Thursday, April 05, 2007

TOWN BD HAS TILL NEXT WEEK TO RESPOND TO STATE COMPTROLLERS REPORT REGARDING WESTHELP

The Greenburgh Town Board has till the middle of next week to respond to the State comptroller's report regarding the WESTHELP partnership. The comptroller gave the Town Board 90 days to respond to the report. Among options included in the comptrollers report---renegotiating the WESTHELP partnership agreement. I believe that the Town Board should renegotiate the agreement and that promises made should be kept, provided (of course) that they comply with state law. The State Comptroller's office provided all the Town Board members with an option that would enable the WESTHELP partnership to continue.
I urge the Town Board to comply with the State Comptroller's request that a response be submitted within 90 days (next week).

60 comments:

The party's over said...

The state comptroller made three findings in his report that require corrective action by the Town Board.

First, the report finds the town's $6.5 million gift of town taxpayer money to a school district for district use only was illegal. Any such gift must by law be for a town-wide purpose.

The corrective action is to declare the gift agreement null and void.

Second, the report finds that a portion of the $6.5 million in town taxpayer money was being transferred under the agreement to a private foundation in violation of the state constitution.

The corrective action is for the town to await the results of the ongoing audit of the gift money and then take steps to get back that and any other taxpayer money found to have been transferred as a gift to private individuals or entities.

Finally, the report found that Paul Feiner, as town supervisor, did not tell the truth when he said that the gift was needed to compensate the school district for the cost of educating WestHelp's school-age children. The report found that very few WestHelp kids attended Valhalla schools and no evidence in any event that the district was out-of-pocket any money for that reason.

The report also found that Feiner had no evidence to back up his claim that the gift was needed to compensate the Mayfair Knollwood neighborhood for agreeing to have a homeless shelter within a mile or two of their homes because there was no evidence that there had ever been any reduction in property values there.

The corrective action to be taken in response to that is for the Town Board to learn from its embarrassing mistake in having relied on Feiner and flatly reject all suggestions from him and anyone else that the "agreement" must now be re-negotiated.

The party's over.

hal samis said...

The State Comptroller is a pretty busy desk these days. However, the Greenburgh Town Council doesn't want to add to the clutter on the desk and ask for help.

Whether it be help for the West or help regarding our Library contracts, "we can do it ourselves" is their motto.

However, when we do it ourselves are we doing it right?

For those untroubled by the citation of facts and history, scroll down to *****

"Take the Library, please" is such an exampleof still doing it wrong. For the five contracts to start the construction ball rolling, the Town Council (Bass, Barnes, Juettner and Sheehan) reluctantly hired outside counsel, first to report to themselves only and then even more halfheartedly, to include the Supervisor and have counsel report to the Town BOARD. New ways die hard and the outside counsel still acted as though he were counsel only to the Council but he clearly did not consider the residents/taxpayers to be his real client, even though it is this group that is paying the legal fees.

The underlying goal was to allow constuction to start by hiring those who would do the work. However, with the Project now costing more to complete than estimated (the $19.9 million of the Referendum), the Town Council which is heavily invested in promulgating the fiction that they, as the shepherds of this project, are doing a good job, it became necessary to manage the information dribbling out to the interested public. Knowing that the approved bid amounts would inflict terminal damage to the project wherewithal, the Town Council followed the advice of their counsel to release a stream of hopefully adequate cost-cutting measures (good change orders, going to save $$$) to the awarded contracts. The first two are on the coming Town Board meeting Agenda. The problem is that the losing bidders might cry foul play. So what the Town Council was advised to do was sit tight and hope that no one came forward to sue the Town over abusing the mandated public bidding process. It would also be helpful if an automatic 60 day "cooling off" period could expire during which the losing bidders could contest the awards without having to initiate legal action. This was the "mysterious" period when the bidders "neglected" to sign and return their contracts. Now, we this week ended a similar but even more provacative contract signing -- executing the fifth contract, the geothermal drilling. What makes this more controversial is that the change order (bad change order, going to cost $$$) is likely to be a complete reversal of the bid package proposal by incorporating a new loop system and increase the number of wells -- all to avoid obtaining the still unapplied permits from NYC while at the same time to avoid cancelling the awarded contract and causing re-bidding.

