WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Westchester County Court Judge Barry Warhit sided with Democratic county legislators on Thursday and barred the Westchester Public Works and Transportation commissioner from sitting on a three-person board that approves Westchester's contracts and financial transactions.
The restraining order blocks the commissioner from the Westchester Board of Acquisition and Contract until Warhit rules on a dispute over the board's makeup.
Chair of the Board of Legislators Kenneth Jenkins (D-Yonkers), Vice Chair Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) and Legislator Peter Harckham (D-Katonah) took Republican County Executive Robert Astorino to court Wednesday, accusing him of violating a February law that permanently removed the Department of Public Works and Transportation Commissioner from the Board of Acquisition and Contract and replaced him with the budget director.
"Astorino, however, has ignored the duly-enacted change in the composition of the A&C B [Acquisition and Contract Board] and is acting as if the laws passed by the legislature are meaningless," the court document reads before elaborating on the board's Thursday agenda. "During that meeting, A&C will potentially be awarding approximately $19 million in county contracts. The fact that any actions of A&C will not be in conformity with the laws of the county creates a grave risk of irreparable harm to its citizens."
The legislators' attorney Alexander Eisemann is representing the Democrats for free.
Ned McCormack, a spokesperson for Astorino, said the administration considered the law "null and void" because altering the board structure requires the public's approval in a referendum.
"The fundamental question raised by this lawsuit is why would three Democratic legislators want to take away the power of the people to vote on changes to the county charter?" said McCormack. "Over the past 20 years the county law department under Democrats and Republicans maintains that any change in the charter that curtails the power of one branch must be subject to mandatory referendum."
Democratic lawmakers argue that Jay Pisco, who sits at the board meetings as the Public Works and Transportation Commissioner alongside Astorino and Jenkins, was voted down from his executive position by legislators. The administration said the rejection vote prevented Pisco's nomination from getting referred to a committee, not from serving as the commissioner.
The predominately Democratic legislature sought to circumvent the question of Pisco's commissioner status by nixing him from the board. Lawmakers also say the public works and transportation commissioner, who is selected by Astorino, mimics the county executive's votes, providing the administration with the majority vote to block funding for legislature-approved projects not supported by the administration.
Warhit has not yet ruled on the validity of the law that replaces Pisco's seat on the Board of Acquisition and Contract with the budget director. The case returns to court on April 9.