Citizen-run Westchester County Charter Revision Commission at Center of Initiative to Improve County Government

12/16/2009 2:05:34 PM



(White Plains, NY) ~ In an action that could profoundly affect how county government operates, Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman Bill Ryan (D-WF, White Plains) today announced the launching of Westchester Renewed, a far-reaching initiative centered on a citizen-run Westchester County Charter Revision Commission.  “The Westchester County Charter hasn’t undergone a complete and systematic review since it was approved by the voters in a countywide referendum in 1937,” remarked Ryan.  The Charter defined and expanded the powers and duties of the legislature and established the office of the County Executive.  Explaining his decision to move forward with Charter Review, Ryan said “It’s time to take a thorough look at how Westchester County government is running, how it operates and how it can be improved.  What steps should we take to right-size our government? How can we streamline its operation and make it more efficient and less expensive.  We need to come up with a revised Charter that reflects today’s realities and tomorrow’s hopes.”  Ryan noted that some counties, both in New York and in other states, require that their charters be regularly reviewed. He cited as an example Suffolk County, where such reviews are conducted every 10 years. “We’re way overdue,” he stated.


Westchester’s Charter Revision Commission would be made up of members representing a cross-section of the county, reflecting the resident taxpayer, business, non-profit, labor and government sectors of the Westchester community. It would examine structural innovations for, and alternatives to the current form and structure of County government. Recommendations would be submitted to the Board of Legislators for implementation or, depending on what’s proposed, brought before voters in a referendum.  “Westchester Renewed will give people the appropriate tools to really accomplish meaningful and legal changes in county government,” Ryan said.  


The Charter Revision Commission shall be composed of total of 31 members to be appointed as follows:


  • Each of the seventeen County Legislators shall individually appoint one (1) member to the Commission 
  • The Chairman of the County Board of Legislators shall also appoint one (1) additional member to serve as the Chairperson of the Charter Revision Commission
  • The Westchester County Executive shall appoint two (2) members to the Commission
  • The County Clerk, District Attorney, Chief Administrative Judge of the 9th Judicial District shall each appoint one (1) member to the Commission
  • By a majority vote of the County Board of Legislators, one (1) member shall be appointed from each of the following seven organizations: the Westchester County League of Women Voters, the Westchester Putnam Central Labor Body, the Civil Service Employees Association, the State Association of School Boards, Westchester County Municipal Officials Association, the Business Council of Westchester, and the Westchester County Association, and one (1) member from a non-profit agency providing services in Westchester County 

Acknowledging that “there have been a number of responsible proposals for improving county government,” Ryan noted that most have taken certain things for granted. “They’re based on the two-branches of county government—legislative and executive—that currently exist in Westchester,” Ryan explained. “Instead, any study for real change should start at the root and ask what form of government would be best for Westchester.”  Many counties in New York State have no county executive and until the late 1930’s, Westchester was among them. “There’s no requirement that a county have an executive branch for day-to-day management,” Ryan said.  “Some counties have an appointed administrator and some have just a legislature.  The Charter Revision Commission should examine all the alternative forms and come up with a recommendation. If it recommends changing Westchester’s two-branch government, the people will have a chance to decide in a countywide public referendum.”


Ryan said other types of issues that could be considered include:


  • Consolidating/merging/eliminating various county departments and functions
  • Centralizing various services now handled by municipalities; consolidation of local functions and programs and regional service delivery as needed
  • Turning over certain discretionary county services to local municipalities and/or community based organization
  • Reducing the size of the Board of Legislators; changing the form of the legislative body
  • The need for and composition of a Board of Acquisition and Contract
  • Establishing an Office of County Comptroller 

The role and structure of the Board of Legislators should also be examined.  “The county legislature is required under State Law,” Ryan said. “Because of this, abolishing it is not an option and certain of its functions and responsibilities cannot be altered. However, the size and composition of the legislature and the way it operates can certainly be changed if that’s deemed appropriate.  Should the county have a 17-member board of legislators or a legislative body with some lesser number of representatives?  What about a five or seven member board of county commissioners?  What is the difference?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of all the available options?”