So, the advice from the outside counsel is to sign the contracts and keep your fingers crossed. Only too happy to hear this, the Town Council and the Town Attorney ganged up on the Supervisor and said SIGN. Lacking few friends on this issue, Feiner capitulated.

*****
Welcome back!

So, what do we conclude for how business continues to be done in Greenburgh? Same old, same old, even though the Comptroller advised the Town to carefully evaluate all new contracts being signed. Any questions, give me a ring, or an email.

Whereas l'affaire WESTHELP originated in the bygone days of the old, wild west when no one really cared to look past the copy much less see if the i's were dotted and the t's crossed; today we have the dawning of the new age in Greenburgh -- and Mr. Sheehan is solidly esconced in his Town Council seat (he wasn't there for WESTHELP, parts I and II) and the Town Board is again doing what it does best -- playing fast and loose with the law. And again, we have a Town Attorney who I am sure has prepared a written opinion to justify this mayhem.

So if anyone thinks that the Town Board is now taking the high road because the Comptroller, for a few days, found Greenburgh on the map, they would do well to understand how nothing has changed. No matter what color gift wrapping they choose, ribbons or not, the Pandora-in-the-box underneath is still the same.

And the Town Board is getting back to the Comptroller just as "quickly" as the winning bidders for Library Contracts returned their signed contracts to the Town.

We read so much how new technology has eased and sped up the communication of information. In Greenburgh, the messenger is just about to leave for Albany, on foot.

Anonymous said...

Dear "Party's Over":

In the context of revising history as evidenced by your blog rants, are you the guy that I can talk to about revising my picks for the 2007 NCAA basketball brackets?

I think that I probably would get a lot more right now. How does a Florida vs Ohio State final sound, with Florida winning?

How does that sound to you?

PS – Are you still accepting bets for the 2007 Super Bowl? If so, I would like to pick the Colts over the Bears.

Samis wins Emily Littella award said...

Omigod! Samis is now Emily ("Nevermind") Litella.

Not only is the blog's subject not the library, but the outside counsel construction firm responsible for advising on the library was retained last September by unanimous vote of the entire town board, including Feiner, to advise the entire board, including Feiner.

Where were you?

A second law firm was retained in December to investigate the entirely separate issue of how it came to be that the town's financial statements did not properly and publicly report (1) the Town's total annual rental income from WestHelp and (2) the $500,000 in funds that would have gone to the Mayfair Knollwood Civic Association but for the fact that dispensing such funds to a private civic association violates the state constitution.

Hiring outside counsel to investigate apparent misreporting in financial statements is considered standard practice for public companies in America. There is no reason to treat municipal corporations any differently.

Feiner flip-flopped on whether such counsel should be hired, but agreed to it once it was clear that such counsel was being retained on behalf of the entire town board, including Feiner, and would issue her report to the public.

Feiner nevertheless retained his own personal counsel for "advice" on the WestHelp matter. That lawyer was subsequently arrested for misappropriating client funds.

Anonymous said...

Party over blogger got it exactly right.

The state comptroller report says the grant was given because of the "impact" WestHelp would have on the "Mayfair-Knollwood community." However, the report finds as follows:

"There is no evidence to support the Town Supervisor's claim that the homeless shelter would have an adverse impact on the [Mayfair-Knollwood] community." (Report, p. 12).

If there is no evidence to support Feiner's claim, as the report states, it follows that the grant should never have been made in the first place.

The report also says the grant was given to cover the cost of educating the shelter's kids attending Valhalla schools. However, the report finds as follows:

"There is no documentation to support the Town Supervisor's claim that approximately 20% of the children that live at the WestHelp shelter would attend Valhalla schools. For example, no children resided at the facility according to a 'Shelter Status Report' for the month of May 2006."

Here too, if there was no documentation to support Feiner's claim, then no promises should ever have been made in the first place.

It's one thing to rebuke the Town Board for being irresponsible in having entered into this agreement. But here, the state comptroller went out of his way to rebuke Feiner personally for saying things that simply were not true.

Michael Kolesar said...

Dear Anonymous 4/6/06 11:51AM,

Bob A/B didn't quite go far enough for me. The disbursement of the funds to Valhalla was illegal. Just as one can't make back dated stock option grants legal, you can't make this legal. It has nothing to do with "20/20" hindsight. As I understand what has been said or written, the Valhalla School District agreed to indemnify the Town if there were any issues. Well, there are clearly issues. We want our illegally disbursed funds back and the Town Council should be following up on this actively, NOW!!!

