Legislators question whether renting out vehicles was legal

By Holly Toal

Putnam County rented buses to advocates for a proposed senior center at the Butterfield development in Cold Spring to bring supporters to legislative meetings when the measure was being considered — an act that lawmakers who have questioned the cost of the project called a misuse of county property.

Kevin Wright (R-Mahopac) said renting county buses to transport seniors to the meetings was “unquestionably improper, if not worse,” and that the matter should be referred to the state Attorney General to review its legality.

“I need no clarification, I know it’s wrong,” Wright said at the county’s Sept. 22 Rules Committee meeting. “It’s inexcusable; just horrendous.”

The matter came to light after a group of seniors was seen disembarking from a county vehicle at the Historic Courthouse in Carmel before the legislature’s Sept. 6 meeting. At the meeting, the county approved a 15-year lease to rent space at the former Butterfield Hospital site in Cold Spring for a senior center. The agreement has been scrutinized because the county plans to spend $1.3 million to develop the center and because it has not released details of the lease.

Barbara Scuccimarra (R-Philipstown) said she didn’t see any conflict with renting a county bus to seniors who wanted to attend a legislature meeting when they may not have other means of getting to Carmel.

“The Office for Senior Resources does transport seniors to anything they want to go to,” she pointed out. “They’ve been to Albany to lobby for senior issues, they’ve been to memorial services. I don’t believe it’s that unusual for the Senior Resources to transport seniors. And whether to bring the attorney general into this … I don’t know if I see the necessity for that.”

The audience at the Aug. 23 Physical Services committee meeting (Photo by Ross Corsair)
The audience at the Aug. 23 Physical Services committee meeting (File photo by Ross Corsair)

Carl Albano (R-Carmel) also said alerting the attorney general would be a waste of time.

“We bused seniors to a meeting about a senior proposed project in their town,” he said. “I’m not losing sleep over this.”

Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls), who chairs the Rules Committee, said she was astonished that the county had rented its buses to a group that hoped to influence a vote. “In the eight years that I have been here … I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “I don’t understand how you don’t understand that this is inappropriate.”

Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) said that while a notice posted about the availability of transportation to Carmel for the meetings “was not worded properly” because it “did not appear to be open to everybody,” lawmakers wanted to encourage seniors to “participate in government.” Newsletters distributed to seniors by the county suggested they attend the legislative meetings to “offer their support for this important project.”

Joe Castellano (R-Southeast) agreed with Nacerino and emphasized that taxpayers had not paid for the buses. Instead, Cold Spring resident Donna Anderson, an active supporter of the senior center, was invoiced on Sept. 8 by the Office for Senior Resources for $742 for round-trip bus service to legislative meetings on May 3, Aug. 23 and Sept. 6.

This led former Cold Spring trustee Stephanie Hawkins to ask the Rules Committee if the county was starting a bus service. “Are county transportation services for hire?” she asked.

Discussion turned to what role Patricia Sheehy, head of the Putnam County Office for Senior Resources, had in organizing the trips. Scuccimarra asked to read a letter from Sheehy into the record. When LoBue objected, Scuccimarra said the discussion should be tabled until Sheehy could be present.

“I’m surprised Pat Sheehy wasn’t invited here to speak on her behalf,” Scuccimarra said. “We should not discuss this any further until Pat Sheehy is here to defend herself and can read this [letter] from her boss in Albany” at the New York State Office for the Aging.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Crocco is a freelance journalist who contributes coverage of the Putnam County legislature. Location: Carmel. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Putnam County politics

5 replies on “County Buses Brought Seniors to Butterfield Meetings”

  1. The title of the article is erroneous, at a minimum misleading. Just read the article.

    These buses were not “rented.” The bus service was provided by the county free of charge to transport advocates of a specific policy to county legislative meetings. Over several months. Not to the general public. Not to just anyone. Then, apparently as a few unusually alert and responsible at the county legislature got wind of the fact that county tax monies were being used as a political expense account, the county administration decided to bill someone $742. How was it determined who got this bill? How was it determined that the bill was $742? How do we know this covered the costs?

