Rules Committee drops proposal to ask for investigation
By Holly Crocco
The Putnam County Legislature’s Rules Committee on Dec. 19 put to bed a suggestion to alert the state Attorney General’s Office that Cold Spring seniors were bused to legislative meetings earlier this year to voice support for a senior center being planned for the Butterfield property.
The matter came to light after a group of seniors was seen unloading from a county vehicle at the Aug. 23 Physical Services committee meeting at the Historic Courthouse in Carmel. The transportation was allegedly arranged by Office for Senior Resources Director Pat Sheehy.
The seniors were again bused to the full legislature meeting on Sept. 6, when the county approved a 15-year lease to rent property at the former Butterfield Hospital site in Cold Spring to operate a senior center – a project that has been heavily debated due to the $4.5 million price tag associated with the project.
The county later sent an invoice to Donna Anderson, a Cold Spring resident, for a total of $742 for three trips.
While Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls) said the incidents warrant an opinion from the attorney general, her colleagues said they believe the actions are not worthy of state intervention.
“It’s not an issue of [Sheehy] advocating for the seniors; this is public transportation that was only offered to a certain group of residents and that’s discriminatory,” said LoBue. “That’s absolutely against the law. If you offer busing, it has to be offered to everyone – including members of the public who were not in favor” of the project.
“You cannot provide the buses to one group of people for one issue, and not provide the buses to all of the residents for all of the other issues we discuss,” she said.
LoBue also took issue with the fact that Sheehy was twice requested to appear before the Rules Committee, and both times she sent a letter saying she was unable to make the meeting.
“It’s unprecedented for a department head to be requested by committee and then not show up two times in a row,” said LoBue.
Carl Albano (R-Carmel) said the county should not waste the attorney general’s time by sending the matter to his office for review.
“We should just pass on this,” he said. “If we didn’t like the idea that that happened, we can say we don’t want it to happen again. But using the buses for seniors does seem to me like something worth sending to the attorney general.”
Albano added that the offer to transport seniors to the meeting was not exclusive.
“Everyone who wanted to go on the bus that was interested in the senior center was welcome,” he said. “It wasn’t restricted to a chosen few that were in favor of [the lease]. Anyone who wanted to go on the bus would have had the opportunity. In addition to that, there was a reimbursement for those rides by someone on the western side of the county, kind of to put this to bed.”
Acknowledging that the busing may have been “inappropriate,” Albano said the county can make sure the matter is handled differently in the future.
Barbara Scuccimarra (R-Philipstown) agreed.
“I don’t know where the attorney general ever came into this,” she said. “If we have a problem with something that’s happened in the past, we discuss it and we come to a decision ourselves.”
Further, Scuccimarra said it is well within Sheehy’s purview to provide transportations for seniors to get to county meetings.
“She was an advocate for this project because it benefits the seniors that have been so underserved on the western side of the county,” said Scuccimarra. “There was nothing wrong with what she did.”
Brewster resident Alexandra Valentine said there’s a difference between “doing a good job” as a department head and advocating for a particular piece of legislation that involves expenditures of taxpayer money.
“There is also a difference between making services in the budget available that you’ve already voted on… and then this totally unique opportunity for certain people to have a totally convenient free bus ride,” she said. “I have never heard of any other constituency to have this opportunity.”
Valentine further expressed her view that the county needs an opinion on what warrants the attention of the attorney general.
“If you don’t think this is, that’s fine. But what is?” she asked. “What’s OK and what isn’t, when it comes to putting taxpayer-funded facilities available for people who happen to promote this one particular piece of legislation? Because that’s lobbying, to me. That’s not services.”
The Rules Committee took no further action on the matter.