Let's see some leadership from a majority of the Town Council, if there is any to be had.

Anonymous said...

It has been said that if you torture data enough, it will admit to anything.

Same holds here; your "line item vetoes" of certain components of the Controllers report is very convenient.

Parse and twist the report any way you want. In the Controller’s opinion, they found some issues with the structure of the transaction.

That you agree with.

The Controllers report suggested a number of remedies.

That you don't agree with.

Given the back dating option reference, let's try this analogy:

What would a P&L statement look like if you only included the Revenues, but excluded the expenses? Do you get my point?

You are like the kid eating the desert without eating the vegetables. Clear your plate my friend.

Don't parse the report for the arguments that you agree with and then argue that the Controller got it wrong on the parts you don't like.

What's it going to be, the whole truth or nothing at all (apologies to Meatloaf).

Anonymous said...

Kolesar is too trigger-happy.

The case for getting money back would be a whole lot stronger if the town council would have the wisdom and patience to wait for the state comptroller to complete its audit of the $1.8 million in town taxpayer money that was disbursed to the VSD.

That audit promises to show how every penny of the money was spent. All money identified as having been transferred to private individuals or entities must of course be returned.

However, even after the amounts are documented, money actually spent in good faith for educational purposes might not be so easy to collect.

The VSD will likely argue that for these expenses the town board is responsible for causing the Town's injury because it expressly authorized the VSD to spend the money for a non-townwide purpose.

Generally speaking, the remedy for squandering town tax dollars in New York rests not with the courts, but with the voters at the ballot box.

In this regard, it is significant that the only town board member who says if he had to do it again, he'd still give the money away is Feiner.

However, all this may be moot.

At the last town board meeting, president of the Mayfair Knollwood civic association president said the VSD would sue if the agreement is not renegotiated. If that happens, the Town may have no choice but to demand all the money back before the audit is completed -- with the details and backup sorted out later.

Anonymous said...

Question:

Did the Town Board, on an annual basis, approve of every single program and expenditure, in advance of it being made?

If so, where is the culpability of the entire Town Board?

Anonymous said...

For each of 2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-06, the town board was given a looseleaf binder describing the VSD's proposed spending plan, and the specific amount of money budgeted for each program.

A list of these proposals for each school year is contained in Appendix A to state comptroller's report.

For each of these years, it appears the Town Board gave the VSD blanket approval to spend the money as it saw fit.

However, the Town Board never asked the VSD for an accounting of the money to see that it was in fact spent for the purposes described. Feiner was quoted as saying he accepted the VSD's "oral assurances" that it was.

It now appears that some of the spending was not specifically identified and thus not authorized.

In addition, everyone understood that none of the money authorized by the Town Board was ever supposed to be given to any private individuals or private entities, such as the Valhalla School Foundation. However, the report identifies thousands of dollars that were transferred there anyway.

Anonymous said...

Bass, Barnes and Juettner also voted for the Westhelp partnership. Sheehan voted to release funds to the valhalla school district earlier this year.

Anonymous said...

The Town Board did not vote to release to VSD any town money earlier this year.

To the contrary, the town board refused in November 2006 to release any further town money pending the results of the state comptroller's report.

At the time the vote was taken, the town attorney had issued an opinion predicting, correctly, that the state comptroller would find the grant to be illegal.

Faced with the prospect that the VSD might be ordered by the state comptroller to return to the town all unspent funds, VSD pleaded with the Town Board for permission to spend approximately $440,000 in already-disbursed town funds not yet spent.

VSD argued that permission should be granted because its school budget for the 2006-07 school year had supposedly been approved by VSD voters based on the assumption that this town money would be available to fund VSD programs.

Based on that representation by the VSD, which now appears to have been false, the Town Board agreed to allow the money to spent, but only on condition that the VSD agree to indemnify the Town should it be determined that the grant was illegal.

It remains to be seen whether the Town Board will invoke the indemnity to get this money back.

Fortunately, it does not look like this situation will be repeated.

In announcing its budget for the 2007-08, the VSD made clear that it was not including in its budget any of the town's $650,000 that it had counted on getting in prior years.

Feiner keeps insisting that the town should continue to give away its tax dollars to the VSD, but no one else on the Town Board agrees with him.

Barnes, Bass and Juettner learned their lesson. So did Sheehan. Never again would they let Feiner fleece town taxpayers like this.

