Putnam Lawmakers Start New Year as They Ended Old: With Clashes

Montgomery loses bid for deputy chair, criticizes jail doctor pick

Putnam County legislators this week launched 2021 the same way they ended 2020: In 8-to-1 fights pitting Legislator Nancy Montgomery, a Democrat whose district includes Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley, versus her colleagues, all Republicans, on key issues.

Still, in another echo of 2020, they achieved unanimity on less fraught matters. 

In the meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 5) held by audio connection because of the continued COVID-19 threat, Montgomery nominated herself for deputy chairperson as an alternative to Legislator Neal Sullivan of Carmel-Mahopac. After none of the other legislators would second her motion, Sullivan, the incumbent, won another term. 

In opposing Sullivan, Montgomery noted that at past meetings he had told her to “shut up” and “there’s been profanity toward me. Honestly, it’s been quite the hostile work environment. I don’t believe that this is the best choice for a deputy chair.” 

By comparison, she suggested, as the only minority party member she could help unite them. “We could make a lot of good friends if we could just work together,” she said. 

Sullivan later concurred that “we should all be working together,” especially during the pandemic. “This is no time for negativity or division.” However, he refuted a comment Montgomery had made at the Legislature’s year-end meeting in December, when she claimed that “county government is fundamentally broken.” 

“It’s not ‘fundamentally broken,’ ” he said. 

Also on Tuesday, legislators reelected Toni Addonizio of Kent as chairperson, with Montgomery’s support. 

Along with opposing Sullivan’s reappointment, Montgomery questioned the methods used to prepare a long roster of liaisons to other organizations, including the Cornell Cooperative Extension, to which Addonizio nominated herself. 

“Was this discussed outside of this meeting?” Montgomery wondered.

“That’s not an appropriate question,” Addonizio responded, also dodging Montgomery’s query on whether the Republicans held a party caucus before the legislative session.

When Montgomery added that she simply wanted to know if the appointments had been discussed ahead of time, Addonizio replied: “I’m not answering that.”

Nonetheless, Montgomery joined all her colleagues in making Addonizio their representative to the Extension board. The legislators likewise unanimously chose Montgomery as liaison to the Region 3 Forest Practice Board and the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, and, recognizing her role as the Legislature’s minority-party leader, as a representative to the county’s Capital Projects Committee. 

When the other eight legislators ratified the choice of Dr. Michael Nesheiwat, the county health commissioner, as the physician at the county jail, Montgomery voted “no.” She initially questioned his dual posts last year.

Under a contract with the county, PrimeCare Medical, a private firm, serves jail inmates. Montgomery said Tuesday that PrimeCare in turn contracts with another professional medical care practice, which assigns Nesheiwat to the jail job. 

“The fact we’re appointing our health commissioner to do this, going into the second year of a pandemic, is astounding,” she said. “It’s irresponsible and reckless.” Montgomery said the doctor “is the highest-paid county employee” but that “we’re withholding from the public the additional salary [he] makes via a private contract to be jail physician.”

Further, she said, it appears Nesheiwat “has neither the qualifications required by the state, nor is he employed in accordance with the county charter.”

In November 2018, the state health department informed Putnam County that Nesheiwat needed to complete his master of public health degree, or demonstrate continued efforts to do so, for the state to agree to a further term for him in 2021. The agency also reminded Putnam that state law requires that county health commissioners “devote [their] entire time to the duties of this office.”

The Putnam County charter also requires the health commissioner to “serve on a full-time basis.”

When the issue came up in May, Nesheiwat told The Current that his time at the jail presents “no conflict with my duties” as health commissioner.

On Tuesday, no other legislator shared Montgomery’s concerns.

“Just to maybe speak the truth here: We’re not appointing Dr. Nesheiwat,” said Legislator Paul Jonke of Southeast. “We are confirming an appointment of Dr. Nesheiwat. He is working with an outside company” at the jail.

Legislator Amy Sayegh of Mahopac said the arrangement “is nothing new. And it’s been fully vetted by the Putnam County Law Department.” She said that even if Montgomery “does not understand the issue does not make it inappropriate or wrong.”

Nesheiwat “is doing a fantastic job,” Legislator Carl Albano of Carmel added.

Comments are closed.