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Opinion: Mayor to Blame for Fiscal Crisis

Editor's Note: The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Matt Witchger, a former Republican District Leader and member of the Board of Tax Assessment Review in Peekskill. He now lives in Croton-on-Hudson.

You can’t bury your head in the sand for 5 years and then feign outrage when someone pulls your head out.  Yet, this is exactly what Peekskill Mayor Mary Foster has done.   The impact on City workers from her willful blindness to reality during the past five years cannot be blamed on Albany.  Only she is to blame.

As a Mayoral candidate in 2007, Foster promised to bring to Peekskill City governance the“professionalism” she allegedly learned at Deloitte and Touche.  Yet I doubt anyone at that firm would agree that she has behaved in accord with their best practices.

From her first day in office, Foster has acted as if she is above the law, that the rules other people live by do not apply to her.  Among her first acts in office was to hire a family tenant as a City Marshall, refusing to recuse herself from the vote.  Then she used the police as her personal muscle, following the every move of a resigning Committee Member until she gleefully forced his early resignation.  She then held an appropriations vote by email to fund an appraisal to move Centennial Hose away from Lincoln Plaza, which the Executive Director of the NYS Committee on Open Government Robert J. Freeman had just told the Common Council was a direct violation of the State’s Open Meetings Law.  And this was merely in her first six months in office.

Foster’s cavilier attitude toward the law has never ended.  Most recently, Foster was cited bythe Southern District of New York for her “gross negligence” and “bad faith” in destroying emails related to her attempt to railroad an approved project at the Cove, in direct violation of Local Government Records Law.  See decision in 09 Civ. 5093 (GAY) dated 9/17/12.  Foster blamed others for the destruction of evidence, saying no one had instructed her to retain her emails.  Alleged ignorance is no defense for breaking the law.  Besides, an alleged Deloitte and Touche professional should have known better. 

Even worse than Foster’s cavalier attitude toward the law and fair play – and arrogance seemsto be the life blood of her one-party rule – is her refusal to take responsibility for the dire state of City’s finances.  Now, we read in the Patch that she blames Albany for the City’s pension obligations.   Her plaintive cry is disingenuous at best.  

In 2005, when Foster first took office as a Councilwoman, the City audit had numerous paragraphs detailing the threat of future increased pension funding that definitely lay ahead. To that end, the Common Council began to build up an Unrestricted Fund Balance to cover for this contingency.  Beginning with the 2005 budget, the City set aside $3.5 million specifically for future pension funding.   In addition, it began to grow its rainy day fund to $10 million, money saved in the fat years to help with pensions when times were lean.  Beginning with the2009 budget, Foster removed the $3.5 million budget designation for pensions.   And then she began to drain the rainy day fund on a series of white elephant projects – for example, real estate speculation in contaminated land on Lower South Street, commandeering as public works projects what private enterprise offered to do for free – and a series of personnel experiments she later abandoned, money misspent and forever lost.

Drunken sailors exercise more fiscal restraint than Foster has.   And her politics of amnesia are not persuasive.  There can be no mistake: the City’s current financial woes, and impending layoffs, are principally the result of Foster’s failed leadership.

