WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino announced Thursday that he would appeal a county judge's ruling barring the Public Works and Transportation commissioner from sitting on a three-person board that approves all county expenditures and contracts. Westchester County Judge Barry Warhit also prohibited the Board of Acquisition and Contract from meeting this week while he reviews a dispute over the board's makeup.
Ned McCormack, a spokesperson for Astorino, said the Republican administration is immediately asking the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court to vacate the restraining order against Commissioner Jay Pisco's place on the board.
McCormack said Warhit's ruling that the Acquisition and Contract Board can meet only if an immediate safety concern or other emergency necessitates it would jeopardize "the livelihoods of the people and businesses involved with the contracts."
Rental space for Civil Service exams, group transportation services for seniors, odor-control engineering work at the north Yonkers pump station, and agreements with the Westchester Library Service and the Don Bosco Community Center are frozen because of the ruling, McCormack said.
Board of Legislators Chair Kenneth Jenkins (D-Yonkers) said he and Vice Chair Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) and Majority Leader Peter Harckham (D-Katonah) were validated by the ruling.
"This particular board controls the $80 million worth of contracts in the past three months that have been enacted. We really need to make sure that it's done right and that we’re protecting the people and the assets of Westchester," Jenkins said. "The judge opined from the bench this morning and said that this is so serious because that $19 million worth of contracts was on the table for today and there was a probability that we would be exposing the people of Westchester to litigation."
Democratic lawmakers argue that they voted down Astorino's appointment of Pisco as commissioner of the Department of Public Works and Transportation. The administration says the rejection vote prevented Pisco's nomination from going to a committee, not from serving as the commissioner.
The legislators said a February law permanently replaced the Public Works and Transportation commissioner's spot on the Board of Acquisition and Contract with the budget director. The county executive and chair of the Board of Legislators occupy the two other spots. Astorino's team views the law as void because, they say, altering a branch of government's power requires the public's approval in a referendum.
"These three legislators are usurping the authority of the people and the county executive and flaunting their own responsibilities to follow lawful procedures for adoption of the law," McCormack said. "Ultimately, the Astorino administration is confident that it will win."
Although Warhit has not formally ruled on the merit of the law, his Thursday ruling mentioned that the budget director and all commissioners are selected by Astorino, so swapping them on the board wouldn't alter the executive branch's power.
The case's next court date is April 9.