    If there was a contract or agreement between the county and someone, let’s see it. Normally contracts of this nature in the private sector have to be settled monthly, with bills every month, or the service or privilege in question stops. Just ask anyone who fails to pay an electric bill or cell phone bill, or who forgets to buy a monthly train ticket or who forgets to pay a parking ticket on time. Everyone knows what happens then and it’s not good.

    How do we know this is the end of the issue? Why would anyone think so?

    Is this supposed to be some kind of a joke? Do taxpayers fund governments because they lack sufficient comic relief in their lives? I am frankly curious for answers to my questions.

    1. I agree with Frank. The subtitle to this piece is misleading. The Rules Committee was not examining whether renting Office for Senior Resource buses to the public was appropriate; it was assembled to examine whether Pat Sheehy’s providing free busing to a select group of seniors in service to a particular agenda was a matter about which the Legislature should request the Attorney General’s opinion. It only came to light at the Sept. 22 Rules Committee meeting that after being caught in a lie, Pat Sheehy tried to cover up for her lie and her actions by retroactively invoicing a resident $742 to compensate the County for busing seniors from Cold Spring to County Legislature meetings about the Butterfield development & senior center dating back to May of this year.

  2. Correction: It was at the Aug. 23 meeting of the Physical Services committee that members of the public observed seniors arriving (and departing) via the Office for the Aging bus. It was at that meeting that residents called attention to this misuse of resources, and it was at that meeting that both Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra and Office for Senior Resources head Pat Sheehy denied seniors had been bused by the County to that meeting. When the busing occurred again, and with dramatic flourish (seniors were ushered to seats in the jury box) at the Sept. 6 meeting, Legislator Kevin Wright asked that the Rules Committee discuss at its next meeting on Sept. 22 requesting of the State Attorney General an opinion of Sheehy’s actions in regard to the selective busing of seniors in support of a certain political agenda.

  3. Rules Chairwoman LoBue refused to accept the Sheehy letter by Barbara Scuccimarra since it was an additional item to which none of the legislators were privy and Rule 24 requires that items proposed for the agenda meet time requirements. On this matter also, legislators Albano and Nacerino weren’t losing any sleep. Are we surprised?

  4. I can confirm the facts Stephanie and Frank have provided above. I arrived late to the full legislature meeting on Aug. 6 and saw Pat Sheehy, head of the Office for Senior Resources, greeting seniors as they got off the Office for Senior Resources bus in front of the courthouse. When walking in I said “Hello” to Pat when she was taking a group of seniors up in the elevator. They were then taken though the rear, private chambers of the courthouse and seated in the juror’s box. This seemed highly unusual and I wondered what impact this was intended to have on the Legislators vote that evening as well as the public.

    At that meeting there was much discussion about this after Legislator Wright raised the issue and said that he was going to consult with the Attorney General. The issue, as he framed it, was using taxpayer money / resources to transport the seniors to possibly influence a vote. At no time did either Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra or Sheehy mention that the taxpayers did not, in fact, pay for it. One would think that if Donna Anderson were being billed for this, as well as the prior trips, that would have been the very first statement both of them would have made. They made no mention of that “fact”.

    Remember, there is audio and video of these meetings, so a clear record of who said what and when is available. Like when Scuccimarra vehemently maintained on Aug. 23 that the Office for Senior Resources never transported seniors to county meetings on Butterfield. To then go back and retroactively bill a resident creates the appearance of a cover-up and only makes matters worse. I can’t understand why they wouldn’t just go through the process with Rules and Ethics and make amends. But instead, Scuccimarra goes on the defensive for Sheehy to circumvent that process. Something is very wrong here.

    Let me be clear: I support a new and upgraded center for the seniors in Cold Spring. I simply have questions as to how this administration has gone about delivering that service and what their true intentions are in doing so in the way that they have. This only raises further questions and concerns in my mind. Scuccimarra has a record of having a problem with the truth. District 1 deserves better representation on the County Legislature.

    Going forward, if they continue this line of reasoning/defense; I wonder if the County is permitted and properly insured under their busing contract to resell the busing services of the contract holder to a private citizen? If so, who owns the risk if there is an incident/claim when a private third party is determining when and how the bus moves and who is on the bus? I would be interested to hear the opinion of the underwriting department that insures the contract holder for the services they deliver to the County, especially when the County is not the one directing or receiving the services delivered. If it were me, I would not touch this one.

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