Ryan also said that doing away with Westchester county government was not an option to be explored. “Those who argue for this obviously know nothing about local, county or state government,” Ryan said. “New York is run through counties, Getting rid of Westchester county government would require getting rid of county governments throughout the state. Anyone arguing for that can speak to their state representatives. This Commission is designed to be productive, generating real options that could improve our government and deliver benefits to our residents and taxpayers sooner rather than later.  The Commission would not engage in meaningless exercises.”


Westchester Renewed will be independent of county government, except for the responsibility of county government to see to it that it has the resources it needs to function.  That includes reasonable funding for consulting and support services.  Fortunately, organizations such as the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) can be relied upon to share background information and research on county government organization and service delivery at no cost to taxpayers. “The Commission will be able to draw on studies that have already been conducted so they don’t waste time re-inventing the wheel.  NYSAC’s resources will be very helpful,” Ryan said. “In addition, the Commission could also seek input and resources from the National Association of Counties (NACo) and other national organizations of county government officials so they can have the broadest perspective possible.”


The Commission will also review the work of Westchester 2000—an earlier citizen study on consolidation of government services—to see if any of its recommendations should be reintroduced. That group looked at Charter revision, although that wasn’t its primary charge. 


“The Commission will have an excellent opportunity to be a catalyst for people to become more involved in county government,” Ryan said. He added he would ask the Commission to hold open meetings in different parts of the county to discuss its work and get public input.  Ryan said the Westchester Library System (WLS) should be approached and asked if network libraries around the county could serve as Commission meeting sites.  WLS would also be of great value in helping to conduct an on-going informational and educational campaign for county residents, enabling them to “learn more about county government and to actively participate in Westchester Renewed,” said Ryan.


“The Charter is the people’s document and the people should be the ones to recommend changes that reflect how they want to be governed,” Ryan said. “The Commission shouldn’t shy away from looking at anything that, under the state constitution, can be done. A government must never be afraid of examining itself and asking hard questions.” 















Myers says cost cutting did not go far enough

12/18/2009 8:58:55 AM



(White Plains, NY) ~ County Legislator Judy Myers (D-Mamaroneck) voted against the Westchester County $1.8 billion 2010 budget approved 9-8 Monday, saying that reductions in spending and lessening the burden on taxpayers did not go far enough.


“This budget, while providing many valuable safety and support services, could have been reduced further,” Legislator Myers said. “It anticipates revenue that is risky at best, includes too much money for county employee overtime and continues the administrative duplications that could and should be eliminated through consolidation and streamlining.”


The approved budget, which will be in effect for the 2010 calendar year, is $11 million less than originally proposed.  However, the budget does include a 2.9 percent county property tax increase that, while less then the 4.88 percent originally proposed, is something that could have been further reduced, Myers said.  Legislator Myers had supported an earlier resolution to make county government more efficient by consolidating departments, thus reducing duplications and unnecessary county functions.


Legislator Myers noted that the 2010 budgeting process was especially challenging, particularly since mandated costs and other expenses over which the county has little control increased by $48 million.  Nonetheless, there still were unrealized opportunities to make changes and cuts that would have reduced the tax levy increase, she said.


“Having heard loud and clear that now is not the time to raise property taxes, I cannot in good conscience vote to approve a 2.9 percent increase in what is, in my mind, a budget that can be trimmed,” she said.










Democratic Caucus elects Abinanti and Myers to leadership roles

12/18/2009 3:49:42 PM



(White Plains, NY) ~ The Westchester County Board of Legislators Democratic Caucus emerged from their meeting Wednesday with the announcement that Legislator Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) will serve as the new Chair of the Board of Legislators and Legislator Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) will serve as the new Vice-Chairman. The formal floor vote of all legislators for these positions will take place at the charter meeting of the Legislature in January.


Under the leadership of both Jenkins and Williams, the Board will move Westchester in a new direction, taking steps to create a more open, accountable and inclusive legislative process.  “We are one Board, united behind the common purpose of getting Westchester County back on track and creating a government that operates in a more efficient and transparent manner to meet the needs of all its residents,” said Legislator Jenkins.  “In the face of tough economic times, our newly elected leadership is committed to working with the new County Executive and all of our municipal officials to revive the economy, provide much-needed tax relief to our residents and to operate a lean and efficient regional government.”


