9/21/2009 9:53:25 PM





The Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman William J. Ryan (D, WFP-White Plains) has called a special meeting of the Board of Legislators to consider action on the proposed fair housing settlement agreement and the Bond Act, in preparation for a vote. The settlement agreement is subject to and conditional upon approval of the county’s Board of Legislators.  Should the Board fail to provide approval, the agreement shall be null and void, and all parties would proceed to trial. 






Westchester County Board of Legislators Chambers
800 Michaelian Office Building
148 Martine Avenue, 8th Floor (corner of Court Street)
White Plains, NY






Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 7:30pm SHARP!






In response to the landmark fair housing settlement between the federal government and Westchester County, the county’s Board of Legislators has received the final version of the proposed negotiated settlement agreement and Bond act.   The Board’s Budget and Appropriations Committee took the first step toward ratification of this settlement and bond act by approving these measures.  Over the few weeks, the Board of Legislators has conducted several public meetings and has conducting its process of thoroughly reviewing the agreement, involving our outside attorneys and County Attorney, representatives of the Spano Administration, bond counsel, and State agency heads.  The time spent thus far in deliberations, gathering important information and gaining additional understanding of the county’s obligations and responsibilities in this proposed settlement agreement, has been invaluable.  Although the settlement Act and Bond Act, reported out of Committee, was added to the agenda of the Board’s September 8th and September 21st regular meetings, more time was needed to review material and a vote did not take place.  At this time, the following actions will be considered:


  • An Act authorizing the settlement of the lawsuit entitled United States of America, ex rel, Anti Discrimination Center of Metro New York, Inc. v. Westchester County, New York.
  • A (Bond) Act authorizing the County of Westchester to issue up to Thirty-Six Million ($36,000,000) Dollars in bonds to fund costs related to the settlement of United States of America, ex rel, Anti Discrimination Center of Metro New York, Inc. v. Westchester County, New York.
  • An additional Act which will set forth policies and procedures which must be utilized by Westchester County in furtherance of the commitments established by the Stipulation and Order which settled the federal litigation commenced by the Anti Discrimination Center of Metro New York, Inc. (“ADC”).


All issues and questions considered, this may well be the most complex matter to ever come before the Board of Legislators and the decision here may be the most important decision any legislative body has had to make in the history of this county.  It has been our primary focus toward ensuring that the members of the Legislature are fully informed and prepared to make the correct decision for all of the people and taxpayers of Westchester County.  




9/22/2009 2:01:00 PM



The modern center for education and recreation, which is slated to open in 2012, will be named after Davis, who in June 2007 pledged $4 million to fund the renovations. “It gives me joy and satisfaction to see this project moving ahead and to have my name and my family’s name linked to it,” said Davis, who resides in Tarrytown.

Legislators Thomas Abinanti (D/Greenburgh) and George Oros (R/Cortlandt) pose with 102-year-old philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis and Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan at a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of renovations at the historic bathhouse at Kingsland Point Park in Sleepy Hollow.





9/23/2009 1:26:01 AM


ADC Settlement Agreement

Guide to Area Median Income (AMI)

Public meetings discussing settlement agreement terms

Watch the Board meeting now

Watch Chairman Ryan’s YouTube Intro

(White Plains, NY) ~ The Westchester County Board of Legislators has approved a landmark fair housing settlement agreement and Bond act.  The proposed measure was in response to a lawsuit brought against Westchester County by the Anti-Discrimination Center (ADC).  The settlement agreement was subject to and conditional upon approval of the county’s Board of Legislators.  The Board had to vote on the agreement no later than this week.  If the Board failed to provide its approval, the agreement would have been null and void, and all parties would have proceeded to trial.  “This has been a defining action for this Legislature.  Tonight, the Board took an important step toward expanding access to fair housing in our county,” said Board Chairman William J. Ryan (D, WFP-White Plains).  “Over the past month, we have heard from the Spano Administration, our Counsel, state agency heads and our own residents on both sides of this contentious issue.  After much review, amendment, negotiation and our own internal process of due diligence, we have approved an agreement that truly encompasses all of the viewpoints and concerns expressed by the Westchester legislators.  This action represents a consensus on an agreement that will improve access to fair housing for all Westchester residents.”

