Says she is a victim of “false accusations”
Libby Pataki resigned on Friday (March 11) as Putnam County’s tourism director, following a report in February in the Journal News that prompted an investigation by the state attorney general into the county’s nonprofit tourism organizations.
There was no official news of her departure, but as in the past, she announced her plans to the Putnam County News & Recorder, a friendly venue that has chastised the Journal News and tax reporter David McKay Wilson for reporting the story. The Journal News documented that two non-profits set up to promote the county to tourists did not have functioning board of directors, an apparent violation of state law. Pataki was paid by both groups, including one that she established to accept tax-deductible donations.
In a previous interview with the PCNR, Pataki called the allegations “wrong and unfair,” without elaborating on any inaccuracies. “I regret that my last months on the job were marred by false accusations by a single reporter out to promote himself and harm the county,” Pataki charged in the PCNR on Friday. “Public life, as I well know, is rife with slings and barbs, but this has been disappointing.”
The Putnam County Visitors’ Bureau gets some $250,000 a year in taxpayer funds annually and paid Pataki $70,000 annually. The Putnam Tourism Corp., which Pataki established in 2012, apparently without the knowledge of the county executive or legislature, paid her a second annual salary of $50,000 as its part-time executive director.
“I respect Libby’s decision,” said County Executive MaryEllen Odell in a statement. “I thank her for her service, and I wish her well. I did not have any advance notice of this but I understand she has been under a great deal of fire lately, much of it unfair, but I understand.”
The only thing surprising is how long it took for Ms. Pataki to make it official. The truth is that she was missing-in-action for most of 2015 and left the day-to-day running of the office to her staff. Let’s not kid ourselves — the blame for this fiasco lies squarely at the feed of the county executive and the legislature who simply couldn’t be bothered to oversee anything so trivial as a $250,000 budget expenditure.
Meanwhile, for all the political clout she supposedly had as former First Lady, Ms. Pataki never really was able to use it to much great effect. They bragged that she was able to bring in a few hundred grand when a few million would have been more in line with someone of her stature. No kidding.
But that’s not the worst part. The politicians have shown time and again that they have no understanding or regard for the substantial economic benefits that tourism brings to our towns and county. If anyone should have been able to make them see the light, Ms. Pataki surely should have been able to do so. Instead she provided the legislature with the perfect excuse to further gut the woefully inadequate tourism budget that will have grave repercussions for Cold Spring and Philipstown.
Not surprisingly, Libby Pataki has used the “victim” defense which may soon be followed by a statement from her attorney that they are confident that after a thorough investigation, she will be exonerated of all charges. It is the same formula used by another Odell staffer, Jean Noel, which was followed by Odell’s statement of support for a job well done. Jumping on the bandwagon of support was legislator Ginny Nacerino. Are we to look forward to other revelations of the same sort from this scandal-ridden, corrupt administration?
No clearer evidence of PCNR and Courier’s total lack of journalistic integrity than their headline: Libby Pataki “left” her post as director of the Visitors’ Tourist Bureau, not resigned. Words used to mislead the public and whitewash, cover-up a potentially very serious legal situation.
Oh, for the love of the Lord! Pataki wants the benefits of public service without the scrutiny of public service. It just don’t work that way. Public officials paid by tax dollars are justly accountable for their actions. Being paid $120,000 as a tourism director comes with some heat. Pull up your big-girl pants and deal with it! And is anyone going to find out if Pataki was paid for the alleged six months or $60,000 in salary during her leave from work to help her husband campaign unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential spot? Since when is anyone entitled to $60,000 for a county no-show job? I don’t considered this matter closed until money is refunded to both Putnam County and the private non-profit for no-show hours. There is a difference between public service and help-yourself service.
The saddest part of this story for me, as a former three-decade resident of Lake Peekskill, is that there was a lot of work remaining to be done in Putnam County in order to improve its appeal to tourists.
Leaving Philipstown aside, Putnam Valley has been slowly suffocating for years ever since plans to improve what passes for downtown were drawn up by the late architect, Jackie Lynfield, and then abandoned.
Libby Pataki and Ms. Odell (along with some other notables) were there briefly several years ago to publicize the installation of a single sign — ironically adjacent to a badly rusted bridge and a piece of commercial property that had been seized by the county but left to sit for years. I left there seven months ago but my bet is that the bridge is still rusting and the property remains vacant.
I attended the March 22 meeting of the Legislature where one of the agenda items was the tourism agency and what was going to be done following Libby-gate. There had been talk of cutting off funding for tourism pending the results of the AG investigation, something that would have been to the great detriment of Cold Spring, which is the county’s only real tourist attraction. Although the Legislature decided to continue funding the Visitors Bureau, they failed to delegate oversight of the agency as had been wisely suggested by Legislator Dini LoBue. Ms. Lobue was the only legislator that evening who asked the tough questions that needed answers; sadly, few were forthcoming, especially from Ms. Scuccimarra who still has to answer for her part in the two corporate boards that supposedly were running things.
As it turns out, the budget and responsibility for county tourism are now in the hands of Frank Smith, who was one of Pataki’s “deputies” or employees. As Ms. Lobue pointed out, it appears the legislators have still not learned their lesson even after the two most recent debacles and they refused to appoint an elected official or officials to oversee this agency that is so important to Cold Spring.
I will continue to lobby for continued funding of advertising and promotion for our Village, but the best thing that could happen would be for the Village Board of Trustees to take a pro-active role and start to work to get the funding that Cold Spring deserves. I have often been asked why that is not the case, and have no good answer.
As far as Putnam Valley, where I have lived for many years, the only thing our town ever succeeded at was being a bedroom community. There are innumerable reasons why we will never be a tourist destination or even have commercial development. Keep in mind that the town couldn’t even support a liquor store or a hardware store! What does that tell you?
The business owners, taxpayers and stakeholders of Cold Spring need to start making some noise when it comes to demanding the services we are entitled to. People need to get educated about the proper role of government in our lives. We are not supposed to just keep paying these outrageous taxes and get nothing for it. We are entitled to services in return and when it comes to tourism, we should be getting the lion’s share of that budget — not having to beg for crumbs that fall off the table.