Anonymous said...

They voted for it, before the state report. Now the state report is in.

time to act

Anonymous said...

I am against the Valhalla School District getting the money because I don't think that they deserve it. I was against the deal from the beginning but the Town Board decided to make the deal. But I don't think it is wrong for Feiner to ask the Board to follow the Comptroller's suggestion to renegitiate the deal. It may seem old-fashined to some that a public official believes that a promise is a promise and should be kept. I think that Feiner deserves respect for honoring that old-fashined idea. If some of his critics were at the wrong end of a broken promise I imagine that they would cry "we want justice."

Anonymous said...

Don't worry about the VSD suing the Town. VSD agreed to pay any legal costs for the town if anyone sued over the grant, that would include the VSD. Read the original grant; you will find it on the next to last page. It was the first of two indemnifications. The second was done to release the $440,000 at 2 AM.

Anonymous said...

Of course Feiner wants the deal renegotiated.

He would rather everyone overlook the state comptroller's findings that Feiner misled the town board and the town when he said the grant was needed to compensate Mayfair Knollwood and the community.

But those findings by the state call into question the entire basis for giving the money to the school district in the first place.

And in America fraudulently induced promises are not honored.

Here, of course, Feiner is not the only one who misled the public.

The VSD and Mayfair Knollwood both knew that there was no evidentiary basis to support why Feiner was telling the town board and the public the grant was needed -- but knowing they had a patsy for a contract partner -- they kept that information to themselves.

They also knew there was never any public hearing on the issue, even though the agreements Feiner signed said there was, and they kept that information to themselves too.

Against that background, it is absurd for anyone to say Feiner deserves "respect" for insisting that these past promises be honored. Had Feiner told the truth, these promises would never have been made in the first place.

Anonymous said...

The Mayfair Knollwood community relied on promises made by Feiner, Bass, Barnes, Juettner. As a result of the promise that was made to the community at public and private meetings the neighborhood agreed to accept a homeless shelter in our neighborhood. The town board not only made commitments to the community, they backed up the commitments with lawyers from the county, town & HELP USA. No one is asking the board to renew this agreement when the agreement expires. All we want is for the Town Board to renegotiate the contract, as per the state comptrollers suggestion.

Anonymous said...

The Mayfair Knollwood community has no answer to the state comptroller's findings that Feiner misled the town council and the public by falsely representing that the grants were needed to "compensate" them for the "impact" of having a homeless shelter a mile or so from their homes, and by falsely representing that the grants were also needed to compensate the school district for the cost of educating the homeless children living at the shelter.

Instead, Mayfair Knollwood argues that the money flow should continue because Feiner and three of the four sitting town council members "promised" them the money, and in reliance on those promises, they agreed to "accept" the homeless shelter.

This is baloney.

The homeless shelter had been constructed on the WCC campus ten years before this grant was ever given.

No civic association has the power to "accept" or "not accept" the continued presence in their midst of any lawful use of property by others.

Here, it was up to the town -- not the civic association -- to decide whether it was in the best interests of the town to allow the facility to remain on the WCC campus, or whether to spend the money to convert the units to another use.

Equally absurd is the idea that a renegotiation of the grant was made at the "suggestion" of the state comptroller.

The report makes clear that despite what Feiner said, there was never any evidentiary basis to justify the grant having been given in the first place.

The report then states even though the rationale for offering these grants has been called into question, "if town officials determine that it is still desirable" for the Valhalla school district to receive additional educational resources because of the location of the WestHelp facility, it should then "restructure" the existing arrangement among the county, the town and WestHELP.

The key here is that no renegotiation is being suggested at all by the state comptroller unless, despite the absence of any evidence to justify it, the Town Board determines that it is "still desirable" to give away millions of town tax dollars.

Having been told by the state comptroller that the representations Feiner made to them were false, and knowing that Mayfair Knollwood and the school district had to know they were false, it is difficult to see how any town board member could make any such determination.

Anonymous said...

There was extensive community discussion prior to the WESTHELP partnership being approved. The entire Town Board knew the facts. They all agreed to the partnership contract. The Board should honor their commitment.

Anonymous said...

"Extensive community discussion" is no substitute for a public hearing. There was never any public hearing.

Furthermore, what Feiner calls "extensive community discussion" was nothing more than a meeting at town hall of the Mayfair Knollwood civic association. The rest of the town was not invited to that meeting.