Matt Witchger

Croton-on-Hudson, NY 

peekskillman October 19, 2012 at 09:39 AM
wow, politics aside,right on the money. well stated, sir The misuse of power and City funds is unconscionable; unfortunately, barring a special election, we are stuck with this regime for the next year or so. One can only hope that calmer heads and public pressure will prevail, and the employees and City can weather this storm.
George in NY October 19, 2012 at 11:57 AM
Nicely written and on target. Yet the people of Peekskill re-elect? I don't get it?
leesther brown October 19, 2012 at 01:48 PM
I'm Leesther Brown and I Approve This Message.....#thecityistoreupfromthefloorup....
Yaddayaddayadda October 19, 2012 at 02:50 PM
The currentt mayor is only one of a long line of head burying officials in Peekskill. The lack of any reality is pervasive in Peeksill. Where is all the money that flowed in with each accepted social service that has been gleefully accepted by City Hall? If there was ever a town that needed an independent audit of shuffled money, Peekskill is it!!! On my way to check alternative office space where there is not such a stigma for doing business like the one City Hall has created here. What kind of town has the one draw they still have, The Paramount, shut down one week...approve a methadone clinic the next.... and then rezone for B&B's the next? Laughable and pathetic!!! But only to anyone who has an objective view of this place...which does not include the people perpetrating these pathetic and conflicting plans!!!
sayitsnotsojack October 19, 2012 at 03:14 PM
The city is and has been so poorly managed, but where is the people who are able to do better? It seems they have all moved away. I too am baffled at the lack of well-qualified people willing to run for election who can rectify the mess. One thing is for sure the spending and taxing must end, as the residents are either broke or are trying to leave as soon as possible. Most of the people who attend council meetings are there to protect their entitlements, which include the city employees while offering very little in solutions to problems.
George in NY October 19, 2012 at 03:27 PM
You know you really captured the essence of Peekskill when you said " The Paramount, shut down one week...approve a methadone clinic the next.... and then rezone for B&B's the next? " It 's like three chickens all running around the yard in different directions. You have really said it all in that one sentence!!
Walden Macnair October 19, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Unless drastic action is taken Peekskill is on its way to stealing the title of "Camden on the Hudson" from Newburgh. This place is a total mess and it isn't just Foster. The council let's her reign with impunity and her predecessor wasn't much better. Vote them all out and maybe they'll begin to get the message.
Rexford Tugwell, III October 19, 2012 at 04:30 PM
At least Camden has a cool aquarium. And you can hop across the river to get a Philly cheesesteak and some bitchin' Independence Hall Ben Franklin souvenirs.
Yaddayaddayadda October 19, 2012 at 05:50 PM
What souvenirs will Peekskill offer to incoming guests of the B&B's? Videos of a time gone by that they still believe exists? Tours of the projects, section 8 housing, empty storefronts, workers comp, unemployment office, parole board, Paramount "closed until we get our head out of our ass" marquee, discarded methadone dispensers,etc. Gonna have to produce a lot of "Abe Lincoln was here" trinkets to make up for the reality of what people outside picture when they have a vision of Peekskill...and that vision is unfortunately realized when they get here to experience "The Great Plan" that is being perpetrated by the knuckleheads in charge of this study in contradictions. P. S. Beautiful, professional office suite in Cortlandt Manor I saw today will cost less than office we have occupied for 20 years in Peekskill.
Ded Yorick October 19, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Yes, yes indeed. DED YORICK'S B&B will offer all the tours you mention. We will also let our patrons keep any meth dispensers they find on the street in remembrance of their visit here. Though the Paramount is gone, our patrons may still have their photo taken in front of the historic marquee ($5.00 charge) to show their friends at home that it once truly existed. The "Abe Lincoln Was Here" trinket is a great idea. I hope you don't mind us stealing it. It's a fine memento to have. DED YORICK'S B&B "Abe Lincoln Only Stayed Here Two Minutes. We Hope You'll Stay Longer"
Liz Claire October 19, 2012 at 07:15 PM
George asks a great question, Why does Foster keep getting re-elected? The answer is a sad commentary on the demographic reality of Peekskill. There are nearly 2 registered Democrats for each registered Republican, and the Democrats have historically put partisan interests ahead of the good of the City. No Democrat on the Common Council has ever exercised independent judgment, with the possible exception of when making her evening food order, paid for by taxpayers. This inability to think for oneself also plagues most Democratic voters. They simply pull the Dem lever all the way across the voting machine. Those Dems who pay no tax and don't know any City workers will continue in this destructive behavior. Perhaps those Dems who own houses will wake up after the next tax increase. Or maybe not. They are getting the Peekskill of their dreams -- a City beaten down economically. The Meth Clinic adds more credence to the Dem's ideal of Peekskill as the Social Service Agency of Westchester County -- paid for on the backs of the middle class, whom the Dems have a professed hatred, undeniably expressed in their policy initiatives.
Wendy Kelly October 19, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Yaddayadda sadly you are right on the money.
Teleman October 19, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Leesther that was a good one!
ED HICKEY October 19, 2012 at 09:01 PM
