Democrats on Board of Legislators Reject Citizen Volunteers, Embrace Partisan Politics

In a continuation of the practice of unprecedented, partisan-politics that began when Board of Legislators Chairman, Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) denied his Republican colleagues on the Board of Legislators any committee chairmanships, and even took away the committee chairmanship that one Republican Legislator had held for fifteen years, nine members of the Democratic caucus  have voted down the appointments of seven appointees to various citizen-advisory boards and commissions.  The votes took place at the Board of Legislators regular meeting on Monday February 13th.  The citizen appointments were made by County Executive Rob Astorino.  The citizen committee members are volunteers who would have served on the Housing Opportunity Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Planning Board among others.  The citizen committee members receive no material compensation for their their service.  The lone Democrat to vote with the Republicans for the appointments was Legislator Michael Kaplowitz (D-Chappaqua).

Even the most senior Legislators on the Board, could not recall ever seeing this type of wholesale rejection of citizen committee appointees.  The normal process for the approval of appointments to citizen committees involves interviews, discussion and vetting of the candidates in the boards’s Appointments Committee.  For the first time, that review process was circumvented by the board’s Democrats who then voted down the appointees without having ever considered their experience and qualifications.

During the floor debate, Minority Leader, Legislator Jim Maisano  (R-New Rochelle) challenged the Democrats to present just one reason why they were voting down the appointees.  The Democrats could not offer a single reason for their partisan rejection of the citizen volunteers that have offered their experience and expertise in the service of our county government.  The Democrats inability to state a single reason for voting against the citizen appointees is clear and indisputable proof that their objections to the appointments were without merit and based solely on the Democrats desire to obstruct the County Executive’s efforts to provide these committees with the talent and expertise they need to function.

Legislator John Testa (R-Peekskill/Cortlandt/Yorktown) served as a councilman and was also a three term mayor in Peekskill before becoming a County Legislator.  In both offices Legislator Testa said he and his colleagues were dedicated to the principle that all citizen volunteers should be treated with respect.  Testa said, “We made sure that during the process of appointing people to citizen advisory boards, we never embarrassed theses volunteers in public.  There are going to be reasons, occasionally, that a legislator may take issue with a prospective committee member.  When the vetting and discussion process is observed, there are mechanisms in place to make objections to a specific candidate without reading their name in a public legislative session and then voting them down without any explanation as to why.”  Testa went on to say, “What happened here in the Board of Legislators meeting was wrong.  This type of treatment does not conform to our accepted practice as Legislators and it does not conform to basic ethical rules of how we treat residents who offer their invaluable experience in private business, law, education, advocacy or any other background.”

Following the vote, Minority Leader, Legislator Jim Maisano said, “I have never seen such partisan and destructive antics from a group of Legislators as we are now witnessing from the Democrats on this board.  It is deplorable that they would use these volunteer committee members as pawns in their unrelenting, partisan attacks against the County Executive.”  Maisano went on to say.  “Already in the early days of his new term, Chairman Jenkins has attempted to punish our caucus because we did not support him as Board Chairman.  In retribution for challenging his chairmanship, Republicans were shut out of any committee chair positions.   While we found that exclusion to be an abuse of his power and wholly punitive, we can accept that as elected officials we will sometimes have to deal with this type of nonsense.  It is not acceptable however, that tonight, the Democrats have gone so far to the extreme of partisanship that they have unjustly and publicly disapproved PRIVATE CITIZENS who have offered to serve this county on their own time, without pay.  The fact that this was done without even giving the appointees the respect of meeting with them or considering their credentials is an affront to the integrity of this legislative body.”  Legislator Maisano concluded, “These citizens who have selflessly agreed to serve on these boards and committees do not deserve to be thrust into the politics of personal destruction because of the mean and vindictive actions taken by the Democrats tonight.  If the Democrats are going to deem these fine citizens to be inadequate to serve in the positions for which they’ve been appointed then they should be able to explain why they are rejecting them.”

Minority Whip, Legislator Gordon Burrows (R-Yonkers) said he was stunned by the Democrats rejection of the proposed committee members, “I have served as a member of this body for seven years and was a Yonkers City Councilman for a decade before that. I have NEVER witnessed a level of disregard and disdain for our collective constituency like was demonstrated by the Democrats in this chamber tonight.”  Legislator Burrows continued, “I applaud Legislator Kaplowitz for standing up to his party leadership and imploring them to give these committee appointees a fair hearing.  Conversely I am appalled that veteran lawmakers and even a former Board Chair would acquiesce to such a mean-spirited and childish ploy as to reject these civic-minded citizens who have offered their hard work and perspective to us as leaders to better serve the residents of Westchester County.”

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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