Accuses colleagues of fast-tracking renewals
Legislator Nancy Montgomery last week clashed with fellow Putnam County lawmakers for pushing ahead on contracts for the legislative attorney and auditors without public discussion or committee scrutiny.
The lone Democrat on the nine-member Legislature, Montgomery, who represents Philipstown, cast the sole “no” votes on the renewals during a Nov. 6 meeting in Carmel.
No information on either contract appeared in the meeting’s 118-page packet of background materials, which typically provide details on agenda items.
“I just received this contract today,” Montgomery complained, referring to the agreement to retain Altieri & Firriolo, the firm of legislative counsel Robert Firriolo. “How come it did not go before a committee?”
Montgomery also criticized the lack of review of the second contract, with auditors O’Connor Davies LLP.
Legislature Chairman Joseph Castellano of Brewster said that Firriolo’s contract, which will pay his firm up to $75,000 for 2020, is for a four-year period that began in 2018, although the Legislature can endorse it yearly. Doing so “gives us the ability to come out of the contract if we want to,” he said.
According to heavily redacted, itemized invoices obtained by The Current through a Freedom of Information Law request, Firriolo bills the county a flat fee of $5,833 per month, or $70,000 annually. He recorded an average of 58 hours per month from January through June, or the equivalent of about $100 per hour. (In Dutchess County, the part-time legislative counsel earns $60,000.)
Montgomery recommended annual requests for proposals for professional services, arguing that “it would be good government to look at these contracts and discuss them every year. How can we proceed to be fiscally responsible if we are not looking at this? I want to be sure this body is doing its due diligence.”
“We are looking at it every year,” Castellano replied. “We have a contract in front of us. We renew it every year. This is what we do.” He said Montgomery could try to postpone action, although “I don’t see the point.”
Montgomery further warned that the contract language “goes against the spirit of municipal law and procurement policy.” When other legislators interrupted her, she objected that they sought to deny her a chance “to tell you what I see is wrong with the contract. I have a right to explain that.”
She said she was not criticizing Firriolo, who “has been very helpful” on legislative matters. But she also recalled that she and he “have a long history” involving her efforts “to keep guns out of my Town Hall and trying to keep guns locked up.”
(Before her election last year, Montgomery was a member of the Philipstown Town Board. In his private law practice, Firriolo has represented the Shooters Committee on Political Education, a gun-rights group, and the National Rifle Association. Gun activists protested in 2011 when Philipstown sought to prevent civilians from bringing guns onto town property and in 2018 when the Town Board established requirements for the storage of firearms.)
As Montgomery tried to continue, other legislators urged a vote on the contract, cutting her off.
After the vote, Montgomery sent The Current the critique she said she had been prevented from delivering at the meeting.
Under the state’s General Municipal Law code, Montgomery wrote, legislators “are mandated to ‘assure the prudent and economical use of public moneys in the best interests of the taxpayers’ ” as well as to “ ‘guard against favoritism, improvidence, extravagance, fraud and corruption.’ ”
In the minutes of the Legislature’s discussions when it initially hired Firriolo, Montgomery stated she could find nothing on “things like conflicts of interest. I believe it would be a conflict of interest if the law firm has ever represented any of the members of the Legislature in a legal matter, donated to any members of the Legislature, or donated to any political committees within the county, or done so through a spouse.”
(State campaign finance reports show that Robert Firriolo of Carmel donated $120 this year to the re-election campaign of Carl Albano, the legislator whose district includes the hamlet of Carmel. Searches did not show any contributions by his firm. Firriolo could not immediately be reached for comment on the contribution or his contract with the Legislature.)
Montgomery proposed that legislators inquire whether its counsel “has any such relationships or has made such contributions and if so, to disclose” them in writing, and that legislators who have done business with him or received political donations recuse themselves from decisions involving his firm. “If not,” she asserted, “the avoidance of ‘favoritism, improvidence, extravagance, fraud and corruption’ will not be accomplished.”
The contract with the Legislature requires its counsel to agree he “has no interest and will not acquire any interest, direct or indirect, that would conflict in any manner” with his duties. However, Montgomery argued the stipulations could go further.
Her critique also faulted a demand that the counsel’s work “be performed … in the best interests of the county,” as opposed to the best interests of the Legislature.
“While this may seem unimportant,” she explained, “the Legislature is a separate branch of government — despite the observation that there seems to be very little separation — whose interests may be different from [those of] the county, which may be defined to be the executive branch” or the county executive’s administration.
“This is sloppy drafting and needs to be cleaned up,” Montgomery wrote.