Have New Rochelle City Council’s Actions Stifled Open Government?

Written By: Peggy Godfrey

The financial problems of our city, state and nation remain unabated, while the local taxpayers must continue to support our government. What intensifies this phenomenon is a city government in New Rochelle which appears to be interested in development for development’s sake. The evidence is accumulating that open government is being shuffled aside in favor of government actions which place a low priority on citizen input.
In New Rochelle, for example, the City Council members knew the State Comptroller had criticized the New Rochelle IDA (Industrial Development Corporation) for not creating a sufficient number of jobs and had found the jobs created were extremely costly. Despite this, the New Rochelle City Council approved a LDC (Local Development Corporation) with no public hearings or input and then placed the members of their IDA on this new LDC. The Development Commissioner, Michael Freimuth, on June 21 had written to the IDA to recommend their support for funding a new “civic” facility (for Sound Shore Medical Center) that could obtain New York State tax-exempt bonding. While LDC’s can issue tax free bonds to nonprofit’s, such as Sound Shore Medical Center for a garage expansion, they are not subject to auditing by the State Comptroller.
The New Rochelle IDA received criticism several years ago because they had not maintained proper records of their projects. More recently this IDA was cited because they were unable to obtain records from a number of their presently aided recipients. How will these same IDA members now on the LDC be able to monitor other projects? The City does claim they are not responsible for the bonds that could default that would be issued for approved projects, but that does not address the financial pitfalls Projects that do not generate permanent jobs in the municipality will place a financial burden on any additional city services that might be needed, for example, to monitor and protect people who would be going to these new offices or parking lots. This has already been documented on the state level. In a recent news report in the Journal News The Getting Our Money’s Worth Coalition claimed IDA approved project developments in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam fell short of nearly 7,000 jobs in 2010. The Yonkers Development Agency gave the highest amount of tax breaks, $21 million, followed by New Rochelle which gave $14 million in tax breaks.
This dismal picture is complicated, for example, by reports that Freddie Mac has lost $16.8 billion in revenue while receiving $13.7 billion (Newmax.com, 7/15/12). The New York Times on 7/13/12 stated the Federal Reserve Bank of New York had made “bogus reports.” Barclays and other banks apparently made bogus rate reports and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York failed to stop this illegal activity. Barclays had been manipulating the interest rate for three years to bolster profits. Ten banks are now being investigated. A dozen Democratic Senators expressed concern over this “rigging” of rates which can affect consumer and companies borrowing of money.
The City Council’s appointment of present IDA members to the LDC has raised concerns in New Rochelle. Stephen Mayo, former planning board member and City Council candidate and principal in his own New York City IDA project decried the “lack of transparency and access in the body’s latest developmental power grab.
“Ordinary citizens have no influence over the actions of Monroe and Iona colleges in New Rochelle. The Democrat machine has effectively interdicted any relations that civic groups have with these private non-profits, profits, Non-Governmental organizations (NGO’s) and other institutions. Council has co-opted ordinary voluntary and religious organizations, fraternal and community associations from gaining constructive involvement with them. And why would Iona and Monroe want it any other way? They have gotten everything they have sought from a supine and compliant gaggle of local solons.
Need proof? How about the recent dustup over Iona’s successful submission of a dormitory expansion plan that by its very terms offended existing zoning regulations? And have you looked northwards towards Larchmont from North Avenue/Main Street lately? Seems like the city should be renamed ‘Monroe Collegeville’ with all the building permits that council has conduced in their favor for some 15 years!
In NYC and other cities, neighborhood groups regularly act on their own to meet with and also to raise complaints against public utilities, large private corporations etc. without going through local government (other than procuring the customary permits, zoning or community planning board approvals). An active local media would help the process, but electronic and print options have dwindled. And the council majority likes to keep things centralized and close to its vest – no political power exists to limit their generosity at the people’s expense. In any case, south enders have insufficient resources at their disposal and north enders are too unconcerned or uninvolved to play any meaningful role. A more creative ‘loyal opposition’ by a rejuvenated Republican party would certainly serve the public good. ”
New Rochelle and other municipalities in the State which are authorizing IDA and LDC projects should start acknowledging the need to protect the public from financial “deals” which could jeopardize their local taxpayers.

In the July 27, 2012 issue of Soundview Rising