Putnam County chair threatens to end meeting

The chair of the Putnam County Legislature repeatedly threatened on Tuesday (Feb. 6) to end its monthly meeting as a train of Philipstown residents criticized his decision to leave Nancy Montgomery off the body’s standing committees. 

Under the Legislature’s rules, residents are restricted to commenting on agenda items. Chair Paul Jonke grew frustrated when defenders of Montgomery, who represents Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley as the Legislature’s sole Democrat, said they wanted to comment on a resolution appointing Legislator Greg Ellner of Carmel to the Capital Projects Committee. 

Judy Farrell, a member of Philipstown's Town Board, and other town residents addressed the Putnam County Legislature on Tuesday (Feb. 6). Legislator NancyMontgomery is seated at right. (Photo by L. Sparks)
Judy Farrell, a member of Philipstown’s Town Board, and other town residents addressed the Putnam County Legislature on Tuesday (Feb. 6). Legislator Nancy Montgomery is seated at right. (Photo by L. Sparks)

After Janice Hogan, the chair of Philipstown Democrats, named that resolution as the subject of her comments before speaking about the treatment of Montgomery, Jonke threatened to end the meeting. 

“That’s not an agenda item,” said Jonke, who represents Southeast. “If this is going to be one after the other about something that’s not on the agenda, we’re either going to shut down public comment or shut down the meeting.” 

The confrontation was expected as Montgomery and the Philipstown Democrats urged residents to attend Tuesday’s meeting to protest. 

Although the Legislature’s eight Republicans appointed Montgomery, who represents Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley, to several boards during an organizational meeting on Jan. 2, Jonke kept her off the Legislature’s seven standing committees, whose rosters are filled by the chair.

Nearly all resolutions that reach the Legislature must first be approved by at least one of the three-person standing committees. While each Republican legislator received assignments to two or three committees, Montgomery will sit in 2024 only on the Budget and Finance Committee, which includes every legislator.

In a letter to Montgomery dated Jan. 25 that Jonke shared with The Current and read during Tuesday’s meeting, he claimed she had an “inability to work collaboratively, and to act professionally and collegially.”

He accused Montgomery of eight violations, including “flagrantly disregarding” the rules of order, “failing to confine your comments to the merits of the question”; “failing to maintain a courteous tone”; “injecting personal notes into debate, including personal attacks”; and “speaking more than once on a subject before every other legislator choosing to be heard on the subject has spoken without having received the permission of the chair to do so.”

Further, he said, Montgomery had disparaged past actions by the Legislature and engaged in unspecified activities that “disturbed meetings or that hampered the transaction of business.”

He also accused Montgomery of impugning the integrity of the Republican legislators by “accusing them of acting solely for political reasons, when it is glaringly obvious that so many of your actions are entirely political.”

Montgomery proposed on Tuesday a motion in which she would take Ellner’s place on the Rules Committee, but the other five legislators present stayed silent when Jonke asked if anyone seconded the motion in order to bring it to a vote. (Legislators Toni Addonizio and Ginny Nacerino were absent.)

Montgomery called each of her colleagues “culpable” in the decision to exclude her from the committees. “These games that we’re playing don’t belong here,” she said. “I’ve served this county and I’ve served it well.” 

Judy Farrell, a member of the Philipstown Town Board and the first person to speak, sparred with Jonke about the agenda rule as she spoke. At one point, Jonke told Farrell that “part of the problem is your legislator doesn’t care about rules.” 

Farrell said that “by discriminating” against Montgomery, Jonke was “discriminating against every resident of Philipstown and Putnam Valley” who elected her to the Legislature. 

“You need to do the right thing,” she said. “If you don’t, shame on you.” 

Hogan said the town needs “to be heard” when the Legislature is discussing the budget, health, infrastructure and other important topics. To exclude Montgomery from membership on any standing committee is the same as excluding her constituents, said Hogan. 

“We need for you to set aside differences professionally and work together,” she said.

Behind The Story

Type: News

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

The Peekskill resident is a former reporter for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, where he covered Sullivan County and later Newburgh. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Morgan State University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: General.

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3 Comments

  1. As a lifelong resident of Philipstown, I remember the days when all six towns were considered part of the county. The members of the Legislature were a congenial group, regardless of their politics. They were tough but fair.

    However, since this bunch of rogue lawmakers has gotten a stranglehold on the Legislature, it has become obvious that the county only has five towns.

    It is past time for the voters of Philipstown to seriously consider seceding from Putnam and joining Dutchess or Westchester. We are under the weight of taxation without representation. Tons of sales taxes generated by our businesses, especially in Cold Spring, are sent to Carmel with nothing to show for it.

    The Republicans are the majority in the Dutchess Legislature, but there is a significant Democratic lobby. Westchester is the opposite but still a true representative body. Philipstown residents deserve nothing less.

  2. On Feb. 6, I attended my first meeting of the Putnam County Legislature. What an astonishing experience! I have lived in many places and attended many municipal meetings but have never seen such a display of ignorance, hostility and malice directed at a single legislator.

    After hearing from residents objecting to Nancy Montgomery being barred from any standing committee, the chair, Legislator Paul Jonke, read aloud a letter he had sent Nancy explaining the rationale for his failure to appoint her. His explanation boiled down to a long list of complaints about her personality and manners. He concluded: “You are unfit to be appointed to any standing committee for 2024.” This is a breathtaking action.

    I hope the voters in Jonke’s district in Southeast will rush to discharge him from his position at the earliest opportunity. They should not be able to tolerate being disgraced by a person who abuses his position by declaring another elected official as “unfit.”

  3. When the Legislature acts in an undemocratic way, it will hear from the public. Ms. Farrell was absolutely correct to say that by cutting off Montgomery, the rest of the Legislature discriminates by denying the democratic and fiscal rights of every taxpayer/citizen in Philipstown and Putnam Valley.

    Nancy Montgomery can stand up for herself. But why should she have to waste her energy and time standing up for herself, instead of being allowed to bring innovative program ideas, or plans to reallocate resources and taxes to the communities that contribute so much? Why should such a talented dedicated civil servant, widowed mother of three and a person knowledgeable in such important areas as Emergency Medical Services as Montgomery is, be treated in such a bullying, uncivilized and undemocratic way?

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