Thursday, November 27, 2008
Rethinking Westchester Government
Contrary To Those, Including Phil Reisman, Who, Immediately Following The First
Gathering At Yonkers’ Will Library, Predicted That The Movement To Eliminate Or Dramatically
Downsize County Government Would Dwindle And Fail, There Is Growing
Evidence Of Broad-Based Support And The Willingness Of Many To Work For It
Last Wednesday night, Nov. 19th, 150, by actual count, Westchester taxpayers filled the Grand Room at the White Plains Women’s Club on Ridgeway. They were there to hear from several speakers, including Paul Feiner, Candice Corcoran, Glen Hockley, Dennis Robertson, Joan Gronowski, John Murphy, Steve Mayo, and Sam Zherka, to name a few, who presented their thoughts and gathered information on the subject of
possible methods by which to eliminate Westchester Government or, at the very least, cut it down to size. The movement, which got underway
with an initial organizational meeting at the Will Library in Yonkers some six months ago, has continued to evolve, rapidly picking up momentum and charting direction as economic conditions continue to decline in Westchester, the Nation’s most heavily-taxed county.
Given the extremely gloomy outlook nationally, tax increases across the County have brought residents together in a common cause, including homeowners from Yonkers whose County taxes went up 24 percent; homeowners from Ossining, who have been hit with an 18 percent hike, and their counterparts from Harrison, who have been tapped for a 13 percent increase. Those present, from all over the County, were essentially making it clear that they were “angry as hell and not going to take it anymore.”
To his credit, Deputy County Executive Larry Schwartz, probably the one individual in County Government more than any other, directly responsible for Westchester residents’ heavy property tax burden, sat in the middle of the audience, appearing to be taking notes for most of the nearly two hour session.
Glen Hockley, White Plains Common Council member, told the audience, “It’s an ongoing mission to get County Government to cut the budget.”
He characterized County legislators, and particularly County Executive Andy Spano, as suffering from “a huge disconnect.” Hockley asked, “Can you imagine the audacity of Andy Spano cutting only 15 percent from his security detail? Our County Executive wants to increase our taxes.”
Hockley’s mere utterance of Bill Ryan’s name brought out a loud, spontaneous “boo”. He was not willing to accept the old standby excuse of County Government, that it is forced by “unfunded state mandates” to continually raise taxes. He declared, “State mandates can be challenged
John Murphy, of Yonkers, gave a slide presentation demonstrating how the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts managed to eliminate their county governments. He told the audience, “Corruption, patronage, and mismanagement is what we have in Westchester.” He reassured everyone,
“In ten years, since eliminating their county governments, there has been no problem in Massachusetts; so we believe they provide a blueprint.”
He then reminded everyone, “The state of Connecticut eliminated county government in 1960.”
Bobbie Anne Flower Cox, attorney for the project, stepped forward and explained that the necessary legislation to eliminate county government could come either from state government, the County Legislature, or by referendum. She indicated that the Justice Department had already been contacted. She asked for attorneys present to volunteer their time to the effort.
Guardian publisher Sam Zherka took the podium and informed the gathering that he had applied for a permit, with the City of White Plains, to hold a massive public demonstration April 25, 2009. He predicted more than 10,000 County residents would attend to drive home the point that County Government needs to be dismantled.
Acknowledging the presence of Larry Schwartz, Zherka said, “If Larry attempts to block the effort, I will go to court,” quipping that he is known to sue government when necessary. Paul Feiner, Greenburgh Town Supervisor, and the individual most closely identified with the movement, told
the gathering, “Government at every level wastes a certain amount of money; we need volunteers. We also need funds.” Announcing the official launch of www.rethinkingwestchestergov.com, he said that County residents are encouraged to use the interactive blog as anonymous whistleblowers who could “expose waste in government.”
Feiner then suggested, “What we need are 17 professional pests,” one for each County Legislator, who would monitor and stay on top of their activities.