs. The BOL, realizing that more funds may be needed because of greatest participation in the programs, even increased the family share from 15% to 20%, which the DSS concurred was reasonable.

DSS has a $566 million annual budget and is projected to have in excess of $10 million dollars surplus for 2011.

“This Administration still needs to get a handle on the numbers and set smart spending priorities,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining), a member of the Community Services Committee and chair of the BOL’s Government Operations Committee. “We have not been given any substantial proof that this program is breaking the bank. The decision seems more mean-spirited than sensible.”

Borgia also noted that County Executive Astorino’s proposal to move his “State of the County” address to the Westchester County Courthouse would cost taxpayers untold thousands of dollars for the overtime police and staffing costs—money that could be going to help people rather than serve political vanity.

“Giving hard-working residents some help as they move up the economic ladder is always a good idea, and it’s an investment that helps strengthen communities for years to come,” said Legislator Virginia Perez (D-Yonkers), a member of the BOL’s Community Services Committee and chair of the Public Safety Committee. “Driving up these costs for families will force many of them to use illegal daycare providers and could endanger young lives.”

The increase in family share for daycare, amounting to over $1,400 for each child, would mostly affect working mothers making an average of $30,000 a year, said Perez.

BOL’s Septic Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Design Standards for Wastewater Systems

(White Plains, NY) -- The Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) Subcommittee on Septics will hold a public hearing on TUESDAY—April 17 regarding the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) 2012 proposed design standards for intermediate-sized wastewater systems. The hearing, which will be held at the Katonah Village Library from 6 PM to 8 PM, will be videotaped and sent to the DEC as a formal submission of comments on the proposed design standards. Public comments on the new proposed standards are due to the DEC by April 30.

Requests for comments are sought from engineers, developers, environmentalists, municipal planners, housing advocates and other stakeholders who may be impacted by these new design standards.

“While there are many positive developments in the new proposed standards for alternative technologies, there are concerning developments regarding galley systems that could negatively impact shopping centers, strip malls and multi-family housing,” said BOL Majority Leader Peter Harckham (D-Katonah). “I urge all stakeholders to provide comments at the public hearing so that we can impact development of the proposed regulations before they are finalized.”

People interested in obtaining a copy of the proposed design standards may contact the office of Legislator Harckham at (914) 995-2883.

The mission of the Sub-Committee on Septics is to provide a forum to study and discuss septic issues on a regular basis, as well as to formulate policy recommendations. The committee represents members of the policy-making spectrum (Administration, Legislature, Planning Department, Health Department, local government, environmental community and the engineering community) with the goal of forging broad consensus during the policy formulation process. The Sub-Committee makes periodic reports and submits specific policy recommendations to the BOL’s Environment & Energy Committee and other interested parties.

Judge Agrees Board of Legislators’ County Contract Board Changes Needed Only a Permissive Referendum

(White Plains, NY) -- Westchester County Court Judge Barry E. Warhit agreed today that the lawsuit filed by the three leaders of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL)—Chairman Jenkins (D-Yonkers), Vice Chair Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) and Majority Leader Peter Harckham (D-Katonah)—calling for County Executive Robert P. Astorino and his Administration to comply, implement and enforce the laws of Westchester can move forward.

In his decision, Warhit agreed that the BOL’s approved changes to the County’s Board of Acquisition and Contract (A&C) did not need a mandatory referendum before becoming a fully enacted law. This is in contradiction to the faulty opinion of County Attorney Robert Meehan.

“The judge’s decision was to be expected because we always knew that a mandatory referendum was unnecessary and that the County Executive merely needs enforce the Resolutions, Acts and Local Laws adopted by the BOL,” said Jenkins. “It is time to just follow the law."

In December 2011, the BOL voted to change the composition of the three-member A&C Board, replacing the Commissioner of the Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) with the County Budget Director. Both positions are named by the County Executive and are subject to BOL approval. The County Executive and BOL Chairman make up the other two A&C members. Relying on an opinion from County Attorney Meehan, Astorino continued to direct the DPWT Commissioner to sit at the A&C meetings—and vote.

Although the BOL followed the guidance from the County Attorney's office on the procedures of notice for permissive referendum, Warhit’s decision today stated that the notices were not proper. The law will now go effect after the required period of notice.

An appellate judge ruled last week that A&C could meet with just Jenkins and Astorino in order to move County contracts forward.