DEMOCRATIC LEGISLATORS MUST STAND AND BE ACCOUNTABLE TO TAXPAYERS
After a series of exchanges at a Board of Legislators Committee of the Whole (C.O.W.) meeting this week, Republican Legislators today called on the Board to condemn the political poisoning of the CSEA lawsuit by Chairman Ken Jenkins and level with the public as to whether they are on the side of the union or taxpayers in the lawsuit.
“The actions of Chairman Jenkins are inexcusable,” said Legislator Sheila Marcotte (R/C Eastchester). “He has manufactured costly conflicts for the County Attorney and taken unilateral actions on behalf of the members of the Board, apparently without their consent, to join the CSEA in suing the county. It is time for the Democrats to tell the taxpayers if they are on their side or the side of the union, and whether Chairman Jenkins speaks for them or they have voices of their own.”
On February 3, Jenkins created the conflict in the case – forcing the County Executive to hire outside counsel at additional taxpayer expense – when he wrote to County Attorney Robert Meehan in his capacity as Chairman of the Board of Legislators and said: “We believe that there is indeed a conflict between the positions of the Board and the County Executive with regard to this litigation… you are hereby directed to answer the Verified Petition [the CSEA lawsuit] dated January 11, 2011 and to assert cross claims against the County Executive.”
In the letter (link below), Jenkins goes on to direct Meehan to contact the CSEA’s attorney and set up a meeting with him and Legislator John Nonna “to specifically address the verified answer and cross claims.” For his part, Nonna disavowed any knowledge of the February 3rd letter, even after Legislator Sheila Marcotte reminded him in the C.O.W. meeting that she had emailed him, and all of the legislators, a copy.
This week, Jenkins reversed course claiming the Board was now waiving any conflict in the case.
To further complicate the matter, and to affirm the Chairman’s intentions of standing with the union, on March 23, 2011 a verified answer was filed with the courts on behalf of the Board of Legislators, without authorization or a vote by the board, which stated,” Wherefore, the board demands judgement granting the Petition and other such relief as may be just and proper.”
After a series of protests and numerous emails from several outraged legislators to the Chairman, a special meeting of the Committee of the Whole was called which determined that the submitted answer would be retracted and amended.
Under attorney ethics rules, the conflict created by Jenkins, committing the Board to the side of union in the lawsuit, is now “unwaivable” because the litigation has already begun. The one exception would be for the Board to join the County Executive in his motion to have the case dismissed.
“Chairman Jenkins must be reminded that he is one of a 17 member Board and he speaks only for himself – until the entire Board debates an issue and takes a formal vote to establish a position. His actions on this lawsuit have been beyond his legal powers as chair and costly to taxpayers,” stated County Legislator Jim Maisano (R, New Rochelle/Pelham).
It is time for the entire Democratic caucus to come clean with the public as to what they knew and when they knew it with respect to the actions of Chairman Jenkins.
Two weeks ago, Majority Leader Harckham claimed that the Board had taken no position on the case. Did the Democratic Chairman of the Board not consult or inform the Majority Leader of the Democratic Caucus? Either he did and they consented to his directions to the County Attorney in the February 3rd letter; or he didn’t and they should acknowledge that and tell taxpayers where they do stand on this lawsuit.
The lawsuit revolves around the county’s cancellation of a contract with the state to administer the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program. The county cancelled the contract in October because it was losing upwards of $1 million a year on it and was under no mandate to provide this service. The state has since hired a new vendor to perform the administrative work of processing the vouchers for this state and federal program, and the transfer has been smooth with all of the people that receive the vouchers getting them as always.
As a result of the contract cancellation, 38 jobs belonging to CSEA members were eliminated. The Board voted to put the jobs back in the 2011 budget, even though there was no funding to pay for them since the contract had been cancelled. Astorino vetoed the move and the Board overrode the veto. The CSEA and the workers are suing to get the jobs back – even though there are no jobs for them to return to.