The lawsuit, which was originally brought by the Anti-Discrimination Center (ADC), accused the county of making false statements on federal applications about its efforts to integrate housing.  The approved settlement would require Westchester to spend $50 million over seven years to build 750 homes, in areas that are overwhelmingly white and affluent.  During tonight’s special meeting, the following actions were approved:

  • An Act authorizing the settlement of the lawsuit entitled United States of America, ex rel, Anti Discrimination Center of Metro New York, Inc. v. Westchester County, New York.
  • A (Bond) Act authorizing the County of Westchester to issue up to Thirty-Six Million ($36,000,000) Dollars in bonds to fund costs related to the settlement of United States of America, ex rel, Anti Discrimination Center of Metro New York, Inc. v. Westchester County, New York.
  • An additional Act, which will set forth policies and procedures which must be utilized by Westchester County in furtherance of the commitments established by the Stipulation and Order which settled the federal litigation commenced by the Anti Discrimination Center of Metro New York, Inc. (“ADC”). 

Over the past few weeks, the Board of Legislators had conducted several public meetings thoroughly reviewing the agreement, involving its outside counsel from Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. and County Attorney Charlene Indelicato, representatives of the Spano Administration, our bond counsel, and State agency heads.  Legislators, also, met with the proposed federally-appointed monitor, James Johnson, and with officials from the U.S. Department of Justice.  “Throughout this process of review, I pledged to the members of the Legislature that we would meet with all relevant parties to get all the information we deem necessary for the full Board to make the correct decision on this matter,” said Chairman Ryan.

Throughout the review of this agreement, the legislators made specific inquiries into the history of the litigation, the Relator, and what is authorized by the federal False Claims Act; the federal court decision on the parties’ respective motions for summary judgment; changes in HUD policy and expectations; certifications to “affirmatively further fair housing;” HUD acceptance of County submissions; federal government intervention in the lawsuit and the right to settle; fines and fees; the monetary element of the proposed settlement; a monetary cap; rejecting the settlement and proceeding to trial; the risk of an adverse verdict and the damages that could be charged to the County (our internal analysis showing a range of $180 million to $200 million dollars on the low end, and up to $540 million dollars on the high end); possible disqualification from participation in HUD programs and the loss of community development block grant (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Emergency Shelter Grants and other federal funding; roles of the Monitor and the consultant; assessing the County’s “best efforts” and adjusting the obligations concerning the number of affordable AFFH units to be built.  “This may well have been the most complex matter to ever come before the Board of Legislators and our decision here was one of the most important decisions any legislative body has had to make in the history of this county.  It has been our primary focus ensuring that the members of the Legislature and our residents were fully informed and prepared to make the correct decision for all of the people and taxpayers of Westchester County,” said Chairman Ryan.



YES (in favor of approval)

NO (not in favor of approval)

Alvarado, Jose

Abinanti, Thomas

Bronz, Lois

Burrows, Gordon

Burton, William

Maisano, James

Harckham, Peter

Oros, George

Jenkins, Kenneth

Rogowsky, Martin

Kaplowitz, Michael


Myers, Judith


Nonna, John


Pinto, Vito


Ryan, William


Spreckman, Bernice


Williams, Lyndon


9/25/2009 12:03:24 PM


  • Local Issues
    • Kensico Dam Road Closing
    • Hawthorne Cedar Knolls/Cottage School 
    • VOA Homeless Shelter
    • Mt. Pleasant Today
    • Route 22 – North Castle
    • Fire & Ambulance Corps 
  • County Issues
    • Affordable Housing Lawsuit & Settlement
    • Spotlight on County Dept. of Consumer Protection
    • Spotlight on County Park – Cranberry Lake Preserve
  • Legislation Under Consideration
    • DWI Vehicle Forfeiture Law
    • Licensing of Fire Extinguisher Services & Repairmen
  • Other County Actions
    • Westchester Assessment Commission
    • Sub-committee on Minority & Women Owned businesses
    • Playland Fence
    • Info on Enroll.ny.org

Dear Friends & Neighbors;

I hope you all had a safe and enjoyable summer.

The primary purpose of this newsletter is to keep you informed about what is happening in county government and the local government issues in which I have been engaged.

The other purpose of this newsletter is to provide you with an opportunity to communicate with me. Your concerns and views are important. Communicating does not even require a stamp—just send me an e-mail at nonna@westchesterlegislators.com or, if you have received this newsletter by e-mail just click reply, write out your message and click send - it is that easy. If someone forwarded this newsletter to you,  please feel free to email me your email address so I can add you to my distribution list for future newsletters.  If you do not have access to a computer, write me at Westchester County Board of Legislators, 148 Martine Avenue, 8th Floor, White Plains, NY10601.

