Casts lone ‘no’ votes on license-plate policy, radio-tower deal
When the Putnam County Legislature met before Christmas to wrap up 2020 business, most of the lawmakers used the session’s final moments to share holiday greetings.
Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown and is the Legislature’s only Democrat, had a different message.
“The county’s government is fundamentally broken,” she said at the Dec. 17 meeting. “This year we have again overspent on non-priorities. We’ve underperformed in our response to the pandemic” and “underfunded public safety for the purpose of political gain. And we’ve locked the public out of our deliberations by hiding behind this format,” an often-shaky audio connection utilized because of an executive order by the governor to limit in-person meetings.
Praising the county staff for continuing “to deliver essential services to the public through these very, very bad times,” Montgomery described the Health Department employees as “understaffed, underpaid, and crushing themselves to meet the demands” of the pandemic, while Sheriff’s Department deputies similarly “keep answering our calls, despite feeling undervalued, insufficiently equipped, and over-scrutinized by a hostile [county] administration.”
Her own efforts “are frustrated by the administration out of pure hostility” as well, she added. She thanked her constituents for “filling the gaps the county leaves open in our public services, for taking care of each other,” and for helping her remember “how good the people I represent are: how giving, how humane and how forthright,” offering a valuable “contrast and perspective” to what she said she encounters in county government.
Montgomery likewise voiced suspicions that the eight Republican legislators confer without her. But when she asked if they have meet in party-based caucuses to discuss legislative matters, no one responded.
Nonetheless, she extended holiday best wishes to them, adding that “I hope in 2021 we can work together with more transparency” and sharing of information and “help the people of our county participate in government.”
Earlier in the meeting, Montgomery cast the lone “no” votes on an agreement with Pamal Broadcasting; an allocation for emergency dispatching equipment; and the adoption of a license-plate-reader policy.
By an 8-1 vote, the Legislature authorized County Executive MaryEllen Odell to finalize an agreement with Pamal Broadcasting to allow Putnam to rent space on the WHUD radio tower in Continental Village in Philipstown for emergency response communications devices and to convey to Pamal’s owner, James Morrell, a 1-acre parcel adjacent to the tower.
According to the Philipstown tax rolls, the parcel’s full-market value is $102,128. The Legislature’s resolution did not state how much Pamal would pay for the land or how much it would cost the county to use the tower.
During a Dec. 15 Physical Services Committee meeting, Thomas Lannon, the county’s information technology director, referred to the WHUD tower as “probably one of our most important ones in the county” for emergency services. “That side of the county has always been very difficult” to reach. He said the Putnam apparatus would join Westchester County equipment on the tower, furthering cooperation, “which is critical.”
Two days later, at the Legislature’s year-end meeting, Montgomery said that placing Putnam equipment on the WHUD tower was “essential” but urged the county to separate the equipment placement from the land deal. “It’s just sloppy government to put them together,” she said.
Legislator Carl Albano of Carmel protested. “I in no way feel it was ‘sloppy.’ It makes a lot of sense.” He predicted that use of the radio tower would mean “a great improvement” in emergency communications.
Montgomery also wondered if a massive cellphone/wireless telecommunications tower could be constructed on the land Pamal acquires.
Both Albano and Legislator Carl Jonke of Southeast responded that Philipstown would have to approve any cell tower and called Montgomery’s inquiries “a waste of time.”
When Philipstown last rejected a cell-tower application, it was sued by the tower developers. In a simultaneous attempt to stop a cell tower, Nelsonville, too, was sued.
“I’m trying to avoid” those scenarios, Montgomery said.
Montgomery opposed the appropriation of $398,000 for equipment at the county’s 911-call dispatch center in Carmel in anticipation of consolidation of call-dispatch functions by the Sheriff’s Department and Bureau of Emergency Services. She had also raised concerns in committee discussions earlier in December.
“It’s insane to move forward with this,” she said. “Where’s the plan?” Moreover, she said, “numbers don’t add up” on the costs and the county capital projects planning committee had not reviewed the project.
At an Audit Committee meeting earlier that day, Bill Carlin, the county finance commissioner, said the equipment would cost $348,685 but that the administration included another $50,000 to hire experts to help with the work, if needed.
Legislator Ginny Nacerino of Patterson said the equipment would be part of “an effective and efficient plan for the safety and well-being of our residents.”
Montgomery again criticized the Odell administration’s policy on license-plate-readers (LPRs), which help police track or identify vehicles. The policy replaces one created in March by the Sheriff’s Department with legislative input and gives the Information Technology Department a role in the storage and review of LPR data.
Montgomery questioned that approach and said the policy should follow information-storage protocols used by the federal Justice Department or another law enforcement institution. “We’re going to leave ourselves wide-open for this data to be shared with private companies, for-profit businesses,” she warned.
She said that she surveyed policies in other counties and municipalities and that all except one keep the data with law enforcement.
But Nacerino said the data will be “confined to our IT Department” and Legislator Amy Sayegh of Mahopac said she backs “having IT protect the data from hacking.”
“We want to get these LPRs out” on the streets, said Legislator Neal Sullivan of Carmel-Mahopac. “To keep beating this thing up like this is a waste of time.”