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 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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