Government needs to be more open and transparent. People distrust government because it does not do its job in communicating with the people to whom it is responsible and who pay for it.  You, as voters, entrust elected officials to make decisions.  Not every issue is put to a referendum for the voters to decide - the law specifies what must be put to a referendum.  But, you are entitled to know the basis of the decisions made on non-referendum subjects and why they are made. You are entitled to be heard on the issues that we are facing. I recently hosted town hall meetings in Mt.Pleasant and West Harrison to present information on the proposed affordable housing settlement agreement and the Bond Act to fund costs related to the settlement.  These meetings were well attended and provided an opportunity for residents to share their concerns about this issue.  Whether we agree or not on an issue, we will always have a conversation and I will listen to your concerns and keep you informed. 

Election day is November 3rd. Please be sure to vote!
I do not have an opponent this year and am running in an uncontested election. Although my wife is happy that she will see more of me because of this, I do not think uncontested elections are good for democracy. I will still be getting out to hear your concerns and answer your questions about county government. 

Coffee and Conversations 

I will be hosting Saturday morning "Coffee & Conversations" in each of the communities that I represent and hope that you will join me.  I look forward to meeting with you and discussing your concerns regarding local and county issues as well as your ideas and thoughts on ways to improve county government.

Here is the schedule for upcoming Saturday Coffee & Conversations:

September 26 – Valhalla Deli, 26 Broadway, Valhalla  

October 3 – Jean Jacques, 468 Bedford Road, Pleasantville  

October 10 – Tazza Café, Main Street, Armonk  

October 17 – Chamber of CommerceBuilding, Thornwood  

October 24 – West Harrison Firehouse, 95 Lake Street, West Harrison

Highlights on status of LOCAL Issues

I meet regularly with community organizations and groups to discuss county government as well as local issues and I try to serve as an advocate and facilitator for community concerns and issues. Here is an update on some of those issues. 

Kensico Dam Road Closing & Traffic Mitigation Plan
The NYC Department of Environmental Protection has met with the Towns of Mt. Pleasant and NorthCastle regarding permitting requirements for the traffic mitigation plan and revising the designs where necessary.  The Town of Mt. Pleasant has requested the installation of a traffic signal at the Legion Drive & Columbus Avenue intersection in front of the fire house.  The DEP is evaluating whether the signal is warranted as a result of the road closure.  The Town of North Castle’s comments focused on the intersection at Sir John’s plaza.

Hawthorne Cedar Knolls/Cottage School Community Advisory Board 
Quarterly meetings with officials from these institutions will resume in October.  Contact me if you are interested in attending.

VOA Homeless Shelter
The Community Advisory Board meets monthly with the Volunteers of America officials who run the Shelter, the County Police and the Department of Social Services. I attend many of these meetings to assure that community interests are properly addressed.

Mt. Pleasant Today
We are investigating possible sources of revenue for a proposed gazebo in the Mount Pleasant community.  Mount Pleasant Today announced they had achieved their goal of a summer clean-up and flower planting in the Hamlets of Valhalla and Thornwood.  In Valhalla, flowers were planted in the business area as well as in Valhalla Park at the gazebo.  In Thornwood, volunteers planted flowers from the Pizzeria north of the Four Corners to The Chamber of Commerce Building.  Congratulations to all involved in this effort!

Route 22, North Castle
After a delay of almost three years, the New York State Department of Transportation’s project to improve and repave Route 22 was to have begun in September. But, bicycling on Route 22 last Sunday, I did not observe any progress.

Fire & Ambulance Corps
We are awaiting word on grant applications to help secure funding for safety and training equipment for one of our ambulance corps

Highlights on status of COUNTY Issues

The Affordable Housing Lawsuit and Settlement
There has been a great deal in the news over the last month about the proposed settlement of a lawsuit under the federal False Claims Act filed against the County of Westchester by a group called the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York ("ADC"). 

