Your Putnam County Government at Work!

By Bernie Kosberg

A week ago last Tuesday, I went to an evening meeting of the county legislature at the historic Putnam County Courthouse in Carmel.  The timeworn courtroom, used mostly nowadays for large public gatherings, was packed, and the energy and emotion present in the room was palpable.  Tired and frustrated county residents, fed up with an arrogant and pandering county government dominated by Republicans, were angry and ready to do battle with their district legislators, most of whom unequivocally support the corrupt planning of MaryEllen Odell, the County Executive.   

 

By Bernie Kosberg

A week ago last Tuesday, I went to an evening meeting of the county legislature at the historic Putnam County Courthouse in Carmel.  The timeworn courtroom, used mostly nowadays for large public gatherings, was packed, and the energy and emotion present in the room was palpable.  Tired and frustrated county residents, fed up with an arrogant and pandering county government dominated by Republicans, were angry and ready to do battle with their district legislators, most of whom unequivocally support the corrupt planning of MaryEllen Odell, the County Executive.   

Over the course of three plus hours, one citizen after another came up to the lectern and complained bitterly about this legislature’s unwillingness to listen to its constituents, and its profound insensitivity to the real needs and wants of this community.

There were four major items on the agenda - all ready for an up or down vote - each having passed through their respective committees somewhat surreptitiously. They included:  a proposed revision of the county charter which would dramatically lower the qualifying credentials of an incoming Commissioner of Planning, Development and Public Transportation;  the approval of a poorly prepared leasing agreement between the county and the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), allowing BOCES to run an educational program and operate a small business at Tilly Foster Farm.  Also on the agenda was a clandestine deal between the County Executive and deposed strongman of Fox News, Roger Ailes.  A senior citizen center would be named for him, in return for a tax deductible contribution of $500,000 that he would make to a non-profit entity controlled by him.   And, finally, this group of county legislators – having no professional expertise - was self-appointed to determine the placement of four microwave cell towers in the midst of residential locations throughout Putnam County, without considering the health risks involved.

As speaker after speaker approached the lectern to address these issues, it was apparent that six of the eight legislators present - Barbara Scuccimarra, Toni Addonizio, Ginny Nacerino, Carl Albano, Roger Gross, and Joseph Castellano – already had their minds made up.  Led by Albano and Nacerino on almost every issue, the members acted annoyed at having to listen to criticism and were exceedingly defensive when responding.  It was apparent that these elected leaders - paid to protect the interests of the people of this county - had invested little time or effort to better understand the issues at-hand and the depth of dissatisfaction the people they supposedly represent were expressing.

It was also alarming to see this smarmy gang of six keeping in lock-step with the County Executive on each issue. The Odell administration has often been suspected of being untrustworthy, trading its influence for favor.  It’s now got the legislature in its back pocket.  Sadly, the decisions made by our county government hold little credibility. There is no check and balance of power in Putnam County.

Kudos to legislators Dini LoBue and Kevin Wright, both of whom listened carefully to the concerns being presented; questioned the practicality of the proposed projects; and explained their own unease at the haphazard decision-making and lack of long-term financial planning that goes on behind closed doors.  To be perfectly frank, if it weren’t for LoBue’s continued vigilance and courage to fight the powers that be, this county executive and her legislative cronies would be running further amok.

Let’s take a closer look at what went on:  The first dispute arose when the legislature began to consider Odell’s proposal to revise the Putnam County Charter, permitting the appointment of an untested and inexperienced person to serve as Commissioner of the Department of Planning, Development and Public Transportation.   Jockeying for position to make a political appointment, Odell wanted to scrub the current charter’s requirement - that the planner be a professional with at least eight years of practical experience in regional, county or municipal planning.  However, given strong pushback, the proposal was sent back to committee.  Look for it to resurface when a less combative audience is in attendance.   

Against many objections, the Legislature approved a lease with Putnam­Northern Westchester BOCES allowing two buildings at Tilly Foster Farm to be used as an educational center.  Better than three million dollars has already been spent by the county attempting to refurbish this property, and numerous accusations of mismanagement and fraudulent practices abound. The lease considered by the legislators included no workable financial information, resulting in a lease being negotiated at a rate significantly lower than market value. The idea of partnering with BOCES to develop an educational program focused on the food industry is timely and forward thinking.  However, charging BOCES a pittance of the overall cost for improving the property is a questionable use of taxpayer dollars.  The legislature’s willingness to enter into a deal without sufficient background information or a clear interest in safeguarding the financial interests of the community is unprincipled and deceitful.    

A raucous commotion then ensued over the legislature’s attempt to monetarily support the construction and naming of a senior citizen center at the former Butterfield Hospital setting in Cold Spring.  Numerous attendees spoke passionately, offended by the legislature’s insensitivity in honoring Roger Ailes – an accused molester of multiple women employees.  Attendees also questioned the need for such an expensive project.  Speaker after speaker condemned the plan and questioned the political motivation of the county executive and legislature.   

According to Tax Watch columnist David Mackay Wilson of the Journal News, the legislature was ready to agree to Ailes insistence that he retain full control over his donation; that the facility would be known as the Roger Ailes Senior Center; that the donation would be directed to a private nonprofit and under his full control.  Ailes also insisted that the vast, 6,000-square-foot interior only be used by senior citizens, even if the county government wanted to let younger residents meet or play there.

Wilson also reported that the estimated cost to reconstruct the space into a senior center would be $1.5 million, of which $1 million would come from Putnam County taxpayers.  Since the building would be privately owned, Putnam County taxpayers would also be paying about $160,000 in rent and property taxes in the first year, with built-in increases for the ensuing 14 years. 

All to serve about twenty Philipstown seniors projected to come daily for lunch.   Under a massive onslaught of disapproval, the legislature temporarily tabled the lease and donor agreement. The following morning, Ailes announced that his “donation” was withdrawn.  What a decent guy!

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