Had Feiner scheduled a public hearing, which was what the law required him to do, the rest of the "community" would have had an opportunity to weigh in on whether it made any sense for the town to give away $6.5 million in town tax dollars to a school district for district purposes only.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that all the facts they knew, were not facts at all. People I talked to thought this was money to educate homeless kids, not for moon light cruises and Grand Canyon trips. I heard that Valhalla is cramming this money into their budget so they won't need it anyway.

Anonymous said...

hey-- don't blame feiner. steve bass, diana juettner and eddie mae barnes were proud of their vote. they met with the community, received ann award from the school district and indicated how pleased they were to support the valhalla school district and to keep a homeless shelter operating.
bass, juettner and barnes are not dummies. they knew what they were doing when they cast their vote for the westhelp partnership.

Anonymous said...

how come the town board is waiting till the last second to tell us what they plan to do? What happened to open government? Have they been discussing this in secret? Are they afraid to give the public time to review their plan of action?
Open up the government town council. Let the sunshine in.

Anonymous said...

Open Government???? Look at the Agenda for the April 2 work session. At 3:30 Personel Issues.
At 5:30 Ted Young Community Center By Lawsa. Do you mean to tell me that everything from 3:30 to 5:30 was not open to the public? Since Sheehan took over, this government has become extremely closed.

Anonymous said...

Sheehan step down,can't you see that you are not wanted on the board.You are just making things unbearable to live in Greenburgh.The people are just fed up.

Anonymous said...

Councilmembers Bass, Juettner and Barnes should show some independence from sheehan - don't delegate your responsibilities to someone who does not believe in open government. You used to listen to the people. Now, you don't.

Anonymous said...

Steve Bass, Diana Juettner, Eddie Mae Barnes and Paul Feiner approved a contractual agreement. The state comptroller's office found that aspects of the agreement did not comply with state law. The state comptrollers office provided the Town Board with an option so that the spirit of the partnership could be kept. The comptroller is recommending, as an option, that the town board renegotiate the agreement. The Town Board has a moral obligation to renegotiate the contract. If this is done the partnership can continue and the partnership can comply with NYS law.

Anonymous said...

One would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to read the state comptroller's report as "recommending, as an option, that the town board renegotiate the agreement."

The state comptroller found there was no justification for the town giving away this money. The report found that Feiner misled the town board, the public and the state comptroller's office itself.

Not fooled were the courts. In the early 1990s, a New York appeals court ruled that the Valhalla School District could not legally challenge the county's decision to locate WestHelp on the WCC campus because it found no evidence to suggest that the school district would be harmed in any way -- and it never was.

The only harm inflicted was on Greenburgh's taxpayers -- so far to the tune of at least $1.8 million -- all because the Mayfair Knollwood civic association was smart enough to realize it had a patsy in Feiner.

Yet another reason why Greenburgh can't afford Feiner anymore.

Anonymous said...

Particularly as there has been no "impact," the most intelligent move for Greenburgh would be to refuse to receive any additional funds in relation to this. Bow out humbly, and admit that mistakes were made in the past. If a neighborhood and/or school district feels there's a need for a grant, let them apply directly to the county. The Greenburgh township need not be involved. What to do about the past mess - I do not know. But Greenburgh needs to make it clear that it does not want to be involved in future matters regarding this.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Bernstein,

Your anti Feiner blogging stamina is quite impressive. What are your thoughts on Juetner's legal ability, a fellow attorney who gleefully voted for the Westhelp Deal. The agreement was clearly wrong but all Board Members save Sheehan were involved. They all met with the Mayfair Knollwood People and they all voted YES. To blame Feiner solely is unfair.

Anonymous said...

The state comptrollers office provides Feiner, Barnes, Bass, Juettner, Shdehan with an opportunity to avoid litigation with the school district and to continue the partnership. All the Bd has to do is agree to renegotiate the contract, an option the state comptrollers office fully endorses.

Anonymous said...

"All the Bd has to do is agree to renegotiate the contract, an option the state comptrollers office fully endorses."

That's a very good point in regards to this week's deadline.

(In the bigger picture, the terms of the renegotiation will, of course, be complicated by much drama.)

Anonymous said...

