County Executive Astorino Vetoes “Flawed” Redictricting Plan

Yesterday, County Executive Robert Astorino vetoed the redistricting plan that was approved by the Board of Legislators last Monday. The 12 member Democratic supermajority on the board voted in favor of the plan, the 5 Republicans voted against it.  I have repeatedly called on the county executive to veto this deeply flawed partisan plan being forced on the citizens of Westchester. I am grateful that Rob Astorino rejected this clumsy attempt by my Democratic colleagues to protect their veto proof supermajority. Watch now, as the supermajority employ the same bullying tactics that they used to stonewall, delay and mislead us, the League of Women Voters and the public during the redistricting process, by overriding the County Executive’s veto.

In contradiction to claims that the redistricting process would be a fair and transparent one, the Democratic leadership and their hand-picked consultant rammed through a plan that was cooked up in back rooms and virtually ignored the concerns and requests of the Republican caucus and any input from the public.  I was told personally by Chairman Jenkins, that he would accept the adjustments that I requested be made to the plan for my district so as to prevent the City of Peekskill being divided between two legislative districts. It had never been done before because there is no legitimate reason for it to happen. It is bad policy and bad government. Ultimately Ken Jenkins did not honor his word and he did not make the changes that he said he would. As a result I can only conclude he purposely misled me.  That type if dishonest dealing is unacceptable but unfortunately not an isolated instance.

Even the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Westchester has distanced themselves from the plan saying, “The process has been extremely messy and aspects of it have been questionable.”  The LWV went on to say, “We understand the committee is working to meet a June deadline.  We do not believe however that this excuses the general sloppiness, if not partisan political nature of the proceedings.”

I have to accept the fact that when a 12-5 supermajority is in charge of redrawing the voting lines for the entire county, they will take some political advantage of that opportunity.  What I won’t accept is the Chairman’s claims that this was a fair and transparent process that addressed the concerns of all legislators.  The fact is the citizens of Westchester and the Republican caucus was ignored, misinformed and ultimately cut out of the process.

I thank the County Executive for responsibly vetoing this redistricting plan and we will all watch as the Democratic supermajority overrides the veto, ignoring the principals of fairness and taking advantage of this once in a decade opportunity.

Astorino’s Veto Message:

ASTORINO VETOES “FLAWED” AND “RUSHED” LEGISLATIVE REDISTRICTING PLAN

Agrees with League of Women Voters that Board of Legislators’ plan  was messy

Calling it “flawed” and “rushed,” County Executive Robert P. Astorino today vetoed the redistricting plan for county legislative districts approved last week by the Board of Legislators, noting that the League of Women Voters had also strongly expressed its concerns and dissatisfaction with the plan.  

“There are many reasons for my disapproval and veto of this local law,” said Astorino, “which vary from the flawed, closed-door, and rushed process to the unfortunate and unnecessary division of municipalities.”

He added, “The non-partisan League of Women Voters of Westchester in its statement at the public hearing was very clear in sharing some of these same concerns. It labeled the process ‘extremely messy’ with ‘aspects of it…questionable.’  The League also called for more transparency.”

The redistricting plan was approved 12-5 along party lines by the Democratic-controlled board on May 9.

The county executive said the board’s rushed process called into question the ability of the public to have real input.

“Your Honorable Board held the first meeting (at least the first meeting known to the public and the administration) on April 18,” Astorino said in his veto message. “Within 20 days, your Honorable Board voted on this local law, which will affect the county for the next 10 years. Such quick action calls into question the ability for true public input. Note, too, that this 20-day period was in the midst of important religious holidays and spring break, further diluting the availability for full public participation.”

Astorino said there is no legal requirement for the board to adopt a redistricting plan this year based on Census 2010; rather, it could have deliberated longer and adopted a plan for the 2013 election cycle. Taking more time over this important issue would have given the board a chance to focus on the new Census data, which was only released in April.

Aside from the process, the county executive complained of what he called “wholesale and unnecessary changes”  made to some legislative districts, including the splitting of the City of Peekskill “for no rational reason” into two districts and the Town of Harrison into three.

“It will create confusion among voters and elected officials as to who speaks for these communities on the Board of Legislators,” he said.

–30 —

About Legislator John G. Testa

John G. Testa, a life-long resident of Peekskill, began his first term on the Westchester County Legislature in January 2010. Prior to his successful run for the District 1 Legislative seat, he served 3 terms as Mayor of Peekskill from January 2002 until December 2007. Before becoming mayor he also served a four-year term as a Councilman. From his first days in office Testa worked tirelessly to set the City on the path of economic stability. Peekskill flourished under this plan, increasing the city fund balance to its highest in history. During John’s tenure in office, the NY State Comptroller’s Office named Peekskill one of the most fiscally sound municipalities in the State; independent auditors proclaimed Peekskill as being in its best fiscal condition in over 30 years; and Moody’s Investor Service agreed to upgrade its bond rating, resulting in further savings. The plan he put in place was so successful that it enabled the City of Peekskill to pass three budgets in a row with a 0% tax increase. These fiscal skills will prove valuable to Testa as he works to put the brakes on what has been wildly escalating county spending and unchecked government growth. He has pledged his efforts to work to consolidate services, eliminate wasteful spending and improve efficiency. In addition to the fiscal conservatism that served Peekskill so well, Testa worked to promote the city, attracting investment, jobs and an increased tax base. Over $100 million of private investment came to Peekskill in the forms of new residential construction, retail space, and the redevelopment of historic structures. As Mayor, Testa led a successful battle to stop the unfair and unsafe plan to send sewage to the Peekskill plant from outside the sewage/water district. John’s roots are deep within the soil of Northern Westchester. His father’s family has lived here for more than a century and his mother’s family is nearing that mark. He is proud that he was born in Peekskill and has lived and worked here all his life and, with his wife Nancy raised their two children here.
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