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
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.