Thursday, May 8, 2008

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Citizens Respond To Greed And Selfishness Shown By Runaway County Government

If the enthusiasm and geographic diversity of the more than 200 County residents who showed up last Wednesday evening at the Grinton I. Will Library in Yonkers for an initial organizational meeting was any indicator, the movement to abolish, or at least significantly reduce the
size and the cost of, Westchester’s County Government got off to a good start. In the highly-energized crowd were a dozen or so present and former town, city and county elected officials from every corner of Westchester, in addition to meeting organizers, Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner and Yonkers City Council member Joan Gronowski.

Gronowski got the meeting rolling, telling the enthusiastic audience, “People have had enough of a county government with its intrusive, Big Brother traits, telling people how to live their lives, and imposing 24 percent tax hikes. We are going to mount a petition process to see what can be done to eliminate the redundancies.” Her comments seemed to capture the sentiments of those assembled; a general concern about the ever-increasing tax burden and the sheer intrusive arrogance and greed of both the County Executive’s Office and the Board of Legislators.

Paul Feiner spoke next, and reflected upon his sentiments as a former County Legislator back in the 1980s, telling the crowd, “When I was on the Board, I said then I wanted to write myself out of a job.” He went on to explain that the purpose of the gathering was organizational, to recruit individuals who would assist in research, and development of a massive petition drive that would be presented to the State Legislature, to bring about legislation that would either eliminate County government altogether, as was accomplished in Connecticut in the 1960s, or else, significantly modify it, and bring it under control.

It was immediately obvious, glancing around the auditorium, that the movement had bipartisan support. Democrat, White Plains City Councilman Glen Hockley, who followed Paul Feiner to the podium, told the crowd, “This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s a privilege to be in government, and to help people. But our County Citizens Respond To Greed And Selfishness Shown By Runaway County Government Legislators are attempting a moneygrab while many County employees haven’t had a contract in years.”

Rob Astorino, a Republican former County Legislator, who ran unsuccessfully against Andy Spano for County Executive in 2005, told the
crowd, “I saw it from the inside. There are plenty of ways to cut out the fat without hurting essential services. If the end result is eliminating County government, then so be it. Let this be the beginning.”

Paul Feiner then chimed in, “Thirty years ago nobody thought the Berlin Wall, or the Soviet Union, would collapse. Why have both a State and a County Health Department, and Social Services Departments? Wouldn’t it make sense to eliminate commissioners and deputy commissioners? There’s a lot of duplication, and, if we work hard and study what Connecticut did right, perhaps we can accomplish it too.”
An unidentified individual from the audience responded, “Many people will resist. It’s going to be a tough battle, but it’s worth it.”

Joan Gronowski, referencing the Prezioso report, Westchester 2000, an effort several years ago to get a handle on what was already becoming a growing County tax burden, remarked, “What good is it if you take office on January 1st and you are already figuring out how you’re going to get re-elected? What Paul and I are doing now has caused tension within our Party, the Democratic Party.”

Richard Santora, a former County legislator, told everyone, “We are the County, we are the State. There are many people in the private sector losing their jobs. We don’t need this gigantic County government to deliver essential services.” He went on, “I’m a registered Independent. The County government has us running around, trying to pay the tax bills.”

A New Rochelle resident, Howard Lampert, came forward. Describing himself as a Municipal Traffic Engineering Consultant, he declared, “We have to remember what’s good about County government.” That statement drew an immediate disgruntled response from the audience, “Tell us,” followed by jeers and barbs. Lampert lapsed into an historical perspective on former transportation problems, particularly with bus routes, under the old Board of Supervisors. Scott Johnson, a former Republican chairperson from the Town of Bedford, rose up in support of the petition effort, and called upon Feiner and Gronowski to “please hold at least one meeting in our neck of the woods because there is tremendous support up there for what you are doing.”

Kelly Jones, of the Taxpayers Alliance, declared, “County government is a lawless institution.”

Joe Corbin, a hedge fund manager, and the new Supervisor of the Town of Rye, questioned, “As we move into the deepest recession since 1929, how can they continue to increase our taxes six to eight percent every year? We are being challenged on every front.”

Someone, describing themselves as “a lifelong resident,” declared, “We need initiative, referendum, and recall. Unless we fire the bastards, we will never change things!” The observation was met with sustained applause.

John Nonna who, by his own description, has “only been on the County Board of Legislators for four months, but was the Mayor of Pleasantville for eight years,” told the gathering, “We need to think regionally about such issues as garbage, water, and septic.” He asked, “Do you really want Albany delivering these essential local services?” He suggested, “Look at reform, but don’t throw the baby out with the water.”

Sam Zherka, Publisher of The Guardian, rose to declare, “Power comes in numbers.” He shared his experience dealing with New Rochelle City Government and their attempt to condemn his property on behalf of a major developer. He emphasized the need to take strong action to make government, and those who govern, understand by force of numbers, that they must adhere to the will of the People, declaring, “The
Governor of New York will come to our meeting, or we will have his job!”

The two-hour gathering closed with dozens of attendees lining up to volunteer their services. Paul Feiner promised the next meeting would be in a few weeks at another County location to be announced shortly.

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