Does government have the obligation to keep its promises? At last nights Greenburgh Town Board meeting (which began at 7:30 PM and ended at 2 AM) the Town Board indicated that the answer might be no. The Town Board meeting was packed with residents of Mayfair Knollwood, Parkway Homes, Parkway Gardens neighborhoods. Students and parents expressed anger that the Board might not honor an agreement that the Town Board unanimously approved in 2004. 4 of the 5 current members of the Town Board were on the Board in 2004 and voted for the agreement.
In summary - the residents who attended the Town Board meeting last night live near a 108 unit homeless shelter. The shelter was supposed to close down at the end of 10 years. But, the neighborhood took a vote (90-10) to support the continued operation of the shelter as a homeless facility PROVIDED that the town provide the neighborhood with a benefit.
An agreement was worked out between WESTHELP, the county, the Mayfair Knollwood civic association, the Valhalla school district and a state agency that oversees WESTHELP. The school district will receive $650,000 a year to provide enhanced educational benefits not otherwise heretofore available in the school district. The Town Board, acting with the advice of the schools committee, approves programs proposed by the School Superintendent.
The town had hired an outside lawyer, Paul Bergins, to review the contract before we approved the document and had it signed. The former Town Attorney, Susan Mancuso, recommended to the Town Board that the contract be signed. HELP USA, the County Attorney's office and a state agency also reviewed the contract and found it valid. The town has not received any opinion from a state agency/court indicating that the contract is not legal.
However...some Greenburgh residents have filed a complaint with the state comptroller asking that this contract be reviewed. They feel that the entire town should receive the benefits - not one school district. I disagree with that view: this agreement was reached to win the support of a community that has voluntarily agreed to house a 108 homeless shelter in their neighborhood. No other neighborhood in the town wants a homeless facility near them. The State Comptroller's office is currently conducting an audit.
The other members of the Town Board feel that the $650,000 must be put on hold because they are not sure the contract is legal. I disagree. We have a legally binding agreement. I believe that all agreements that town officials sign must be complied with. I feel that if we break our commitments - break our promises no one will ever trust government. I also believe that if the Town Board breaks a contract without a court order directing us to break the contract that those dealing with the town in the future won't have the confidence that our contractual obligations will be met. If the Town Board breaks this agreement it will be difficult to reach similar compromises with other neighborhood groups that are told by courts or state agencies that they must house, in their community, homeless housing, low income housing, etc... Also, 4 of the 5 members of the Town Board who now feel that the contract may not be legal were on the Board when the agreement was originally voted for. If they had concerns about the agreement they should not have authorized the contract to be signed.
At last nights Town Board meeting the Board unanimously voted to release $439,000 to the school district that had been previously authorized but unspent. I voted for the $439,000 but don't understand the logic: If the Board thinks $439,000 is legal why isn't $650,000 legal?