Report claims Putnam executive paid less for club catering

By Chip Rowe

Two candidates who hope to unseat Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell in November had strong words for the incumbent following a Journal News report on June 13 that alleged her re-election campaign received catering discounts at the county-owned golf course.

The report, by David McKay Wilson, relied on contracts for 282 catered events held at the Putnam County Golf Course in Mahopac in 2016 and 2017 that the newspaper obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request. They appeared to show that Odell’s campaign and a nonprofit founded by newly elected Legislator Amy Sayegh and directed by an Odell assistant were charged less than other groups for events at the facility.

In a statement, Paul Denbaum, a member of the Kent Town Board who is challenging Odell in the Republican primary, called on the county Legislature to investigate, demanding that all documents be released “to determine what, if any, criminal behavior occurred.”

Fleming and Odell (Photos provided)

Maureen Fleming, the Kent supervisor who is the Democratic candidate for county executive, accused Odell in a statement of using a public facility “to dispense favors to her political cronies, and, even worse, to give discounts to herself and her campaign…. If you or I were to rent the facility, we would pay full price, just like the organizations that are not on Odell’s list of favorites. Taxpayers are subsidizing Odell’s campaign.”

Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown in the county Legislature, did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

Nick Fannin, Odell’s campaign manager, said the accusation that the campaign received special treatment was “absolutely not true.

“The Odell campaign is a regular and repeat client, yet everything is still done at arm’s length,” he said. “We do not negotiate rates or terms. We simply request dates for outings or events and give an estimate of the number of people attending. Then we pay the invoice when it comes in. We believe to be paid up to date and have not heard otherwise. Should there be any outstanding bills, the campaign will pay them promptly.”

Applied Golf LLC runs the golf course, and Homestyle Caterers provides the food, both under contract with the county. While Fannin said Homestyle sets the prices, The Journal News and Odell’s political opponents emphasized the potential conflict of interest because her administration oversees the county’s contract with the caterer.

Homestyle Caterers has been on a month-to-month contract since February 2017, and on May 27 the county issued a call for bids for the club’s catering business.

For seven of the 15 events held at the club by the Committee to Elect MaryEllen Odell over two years, the campaign did not pay the standard 18 percent service charge, according to The Journal News. In another case, it didn’t pay sales tax on a $3,960 food tab. It also appeared to receive meals and drinks at less than the rate charged others, Wilson wrote.

Fannin told The Current he had researched the bills in question, and that six of the seven events were held in a small space downstairs at the club and did not involve wait staff. They were meet-and-greets or gatherings such as one after Odell’s State of the County address in which managers put out the food or worked the bar. In the other case, a retirement party for a longtime county employee who is a veteran, the golf course waived the service fee, he said.

The clubhouse at the Putnam County Golf Course

Fannin said the golf course is reviewing its invoices to the campaign to make sure nothing was overlooked. He said he expects to receive a bill for the sales tax on the $3,960 food bill.

Odell’s campaign has been the club’s largest customer, spending about $77,000 in the past three years, The Journal News reported. (The names of 96 catering clients were redacted by the county in the documents.) The county receives 30 percent of gross catering sales at the club, plus 4 percent of the sales tax collected.

The nonprofit Putnam Community Cares, whose founder and board president is Sayegh and whose newly appointed executive director is Odell’s public relations assistant, Faith Ann Butcher, held three fundraisers at the club and was charged only the proceeds from the cash bar, an unusual arrangement, according to The Journal News. Based in Mahopac, the organization provides household assistance to families in which a parent is dealing with cancer or other major illness.

Odell told Wilson that “nothing can be said that’s negative when you are trying to do something nice for people and trying to raise money and awareness. There is no burden on the taxpayers. Actually, if you look at it in the way I look at it, we are helping people, we are helping taxpayers.”

Behind The Story

Type: News

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

A former longtime national magazine editor, Rowe has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Idaho and South Dakota and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University. Location: Philipstown. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: General.