The threat of litigation is a bluff. The $6,500,000 was an educational grant, not a contract -- in other words, a gift, and as it turns out, an illegal gift. The Valhalla School District gave up nothing, other than to agree to the terms of the grant, Where is the consideration for a contract, as lawyers would say?

Anonymous said...

The threat is not even a bluff, VSD has agreed to pay the Town's legal costs for any litigation regarding the grant. Renegotiation would go all the way back to the lease. It is not going to happen. Valhalla is cramming these expenses into their budget. Once it passes they will have it forever.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone believe that Valhalla's school attorney would recommend suing over a program declared to be illegal?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I believe that VSD would sue. That is how outrageous they have been, with Fiener's encouragement. It was disgracefull how they acted at the Town Meeting -- and why -- becuase all of the politicos kids didnt get trips to Japan.

That doesnt mean Greenburgh shuld be influenced. Just that we should be prepared to sue for return of all prior years moneies and for legal fees.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I believe they would sue. Just watch their board meetings, dumb as a box of rocks.

Anonymous said...

The town council members who voted for the WESTHELP agreement should vote to renegotiate the contract as per the state ccmptrollers suggestion.

Anonymous said...

no one told bass, barnes, juettner to vote for the westhelp agreement. they made an agreement that they have to keep.

town council should just say no said...

It is simply not true that "no one told" Bass, Barnes and Juettner to approve the illegal $6.5 million gift to the Valhalla School District.

Paul Feiner, who negotiated the gift, told them to vote for it. In fact, he staked his personal reputation on it, saying it was needed to compensate the district for the cost of educating the children of homeless families living at the WestHelp shelter.

Turns out, though, he lied about that. According to the state comptroller, there were few if any kids to begin with and the district was fully compensated in any event.

Feiner also said the money was needed to compensate the Mayfair Knollwood community for the negative "impact" of having a homeless shelter nearby.

Turns out he lied about that too. According to the state comptroller, there was -- and still is -- no evidence of any negative impact on that community.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Bernstein & Mr. Sheehan:

The only lies being told now are by those who are seeking to revise history.

This deal was not structured on the basis of reimbursing costs to educate students from WestHelp.

The consistent efforts to mislead the public here is disgusting.

If there was video of those public meetings, it would be much more difficult to support these continuous lies. How convenient!

What is it that is said, takes one to know one…does it take a liar to be able to call someone else a liar?

Just checking.

personal attacks no substitute for facts said...

What's with the personal attacks?

The State Comptroller was told by Feiner that the deal was structured on the basis of reimbursing costs to educate students from WestHELP.

The following appears on page 12 of the state comptroller's report:

"According to the Town Supervisor, the intent of providing grant money, derived from the WestHELP rent proceeds, to the District was to do something positive for that community. They based their decision on the location of the homeless shelter and the impact it would have on the community."

"Town officials stated that the community would incur additional expenses in providing school services because it is in close proximity to the shelter. Town officials stated that around 20 percent of the children who live in the homeless shelter attend Valhalla schools."

"The Grant was calculated based upon an estimate of how many children from the WestHELP shelter would likely be enrolled in the Valhalla school system, multiplied by the cost of educating these children."

The report further states, "There is no evidence to support the Town Supervisor's claim that the homeless shelter would have an adverse impact on the community."

"There is no documentation to support the Town Supervisor's claim that approximately 20% of the children that live at the WestHELP sleter would attend Valhalla schools. For example, no children resided at the facility according to a 'Shelter Status Report' for the month of May 2006."

"There is no documentation for how the Town calculated the actual amount of the annual grant award."

Anonymous said...

Parse and twist the report any way you want.

You cut and paste that which you agree with.

You conveniently ignore that which you don't agree with.

PS - The personal attacks arise to the gentlemen at 8:29 am ( B & S) who state : "...he lied about that". Who is lying now?

Anonymous said...

Quoting the Comptroller's report is not parsing and twisting. When confronted by the auditors, that is story the town and the vsd came up with. But auditors are a funny bunch, they asked to see the documentation for those claims and there was none; no impact on the school district, no impact on the neighborhood and no audit trail. That is why Valhalla is being audited now.

Jim Lasser said...