At the meeting, the Democratic Caucus solidified its commitment towards new leadership by electing Legislator Thomas Abinanti (D-Greenburgh) as its Majority Leader and head of the Democratic Caucus and Legislator Judy Myers (D-Mamaroneck) as its Majority Whip.  "In this body, we may belong to different parties, but we serve a common interest – the residents of the county of Westchester,” said Abinanti.  “We stand united and pledge to work together to build a future worthy of the constituents that we serve.”








12/22/2009 3:26:51 PM



(Somers, NY) ~ Westchester County Legislator Vito Pinto (D-Tuckahoe) joined many Westchester Vietnam veterans on Sunday, as they gathered at The Vietnam Memorial on the Veterans Memorial Trail at Lasdon Park in Somers to pay tribute to those from Westchester County who did not return. This annual event is held the Sunday before Christmas to remember their sacrifice and to also give thanks, in a simple but dignified manner. The tribute is organized and led by Al Zawisky, President of the Vietnam Veterans of Westchester.


“For all of us, this is a moment of special pride and remembering,” said Legislator Pinto.  “We come here to remember and to memorialize all that was Vietnam and all that is our country. In doing so, we do not just list the names and remember those who gave their lives.  We remember and celebrate who they were and what they stood for. I recently received news that the remains of Captain Russell Goodman USAF, an exchange pilot in my squadron VF96 aboard the USS Enterprise, were recovered and are in the process of being returned to Nellis AFB for proper burial by his family.”


“There are hundreds of thousands of men and women who have and are currently serving our country overseas, and here at home, so that we can enjoy the privilege of pursuing life, liberty and happiness,” said Dan Griffin, Executive Director of the veterans group. “They have courageously combated tyranny and oppression to bring freedom to others.  Our nation owes them a tremendous debt of gratitude.  This vigil serves as our way of paying homage to their legacy and never forgetting their sacrifice to their country.”


The vigil is a wonderful experience for Vietnam veterans and all servicemen and women alike. Candles are placed along the memorial trail leading to the Vietnam Memorial and Vietnam Nurses Memorial, located at the top of the hill overlooking the valley.  Attendees read the names of all fallen service members, read a poem and render salutations. “Their sacrifice for our country will not be forgotten, as they are what makes this country great and makes me proud to be an American.”








Great news for New Rochelles kids and soccer, softball and baseball players

1/5/2010 9:13:00 AM

(New Rochelle, NY) ~ County Legislators Jim Maisano (R, New Rochelle) and Vito Pinto (D, Eastchester) announced that in the final meeting of the Westchester County Board of Legislators for 2009, they pushed through legislation that the two legislators have worked on for several years together with the City of New Rochelle, which will provide New Rochelle with $9.8 Million in County Legacy funding to fully upgrade City Park’s athletic fields.  City Park, long in need of remediation, will now get it under a deal brought about by Maisano and Pinto’s leadership and persistence. Plans call for a state-of-the-art multi-use facility that will also serve football, field hockey and lacrosse players.

Maisano stated, “Vito and I refused to take “NO” for an answer and demanded this legislation be passed prior to end of 2009.  This is a tremendous victory for the City of New Rochelle.  City Park will be one of the flagship athletic facilities in Westchester and our athletes, from children to adults, will greatly enjoy playing sports on these upgraded fields.  As the father of a soccer and baseball player, I know very well how much improvement is needed at New Rochelle’s athletic fields.”

Pinto added, “Passing this legislation has been my priority for several years now and I am thrilled to help push this legislation through in the final weeks of 2009.  We worked in a positive and bipartisan way at both the county and city level, and this collaborative effort is a great example of putting people first and getting something wonderful done for the people of New Rochelle.  These new fields will provide New Rochelle with a first-class athletic facility.  I look forward to watching sports there.”  In exchange for the $9.8 Million in funding, the City of New Rochelle takes responsibility for all county roads in the city, agrees to help develop 185 affordable housing units over five years, and forfeits a minimal road service payment from the County.  Pinto and Maisano noted that the 185 affordable housing units reflect projects already in the planning phase. 

 The city takes over ownership of the following county roads in the city:  Pelham Road, Quaker Ridge Road, part of  Palmer Avenue and Lincoln Avenue, sections of Mill Road, Echo Avenue, Wilmot Road, Weaver Street and Main Street.  The term of the agreement is 15 years during which the county retains an interest in the property for the life of the bonds.  The legislators noted that room was left in the design for a hoped for hockey rink in future years.