Philipstown supervisor says Putnam Legislature hit ‘all-time low’
Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea last week called on a Putnam legislator to apologize for his behavior at a recent county meeting.
During the monthly meeting of the Putnam County Legislature, held June 2 by audio conference, Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown on the nine-member panel and is its only Democrat, was repeatedly interrupted while she argued against approving funds to reinstate a deputy county executive position.
At one point, as legislators talked over each other, a male voice told Montgomery to “shut up, shut up, shut up.”
Montgomery objected that “it sounds like Legislator [Neal] Sullivan telling me to shut up.” She appealed to the chair, Toni Addonizio of Kent, to restore order.
Addonizio stated that she did “not know who’s doing that.”
Sullivan maintained that “I didn’t say anything.”
Two days later, at a meeting of the Philipstown Town Board, Shea accused Sullivan of “disgusting and reprehensible” behavior.
“The tenor in the county Legislature has reached an all-time low when you have a legislative member telling another member to ‘shut up’ multiple times,” Shea said. “That is unacceptable, and Neal Sullivan should be ashamed of himself. He’s brought shame to that legislative body. He needs to conduct himself in a more professional manner” and “to apologize to the entire legislative body for his conduct.”
Sullivan did not respond to a request for comment.
Typically, county legislators must identify themselves and obtain the chair’s permission before speaking, a practice often ignored during the heated exchanges over transferring $20,558 to hire a deputy county executive through the end of the year. The position had been vacant since 2017 but County Executive MaryEllen Odell said that “the current global pandemic and grave economic crisis” made restoring it “imperative.”
Montgomery cast the lone vote against the funds transfer.
In her monthly report on June 4 to the Philipstown board, she explained: “We’re a tiny county. We don’t need all this government. We don’t need this expansive executive [department], the high-paid top officials we have.” Instead, she proposed that Putnam focus on rank-and-file workers because those “making low salaries deserve a lot more support than what they’re getting.”
Legislators can reconsider funding the deputy county executive position when they take up the 2021 budget this fall.
Several hours before the June 2 vote, Odell issued a news release referring to Thomas Feighery, a project manager in the Highway Department, as the deputy county executive.
In her remarks that night, Montgomery noted the timing of the release and claimed her colleagues were providing “a rubber stamp on a patronage hire.” She also questioned Feighery’s credentials and declared that his responsibilities, as defined by Odell, did not match the job description for a deputy county executive.
“Now is the time for hiring freezes and austerity measures at every level until we can stabilize county finances,” she argued, pointing out that Finance Commissioner Bill Carlin had warned of possible county employee furloughs and layoffs in the wake of the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
(In a separate meeting, convened that night after the vote on the deputy county executive funds transfer, Carlin delivered grim news, noting that the sales tax revenue received by the county in May was 24 percent less than recorded in May 2019.)
Legislator Ginny Nacerino of Patterson responded that Feighery’s job was “a benefit to the people of Putnam, to help this county get back on its feet,” and berated Montgomery for trying “to grandstand and monopolize the whole meeting.”
Legislator Paul Jonke of Southeast said that initially he thought Montgomery asked questions at meetings “because she was unprepared. But now I know it’s just grandstanding and that’s what she wants to do. She wants to go on and on about her pet peeves. And I don’t think this is the place for it.”
Sullivan urged them to avoid discussing “things that don’t matter.”
Montgomery protested that her colleagues “don’t want to hear what anyone has to say.” If deliberation and discussion are banned, “what are we here for?” she said. “I work for the people.”
“We all work for the people. We all serve our communities,” Sullivan asserted. “We all want to do what’s right for them.”