I wish to express my concerns relating to CSEA/Section 8 lawsuit recently brought against the County of Westchester, County Executive, Board of Legislators and Housing Trust Fund Corporation.
Pursuant to an exchange of correspondence between the County Attorney and our Chairman last week, a determination was made over the past week by the County Attorney that a conflict exists between the executive and legislative branches, and that each side must retain outside counsel to defend the lawsuit. I understand this decision will now force the County Executive to hire outside counsel, which will cause the expenditure of taxpayer dollars to a law firm. I also understand that an attorney on our Board’s staff may be representing us in this litigation. (Even though I am the Minority Leader, I have not yet been told who will be representing the Board).
Upon my review of the correspondence between the County Attorney and our Chairman, it is clear that our Chairman made affirmative statements relating to the pending litigation on behalf of our entire Board that were never debated in a committee or approved by a majority of legislators at a formal Board meeting. While it appears that our Chairman based his statements on votes taken by our Board during the budget process, I believe that decisions about the Board’s defense of a newly filed lawsuit, such as the Board’s positions relating to the drafting of responsive legal papers and which attorney will represent us, all required much further debate by our Board, instead of relying on votes taken almost two months ago. The defense of this action presents new issues for our Board to consider, and the Chairman cannot speak for the full Board until we have taken a formal position (by Resolution) on the litigation. I do not have any idea if a majority of our Board supports the positions taken by our Chairman in his correspondence with the County Attorney and expect that none of my colleagues has an answer to this question either.
For example, the County Attorney, the Board’s attorney under the County Charter, maintains that the petitioners’ papers raise issues that could cause the action to be dismissed if we brought a motion to dismiss. This is an enormously important issue that needs to be discussed by the full Board. We have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of Westchester, and I certainly believe that within that duty we should seek to dismiss any legal action that was not properly brought against the County. It can be argued that if we do not now seek to dismiss the action, we will be violating our fiduciary duty. At a minimum, this issue needs to be discussed by our entire Board prior to any decisions being made.
Further, what is the next step relating to the defense of this action? Are we filing an Answer to the Petition? The Petition contains various factual allegations and legal claims. Is our Board admitting or denying these facts and claims? Who is making these decisions? I respectfully suggest that these decisions should not be made by the Chairman alone, or the Democratic caucus, but rather, they should be made after a public debate and a proper vote by our entire Board.
I also submit to my colleagues that on the day of the budget override votes, as Minority Leader I met with Chairman Jenkins and Majority Leader Harckham (there may have been other legislators at this brief meeting) and was expressly informed that while the Section 8 jobs would remain in budget and the related vetoes would be overridden, this was only for the purpose of giving the process an additional thirty days, and if the Section 8 dispute was not resolved by February 1, then the legislators supporting the override would cease this effort to restore the jobs. It is now February 11, and it appears that this commitment is not being observed. If our Board takes action in the CSEA litigation that is an effort to continue the Section 8 dispute, it certainly will be a violation of said commitment.
I close by asking that before any further actions are taken on behalf of our Board relating to the CSEA litigation, that such actions be directed by a majority vote of our Board, and not by the directions of our Chairman alone. This would be the proper procedure based on prior actions by our Board relating to litigations we were parties to, and may also be the legally required procedure. Since the responsive papers do not need to be filed until the middle of next week, we have limited time to handle this matter properly and ensure that all necessary decisions are made by a majority in a public process, and not by the Chairman alone.