Shining a Light on $6 Million in Shadowy Spending

As part of the budget process last fall the Republican members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators fought to cut back spending and the special “special items” or “pork” monies that the Democratic Supermajority built in to the budget.

Although we were unable to get Democratic members to join us in eliminating this pot of funds they created for themselves we were able to get an assurance that the process used to distribute the funds was more open and transparent.

To date that has not happened.

My colleague, Legislator Sheila Marcotte, has drafted legislation that is supported by our entire caucus to finally force the supermajority to publish the contracts so the public can view them.

The press release below outlines the process we are hoping to require as part of the allocation of these funds.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 19, 2011
CONTACT: Legislator Sheila Marcotte 914 961-5780
http://www.sheilamarcotte.com

It has been said that the devil is in the details, if that notion is true then it is confirmed in the execution of short-form contracts in Westchester County.  Short-form contracts are expenditures or revenue with a value of $20,000 or less.   Last year, the Board of Legislators approved spending of approximately 6 million dollars through these short-term contracts.  That figure, quite possibly, could be eclipsed this year.

Legislator Sheila Marcotte (R, Eastchester, Tuckahoe, New Rochelle) is sponsoring legislation designed to take the approval process from the shadows into the light.  Many of these “small” transactions are provided for as part of the Westchester County budget and are disguised in budget lines with warm and fuzzy names such as “community services” or “environment and energy” and are approved by the budget & appropriations committee as well as the BOL. Last December the republican caucus attempted to block the allocation of 1.3 million dollars in what they believe is purely pork – the motion was voted down by the Democratic majority as they defended that budget line as worthy community projects – they did, however, promise to set forth a better vetting process of how these monies are approved and allocated.

The Republican Caucus believes that taxpayer’s money is sacrosanct and when we as legislators spend taxpayer money it should be with great care, attention to details and with absolute transparency, that is why Legislator Marcotte is sponsoring legislation that would require that all proposed short-term contracts be published on the Board of Legislator’s website with relevant documentation about who is being paid and for what service.    Currently, the only way to learn about the details of these contracts is to file requests through the “Freedom of Information Law”.  This process is unreasonably complicated and slow.  Given the technology available to us today, there is no good reason that this information should not be available to the public for inspection.

The majority of these expenditures are being made for good reason, they are expenses that must be met in order to operate our county government.  There is also a lot of pork in these contracts and the only way to expose that is through real transparency.  If the majority in the legislative branch of County Government is going to oppose the County Executive’s efforts to make common sense spending cuts then they should be prepared to explain the expenditures that they are approving.  It is time to shine a light on the short-form contracts process.  Knowledge is power and it is time to empower Westchester’s taxpayers to accurately evaluate where their money is going and who is sending it there.

About John G. Testa

Former District 1 County Legislator, John G. Testa is served five terms at the Westchester County Board of Legislators, spending the last 3 terms as BOL Minority Leader. John G. Testa is a lifelong resident of Peekskill who first entered elected public service as a member of the Peekskill Common Council in 1998 and then served three terms as Mayor. He previously served on the Conservation and Parks Advisory Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. John became an elected official eager to improve the City in which his family has lived for more than a century and quickly earned a reputation as a strong, independent, nonpartisan voice for fiscal responsibility. John received a BS degree in Technology from SUNY Oswego, where his academic achievements gained him induction into Epsilon Pi Tau, the International Honorary Fraternity of Technology. He earned his MS degree in Technology from the City College of New York. He began his teaching career in 1980 at Peekskill High School, his alma mater, as an instructor in Technology and Social Studies, retiring in 2013 after 33 years teaching. John has been a leader in support for the Arts Community in Westchester. He presided over the construction of the Peekskill Art Lofts, the establishment of the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, and the complete restoration of the Paramount Center for the Arts, originally a 1930’s movie house and helped bring critical funding to many Westchester programs. Legislator Testa received the “Advancing the Arts in Westchester Award” by ArtsWestchester. John has a been a leader on environmental issues for two decades and has a long record of initiatives he has supported and spearheaded. His active involvement in developing and promoting environmentally friendly policies began as mayor and continued throughout his time as Westchester County Legislator. His efforts consistently earned John the endorsement of the NY League of Conservation Voters. John’s most recognizable accomplishment has been his promotion and preservation of local history and historic landmarks, bringing an unprecedented focus on the region’s rich history, and its legacy of historic Victorian architecture. His roots in historical preservation stem from his experience as a Revolutionary War re-enactor and member of The Brigade of the American Revolution for 50 years. John was instrumental in securing the preservation of the Lincoln Depot, now the Lincoln Depot Museum, where he now serves as President. The museum was recognized in 2015 as one of The Best Museums in Westchester. He also secured the preservation of historic Fort Hill as parkland, a 40-acre parcel that was originally a Revolutionary War encampment site. Under his leadership, the United States Dept. of the Interior declared Peekskill a “Preserve America Community.” John was able to establish a record number of National Register designations of local structures, including the first Downtown and Neighborhood Historic Districts and supported the preservation of the historic Miller House in North White Plains. In 2017 John was named a “Champion of History” by the Lincoln Society in Peekskill. John and his wife of 37 years, Nancy, live in Peekskill and have two adult children, John, Jr. (fiancé Courtney Kelly) and Katy (husband Mike Mearon). John and Nancy recently welcomed the arrival of their first grandchild, Lacey Mae, in 2019.
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