On September 9th, I held a town hall meeting in Mount Pleasant and on September 14th I held a town hall meeting in West Harrison to discuss the lawsuit, proposed settlement and the issues surrounding them. I was the first and one of the few county legislators to hold town hall meetings of this type. I urged county-wide public hearings on the lawsuit and the settlement but they were not held.  The Settlement Agreement was negotiated by the County Executive and presented to the Board of Legislators for approval. The Board refused to vote on the Settlement on August 10th and September 8th as requested. We had to do our due diligence and weigh the risks of  going to trial in the lawsuit versus evaluating the consequences of proceeding with the Settlement Agreement. This exercise required a detailed analysis of the judge’s rulings against the county and the basis for those rulings. It also required painstaking scrutiny of the Settlement Agreement.

The Lawsuit

After taking office in January 2008, I began to monitor this lawsuit as a member of the Litigation Subcommittee.  When I began reviewing the details of the lawsuit, I knew that it was a serious matter with a serious litigation risk to the county.  The court issued rulings against the county that certifications it submitted to HUD to obtain Community Block Development Grants were false. The judge ruled that the county was required under its agreement with HUD to analyze impediments or obstacles to fair housing based upon race and the county did not do so. There was never any claim that the funds were misused in any way. In common sense terms, this was a breach of contract case. The county promised that it would do an analysis of impediments to fair housing based upon race and keep records of its analysis, but it did not do so.  

The only issue for trial was whether these certifications were made with actual knowledge of falsity, deliberate ignorance of falsity or with reckless disregard of falsity. In her decision, the judge cited evidence from which a jury could find that county officials were reckless in their conduct.

During the period alleged in the complaint, the county received approximately $50 million in grants.  If the county were found liable in this case, it would have to pay three times that amount of money, plus penalties and attorney fees. The potential liability for the county could be in excess of $200 million, probably close to $300 million. If the county lost, the result would most likely be a 7% tax increase each year for the next ten years on your county tax bill. 

Some of my colleagues were willing to roll the dice and go to trial. I could not conclude that it was responsible to do so. Sure there was a "chance" of winning at trial, but it was a slim chance indeed. These colleagues would also pin their hopes on appeal, but a careful reading of the federal judge’s decision that the county’s certifications were false reveals that it is unlikely to be overturned on appeal. That does not mean that I agree with the policy behind the federal  judge’s decision, which I believe is wrong.

The Settlement

The risk of losing this case must be weighed against the obligations the county assumes under the Settlement Agreement.  The settlement requires the county to spend approximately $63 million. $11.4 million of this amount are fees, penalties and other costs. $51.6 million must be spent by the county to ensure the development of affordable housing. 

The non-monetary obligations of the settlement include the county ensuring the development of 750 units of affordable housing, 630 of which must be built in municipalities having both a population of less than 3% African American and less that 7% Hispanic populations according to census data.  At least 50% shall be rental units, of which 20% shall be affordable to households with incomes at or below the 50% level of Area Median Income (AMI) and the remainder affordable to households with incomes at or below  65% of AMI.  As an example, 50% of AMI for a family of four is $52,000   The remaining portion shall be home ownership units affordable to households at or below 80% of AMI. 80% of AMI for a family of four is $84,000.

A monitor is appointed to oversee the county’s compliance with the settlement terms and resolve disputes between the county and the federal government, subject to review by a United States Magistrate Judge. The monitor has the authority to reduce the county’s obligations under the settlement but may not increase them. The Settlement Agreement also provides that the county shall take action, including legal action, against municipalities that hinder or impede the goals of the settlement "as appropriate." There are other provisions of the Settlement Agreement that are important but these are the major elements.  

Three critical concerns other legislators and I had regarding the agreement are as follows:

  • Is the amount the county must spend to ensure the development of the affordable units capped at $51.6 million?
  • Will the county be penalized monetarily if 750 units cannot be built due to market conditions or factors beyond the county’s influence or control?
  • Who decides whether the county must sue a municipality?

At our request, my colleagues on the Litigation Subcommittee and I met with the Justice Department lawyers handling the case to get clarification of these issues.  The Justice Department has confirmed in writing that the county’s monetary obligation to ensure the development of the affordable housing units is capped at $51.6 million. The county will not be penalized for failing to ensure the development of 750 units if its inability is due to market conditions or factors beyond its influence or control. This could include environmental conditions, local zoning laws or an inability to find land, investors or developers. Third, the Justice Department confirmed that the county decides whether it is appropriate to sue a municipality. The monitor cannot force the county to sue or overturn local zoning laws. He can comment on what action the county takes or doesn’t take, but it is the county’s decision. I believe there will be very little basis to challenge any municipality’s zoning law unless it was enacted for a discriminatory purpose and I don’t believe that is the case anywhere in Westchester. These clarifications from the Justice Department were important.