It seems to me that many of my fellow bloggers are ignoring the central point. Regardless of intent, regardless of oversight, regardless of the absence of an audit trail, and regardless of who voted for or against providing money to the Valhalla School District, Mayfair Knollwood and the Fairview Fire District - the gifts were illegal. No one can make a gift of taxpayers money to anyone else without the express consent of the taxpayers. Express consent might have been obtained by holding a referendum on each of the gifts. Those referendums were not held - the taxpayers did not give their consent to the gifts. Period. End of story. If the Town wishes to "renegotiate" payments to each of the entities, that's fine - but the "deals" must be submitted for voter approval. As inconvenient as it may be to comply fully with the law, it is far worse to depend on the whims of the leadership for justice.
To those recipients who would have the Town just "fulfill" its promises - develop a plan to receive and distribute the money that complies with the law and then petition to put your plan on the ballot. To those who would "renegotiate" - the same challenge. As for the funds already disbursed, the plan presented to the voters can and should address that point. Absent the seeking of voter approval, each of the entities which received funds improperly has the obligation to return the money. If one found a bag of money on the street which had been dropped by fleeing bank robbers, one is not entitled to keep it - even if one was simply the finder.
I do not question the need for the funds in Valhalla or Mayfair Knollwood or at the Fairview Fire District - I'm in no position to determine need. I do request, however, that the laws be obeyed when disbursing my money. I expect my elected officials to put the law above politics in their conduct of the people's business.

illegal promise is a nullity said...

paul feiner and the valhalla school officals need a book on ny law - an agreement that is illegal is not an agreement at all. its nothing. ergo - an illegal promise is not a promise at all. its void from day one. when the second audit is completed, and the level of fiscal chicanery is laid out, the town board can then evaluate whether to seek a return of the money. so lets stop listening to little lies like a promise is a promise. an illegal promise is unenforcible.

Anonymous said...

Lasser states that "no one can make a gift of taxpayers money to anyone else without the express consent of the taxpayers."

However, that is not a correct statement of the law.

The gift that was made to the Valhalla school district was found by the state comptroller to be illegal. No referendum can make an otherwise illegal gift legal.

Lasser also says that any "renegotiated" deal, assuming it's legal, must likewise be submitted to the voters for approval. That's not the law in New York either.

As the state comptroller's report explains, the Town Board has the right to decide whether to make a gift of town taxpayer money, but it's gift-giving authority is limited by both state law and the state constitution.

State law requires that any gifts to school districts must be for a town-wide purpose. In other words, the district has to use the money in a way that all town residents may benefit.

State law also requires that the Town Board conduct a public hearing before giving away taxpayer money in order to establish that the town has evidence to support making such a gift in the first place.

And the state constitution expressly forbids any gifts to private individuals or entities.

Assuming the Town Board adheres to those restrictions, it may make a gift of taxpayer money.

Voters still have a say in the matter -- but only at the ballot box on election day.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 11:49 should also have noted that one of the fundamental reasons for the state comptroller's conclusion that the grants were improper was that "the provision of an education curriculum. . . is not a town purpose" and that "payments [to] fund education programs . . . further a school district, but not a town purpose."

Thus, even if VSD's educational programs, like SAT-prep classes, were open to all Town residents, as the state comptroller states in the report, "[T]hat would not overcome the lack of authority for a town to fund school district educational programs."

Jim Lasser said...

To the An onymous Contributors at 11:49 and 1:35 -
Thank you for the correction and clarification. My central point, and I think yours as well, is that the original gifts were illegal and any arguments for "fulfilling the promises" cannot overcome that fatal flaw.

Anonymous said...

"paul feiner and the valhalla school officals need a book on ny law"

Heck, you don't even need a book:
http://public.leginfo.state.ny.us
Everything easily accessible in one simple place (last link on the page).

Anonymous said...

The town was a pass through--the funds given to the valhalla school district should never have been considered to be town dollars. The WESTHELP agreement was a contractual agreement, concluded after years of negotiations.

Anonymous said...

A partnership is a pass through, a town is not. There is no partnership. There is no contractual agreement. There was a grant that is prohibited by law.

Anonymous said...

The state comptroller didn't fall for Feiner's "pass through" story and neither should the residents of Greenburgh.

The state comptroller said the WestHELP revenues was "town-wide revenue" and expressly rejected, in painstaking detail, all of Feiner's arguments to the contrary.

Anonymous said...

"The Town presented no evidence that a homeless shelter in a neighborhood lowers surrounding property values" a quote from Comptrollers report on Westhab reported by Michelle McNally of EDGEMONT at the April 11 Town Board Meeting.

