WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – County Legislative Chairperson Kenneth Jenkins (D-Yonkers) walked out of Thursday’s county board of acquisition and contract meeting, of which he is a member, in protest of a commissioner he said the county executive has illegally kept on the three-person board.
Jenkins said legislators passed a law nixing the department of public works and transportation commissioner, Jay Pisco, from the board and installing Budget Director, Lawrence Soule, to the board instead. The predominately-Democratic lawmakers overrode Republican County Executive Robert Astorino's veto of the law, which Jenkins said permanently altered the county officials on the board of acquisition and contract on Monday. Previously, both branches of government agreed that the board would include Astorino, Jenkins and Pisco. However, Democrats prioritized amending the board because they said the commissioner was appointed by Astorino and mimicked his vote, blocking funding for legislature-approved projects.
“At today’s acquisition and contract meeting the county executive continued to have the wrong person sitting at the table. The budget director was not there, and as the representative of the board of legislators, I left,” Jenkins said. No one can tell you to violate the law, no one. So if there is something that the county executive thinks is inappropriate about the law after it has gone through a period of public scrutiny – after a period of time for public referendum and no one has spoken about it – well, he certainly can take action and go to court.”
Legislator Judith Myers (D-Mamaroneck) said Democrats’ concerns with the acquisition and contract board were a priority because the board approves or disproves every financial transaction the county government enters.
“The way we achieve transparency in government is by knowing how every single dollar flows from the taxpayers’ pocket through the collector of the taxes and out to pay for what services those taxes are paying for,” said Myers. “These are hard-earned dollars in a very, very highly taxed county that are moving through without transparency. Who knows if it’s too much that’s being taken out of our pockets?”
Despite claiming Astorino’s actions were illegal, Myers and other Democratic lawmakers said they didn’t have a concrete plan to stop him. Jenkins said legislators may challenge specific contracts passed by the board, but wouldn’t name these contracts. Legislators avoided questions about whether they would consider taking legal action against Astorino.
The county executive’s staff conceded that the law may be active on the state books, but said the county attorney determined it wasn't valid because altering the board’s makeup would require voters to support it in a referendum.
“They could pass a law tomorrow saying that the term of the county executive ends on April 1. But that’d be an April Fools trick. They can’t pass laws like that. This law is subject to a mandatory public referendum to let the people vote on whether this should be done or not,” said Astorino’s Chief of Staff George Oros. “It seems to be incumbent upon them, if they believe that we’re not acting properly, for them to go to court. Maybe they’re afraid because they read the charter just as the county attorney reads the charter and just as a judge would read the charter.”
Jenkins said the law required a permissive referendum and nobody spoke against it during three related public hearings.