 Why I voted for the settlement
At our meeting this past Tuesday, the County Board voted to approve the Settlement, including the terms of the letters that the Justice Department issued, by a vote of 12 to 5 . We also passed legislation requiring the County Executive to obtain the Board’s approval for each action the county might take to implement the Settlement Agreement, including approving any funding for specific projects and bringing of lawsuits. I believe that the Justice Department clarifications, in writing, of the terms of the Agreement make it clear that the monetary amount that the county will spend under the Settlement is far less than the likely potential judgment in the litigation, all of which would have gone to the government and ADC and none of which would have come back to the county. One of my colleagues questioned whether these letters could be used as evidence. The answer is yes. They were provided by the Department of Justice to induce legislators to vote for the Settlement after the Settlement Agreement was signed to clarify ambiguous terms of the Settlement. They are binding upon the United States government.

Some of you have told me that you would rather pay the $200-$300 million and not have to be subject to federal government interference with towns and villages. I have spent a lot of time considering this issue. I have met with the Justice Department and the monitor. I do not think the Settlement will result in federal government control. The monitor can make recommendations and issue reports but he cannot tell the county what to do. Remember that the county got itself into this position by failing to comply with the terms of the CDBG grant program.

Many of you are concerned about the impact of this Settlement on your neighborhood and community. These are fair and legitimate concerns.  No decisions have been made as to where any of these units would be located.  There are no quotas for towns and villages. These units will be open to people of all races and ethnic origin although the county will be required to advertise them in areas with non-white populations. This housing will be moderate income housing and teachers and municipal workers will qualify for them. The units will pay property taxes. Since there are 750 units spread over 25 municiplaties, I do not believe any one town or village will be significantly impacted. Home values will not be affected. The Town of Mount Pleasant never agreed to be part of the CDBG program and should not have to accept any units under the Settlement.

Some of my colleagues tried to play upon people’s fears by saying this is the end of home rule. I disagree. The county decides whether it is appropriate to challenge a zoning law under the Settlement.  Towns and villages that have longstanding zoning laws based upon legitimate concerns for density, traffic and overdevelopment are protected by the law. My colleagues and I will vote against bringing litigation against municipalities under these circumstances.

No one likes to be forced to settle a case. I have been told that in the negotiations the government wanted the county to build thousands of units and pay more money. A settlement is a product of compromise. Here the alternative is not a pretty picture. Some of you have urged that we fight the case and take it to the US Supreme Court. That will mean years of litigation with a small assurance of success. The Supreme Court takes a miniscule number of cases.  You cannot base a decision to continue with a case on the vague hope that it might get to the Supreme Court. I recognize that building these units might not even result in a more diverse community. But, I believe they will benefit the communities in which they are built, despite the fear-mongering that some of my colleagues have fostered.

Considering all of these factors (and I have lost sleep weighing all of the various facts) as well as all the comments and input I received from you, and based upon the written clarifications received from the Justice Department, I determined that we could live with this Settlement despite its flaws and the only responsible vote was in favor of the Settlement rather than roll the dice with the taxpayers’ money. Some have told me that this would not be a politically popular position. But, I cannot base my vote on what would be politically popular but what I believe to be my fiduciary duty and responsibility to my constituents and the County of Westchester as a whole after a painstaking amount of deliberation.  

Spotlight on County Departments: The Department of Consumer Protection
As I stated previously, each of my newsletters will focus on a county government department.  With the information we provide, hopefully you can decide whether there is a duplication of services, if the services provided by the department are needed and if the services can best be provided by another level of government.  I look forward to hearing from you. Here is an overview of the work of the Department of Consumer Protection.

The mission of the Department of Consumer Protection is to ensure a fair and equitable marketplace for and protect the interests of all Westchester consumers and merchants. This includes enforcing state and county consumer protection laws including the Westchester County Consumer Protection Code; resolving consumer complaints; and implementing programs to educate citizens on consumer issues.  The department investigates and mediates complaints involving businesses, such as home improvement contractors, HMO’s, utility companies, retail merchants and car dealerships, and obtains restitution for consumers. 