Simply amazing. Edgemont fights for a moratorium on residential (not even homeless shelters on Central Ave.) and on one and a half acres on Dromore Rd. because that might bring in more kids to their school. But if VSD gets money (which can be legally given to them, if they deal directly with Westhelp and Help USA, bypassing the Town as middle man) because they might get more students, EDGEMONT screams "no, they don't deserve it" - give the money to us.
Unbelieveable greeed. Disgusting. In other words, I, who do not live in the VHD or Edgemont, think that whoever on the Town Board supports this horrific stand by whomever McNally is representing should not be elected or in the case of the Town Council, re-elected. Just horrified and ashamed by her statements and the values they represent.

the party's over said...

All McNally did was quote word for word from the state comptroller's report and the Town Board's official response.

Greenburgh residents need to know that no less an authority than the state comptroller looked into the reasons Feiner gave for having the town give away $6.5 million in town revenues to the VSD, and the comptroller found Feiner had no evidence to back up anything he said.

That means that town board members who may have taken Feiner at this word in 2004 when he said the agreement was needed should know better not to do that anymore.

McNally at no time asked that any WestHelp funds go to Edgemont. The blogger's statement that she said, "give the money to us" is false.

McNally's point was that the Town Board's response to the state comptroller also made clear that besides waiting for the state comptroller's audit report on the VSD to be completed and made public, the Town Board must also address the state comptroller's concerns that there was never any valid rationale for entering into the gift agreement in the first place.

How could anyone argue with that?

Anonymous said...

Arguing with McNally is easy. Just be so committed to the Empire of Feiner that one has no interest in the truth. The Empire's slogan is "Not better, just Feiner." Long live the Emperor! Long live the Empire! The truth be damned.

Anonymous said...

Continue to parse and twist the report any way you want.

You cut and paste that which you agree with.

You conveniently ignore that which you don't agree with.

The majority of the board by their cowardly actions has proven to every citizen that they , the board, are indeed afraid of the truth. The integrity of some has already been exposed by their grandeur and grander political ambitions. The silent majority continue to sleep in the shadows. Will they ever awake from their deep slumber? Let’s hope that they voluntarily remove themselves from this foolishness, and let us hope that individuals with character will step up and stand up to the bullies.

Citizens of Greenburgh, heed this warning well.... watch very closely the behavior of these dangerous individuals. If you are not of EDGENOT, you really don't matter.

Anonymous said...

Sweater girl McNally walks up to the podium both Bass and Sheehan are smiling ear to ear. What gives? Someone else walks up to the podium,Sheenhan is talking to Juettner,Bass is talking to Barnes,as if don't bother us. We need a board like this. Remember this november we can get two off the board,it will be a good start in cleaning house.

another voice said...

Shame on the Journal News for once again getting a Greenburgh story wrong.

This today from Valhallavoice.com

Greenburgh Pulls the Plug on WestHELP

A Couple of points regarding today’s article about the illegal Westhelp grant:

This was not a rent-sharing agreement, it was a grant, an illegal grant

Payment to a private foundation was just one of at least a dozen or so “questionable” expenditures and on going programs. Try a second full time salary for the Kensico School Principal, hiring someone to fraudulently do that principal’s principal duties while he booked Dove Yacht Cruises. Dove Yacht Cruises. Evenings at Caramoor and other adult and “children of all ages” sorties. Opera Tickets. Ivy League summer camps, trips to the Grand Canyon. Spending money on “regular education programs” prohibited by the grant. And there are others.

The school district is now being audited on these very issues, something the reporter failed to emphasize. The School district did not sue anyone in the fill for fields scam which left the kids without a track for seven years and has or will cost the district millions. What makes her report they might sue now over a “gift”?

The article failed to mention that the School District indemnified the town not only for the entire $1.8 million grant, but to pay the Town’s legal cost should anyone, including the school sue over the grant.

This is not a contract. Another example of the Journal News accepting information for school and school budget supporters as fact. How about writing that the District is secretly cramming these expenditures into their proposed 07-08 budget? BOE member Rosenberg was able to uncover an extra $20,000 for a high school play. So outrageous was the $47,500 price tag, I understand they have “pared it back” to a paltry $27,500.

Anonymous said...

And these are the people that Feiner champions? Unbelievable. He really has lost his compass. Those bloggers who say we cannot afford him anymore are right.