For the past three years, the department’s annual revenues ranged between $1.6 million and $1.74 and expenses between $1.7 million and $1.86 million.  The tax levy allocated to the department for the past three years was $131,000, $134,000 and $121,000.  Significantly during this period, the amount of restitution the department delivered to consumers amounted to $712,000, $951,000 and $833,000, amounting to seven times the allocated tax levy.

Westchester law requires that home improvement contractors have a county license. The department maintains this list of over 7,600 licensed contractors and makes sure that contractors are maintaining proper insurance. It has started to require a written exam to test a contractor’s knowledge of the laws of Westchester County.  Contractor licensing fees generate over $1.1 million in revenue.  Consumers can check the department’s web site for its list of questionable contractors.

A recent law, passed in 2007, authorized the department to seize the vehicles and equipment of unlicensed home improvement contractors and increased the penalties for repeat violators. Other licensing laws relate to plumbers and electricians.

The department investigates the sale of outdated food and in 2008 the number of outdated items per store dropped by 66%. Fines totaling $85,000 were issued to 33 stores.

Under the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law, the department is charged with the inspection of meters on trucks, scales at the airport and pumps at gas stations. State law mandates that an annual inspection of every weighing and measuring device.

The department maintains information available to consumers on laws and regulations regarding pesticide usage and lawn fertilizers. The department assures compliance with new requirements such as the use and application of lawn fertilizers, safety precautions when maintaining a septic tank and a new leaf blower law requiring lower emissions.

The department’s  web site offers helpful consumer tips on a broad range of topics including:  www.westchestergov.com/consumer.htm.

  • Best prices for home heating oil and gas – the Department conducts surveys of these prices and publishes them online
  • Tips on How to Save Fuel
  • An ATM fee survey – shows the varying bank fees for use of ATMs
  • Where to find the stations with the best gasoline prices in the county
  • Pool safety reminders for parents and caregivers
  • Tips on joining a health club


And, there is so much more. You can learn about the latest consumer scams; how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft; peruse safety advisories; obtain advice from housing counselors and free assistance on loan modification; and read the latest recall and product safety news.

The department has a guide, available in both English and Spanish, that provides important information before you choose a credit card. If you are a debtor, your rights and answers to frequently asked questions about debt collection are also available. And for parents of students entering college, be sure to research and understand the many college financing options available to you.

Spotlight on County Parks - Cranberry Lake Preserve
In each of my upcoming newsletters I am going to highlight a county park located within our communities.  Cranberry Lake Preserve, located in North White Plains, was purchased by Westchester County in 1967.  There is a history trail which is a moderate walk of approximately 2 miles where you can learn about the building of the Kensico Dam and the importance of the Reservoir’s watershed. Among the points of interest you will find is that Cranberry Lake was formed by glaciers approximately 18,000 years ago. It is an ancient natural lake fed by an underground spring.  Cranberries grow all around the lake and are most abundant on the south edge.  I encourage you all to take some time and enjoy this
natural wonder.



Op-Ed written by John Nonna for The Journal News

9/26/2009 10:06:36 AM

Much has been written and said over the last month about the settlement of the Anti-Discrimination Center of Metro New York’s federal False Claims Act lawsuit against Westchester County. On Tuesday night, after nearly five hours of debate and discussion, the Board of Legislators approved the settlement and the bond act by a 12-5 vote. The board also passed legislation mandating its direct participation in the development of implementation plan and settlement. Here is the view of one legislator who made the difficult decision to vote for the settlement.

Westchester County has not been found guilty of segregation. Westchester County has supported the construction of affordable housing for many years under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Many of us believe that the lack of diversity in many communities is not because of racial discrimination but economic discrimination - many people, including people of color, cannot afford to move to affluent communities. Many of us also believe that diversity and inclusion are important and will make our society a better one.

The federal court, however, found that the county failed to fulfill its promise in certifications submitted to the federal Housing and Urban Development Department to obtain Community Block Development Grants that it would affirmatively further fair housing. This promise required the county to conduct an analysis of impediments to fair housing, identify ways to overcome any impediments and maintain a
record of its analysis. The federal judge found that this commitment required the county to analyze impediments based upon race. She based this finding on the Fair Housing Act, HUD regulations and HUD guidelines. She also found evidence in the form of letters and internal memoranda and HUD Training materials in the county’s possession that the county was aware of this requirement. The only issue left for trial is whether the county’s certifications were made knowingly or recklessly. An analysis of the chances of overturning the judge’s conclusion on appeal or winning at trial is, of course, a complex one but it is not difficult to reach the conclusion that the risk of losing was high. If the county lost at trial a judgment would be in the range of $200 million or greater. Some have urged that ultimate victory would be achieved at the Supreme Court. This is naive since so very few cases ever are heard by the Supreme Court.


But, the decision to settle could not be made by considering the risks of trial and appeal alone. The board had to weigh the obligations the county would assume if the Board approved the settlement that was negotiated by the County Executive.


The settlement is a complex, 38-page document and it would be impossible to capture all of its terms in this article. In basic terms it requires the county to pay approximately $62 million in settlement. The county must spend $51 .6 million of these funds to "ensure the development of 750 affordable housing units," at least 50 percent of which must be rental and the remainder homeownership units; 630 of these units are to be built in municipalities with fewer than 3 percent African Americans and 7 percent Hispanics. These are affordability criteria as to who is eligible to rent or purchase these units. The rental units are for persons or families who earn up to 65 percent of area median income and the
homeownership units for persons or families who earn up to 80 percent of AMI. The county has seven years to ensure the building of these units and must meet certain yearly benchmarks in building permits and financing. It is Subject to penalties of $60,000 per month if it does not meet the benchmarks. The settlement requires the county to take legal action as appropriate against municipalities who hinder or impede the objectives of the settlement. The county’s performance of its obligations under the settlement is overseen by a monitor appointed by the federal government. The monitor can with the consent of the government and the county, reduce the county’s obligations under the agreement, but he cannot increase them.

Three key issues required clarification:

(1) Because of ambiguous language in the settlement agreement that in addition to the $51.6 million the county would leverage "supplemental funds" to build the units. The board obtained a letter from the Justice Department a clarification in writing that the $51 .6 million could not be increased, except for penalties for non-compliance and that "supplemental funds" meant non-Westchester County funds.

(2) Because of concern that the penalties for not building 750 units or meeting the benchmarks could be imposed through no fault of the county, the board’s litigation subcommittee met with Justice Department attorneys and obtained clarification in writing of the ambiguous language regarding waiver of the penalties. This clarification stated that it was the intent of the parties that penalties would be waived if the county could not meet its obligations due to factors beyond its influence or control or due to market conditions.

(3) Because of concern regarding ambiguous language that the county was required "as appropriate" to commence legal action against municipalities that the board’s litigation subcommittee met with Justice Department attorneys and obtained clarification that it was the county’s decision to determine if it was appropriate to sue municipalities.


I would not have voted for the settlement without these clarifications. The board had to know the monetary exposure under the settlement to compare it to the possible $200 million judgment. Secondly, the Board was very concerned about the impact of the settlement on home rule. The other night one board colleague said that this will destroy home rule. I do not believe that is true. The county makes the decision whether it should sue a municipality and this decision would only be made if a town or village violated the law.

Try the case or settle? There are those who say we should not settle and go forward with the litigation because they fear the consequences of settling. I believe that the risks of huge judgment that the county will be fighting for years with more legal costs does not outweigh the settlement with its risks. Several colleagues advocated that we disapprove the settlement and then negotiate a new settlement. If we were to lose at trial, the county would be in much worse negotiating position. The government’s settlement demands would be much higher if it obtained a $200 million judgment.

Many residents are concerned about the effects of the settlement on their community. We have to listen to and consider those concerns. It is unfair to accuse residents with these concerns as racists. While I do not doubt that there is some racist sentiment against affordable housing, most residents have legitimate concerns about how their communities and neighborhoods would be affected by changes. This is true whenever any development is proposed in a community. Concerned residents are entitled to answers. In the end we do not even know if this settlement will result in more diverse communities or whether the county can "ensure the development" of 750 units. This will in fact depend on market conditions and many factors that the county cannot control. The important point is that we move forward to try to accomplish the settlement in cooperation with our towns and villages, the monitor and federal government and be mindful and attentive to the concerns of our residents.

My vote for the settlement was not politically popular in some areas of my district. But I could not let political expediency overcome sound judgment and what I concluded was the proper fulfillment of my fiduciary duty to my constituents.


The writer, a Democrat from Pleasantville, represents the 3rd District in the Westchester County Board of Legislators.