I second Wendy regarding Yada's commentary shedding full light on our city's dismal fiscal state and the chaotic and commonsenseless recent "so called" management by the current administration. Alternate agendas compounded by greed and short sighted vision has found many previous "roadrunners" carry title of Mayor and/or Council member. The demographics exist though the partisan "kamakazee" hatred shared has too often put the best interest of the city in the trunk, all to ensure maximizing personal gain in any/every way. Would I be completely off mark by posing my hypothesis that the recent "tanking" of The Paramount by management well known as Peekskill's and Westchester's Relublican figurehead may have been tactical to compound the problems this administration should be facing? I have had the feeling for quite some time, especially following a second consecutive democratic sweep in local elections that either party would forgo any of Peekskill's best interests for an opportunity to deliver crippling blows to any chance of progress in Peekskill. Wendy Kelly ... two days I find myself hanging my head with this negativity and hopeless feeling regarding any decent future for the city ....
Ray Adamick October 19, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Sad, sad, sad!
Peekskillnative October 20, 2012 at 02:49 AM
It was my understanding that the Mayor initially ran on the Republic ticket...a long while ago....and jumped ship to the Democrats, specifically for the reason stated above (demographics). You all keep voting her in....only have yourselves to blame for the continued bullying she conducts in her favor.
Ray Adamick October 20, 2012 at 04:16 AM
I for one did not vote for her last time!
joshua tanner October 20, 2012 at 06:02 AM
Peekskill has been much more heavily Dem (with regard to registrations) for a very long time. Its been a working town with not many rich people. The GOP kept winning because they ran a lot of teachers that people knew and liked (like Richard Jackson -math teahcer and first black mayor in NY) - and also because they were more organized and motivated. Pataki brought in a lot of people with him and they got a lot of mileage over the years. City Hall ran fairly well. Foster wouldn't have won if GOP hadn't run Schmitt in her first win. Now a lot of the GOP are very thinned out. There's been a lot of white flight, aging etc. Now Peekskill has huge illegal immigrant population that can't vote yet. Every year Peekskill's total vote count is very small. It gets smaller even though Peekskill's population gets bigger. A school board election in Montrose gets 4X the voters Peekskill's does. A school budget will hardly ever fail because many of the voters don't pay taxes and are getting crazy checks. They have no reason to vote anything down. All they know is someone else will be paying the bill "for the children".
leesther brown October 20, 2012 at 02:34 PM
I don't know about her trying to run on the GOP ticket....but she got in because the folks that did Vote for her initially were and still are.... Stupid:Knowing the Truth,Seeing the Truth,but still believing the Lies
Marianne Picariello October 20, 2012 at 02:43 PM
It's very sad what happened to peekskill. I was born in peekskill and grew up there in the 1950's. it was very prosperous with many businesses. it has gone downhill and never came back!
Wendy Kelly October 20, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Mariann Picariello that is all I hear to this day from Peekskill and Cortlandt residents. People use to love coming in and spend the day have lunch at a local luncheonette. I was at the Library this am waiting for it to open I was a half hour early met the lovelist lady who raised her two kids here. We talked and talked oh yes about the wonderful Methadone Clinic and everyone got involved in dicussion. Young lady said she remembers growning up near one in the Bronx she said it was awful for a kids to see the patients and drug deals going down. Such a shame. We have yet to hear from Mary's Opposition Team ( guess on advice of counsel she can't talk common Mary you have to do better) for 1.5 weeks. Wonder how she is going to get out of this jam. Bet you 10 Bucks she has a press conference Dear beloved citizens of Peekskill now our city is bankrpt 10 times over, I don't see how we can continue with the high price attys from White Plains. Sorry but guess we will have a Meth Clinic after all.
sayitsnotsojack October 20, 2012 at 04:16 PM
What has happened in Peekskill is an example of what the United States is beginning to be. There are more people receiving a government payout, than paying in, being given by an ever-increasing incompetent administration.
Yaddayaddayadda October 20, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Well said Jack!!! In addition, we all know social services are not taken on without taking county, state and federal money to pay for these services. Where are all the subsides that have been taken in with all the social services? You don't do this without a financial reward of some kind. Why else would you be re-upping now? So how much money comes into this city earmarked for social services? How much do social services cost? Is there a shortfall? Is the shortfall based on not enough come in for what these services actually cost? Is the money jntensed for these services being used for something else? Has the money been mismanaged or misapplied? When the track record is taking on your unfair share, which does not bolster the city but runs it into the ground , you have got take ask and the people responsible need to answer some very basic questions. So City Hall of Peekskill I ask you, why do you continue to take on your unfair share when the quality of life for everyone is deteriorating and the financial gain is nowhere to be found? If the formula hasn't worked in the past or the past has brought you to the point of fiscal shortfalls, why do you keep doing it? Help us unsophisticated private sector people understand...and please in your response, take responsibility for what it is you have done that has brought this city to its knees...because I am sick of hearing how you have done a great job and everyone else is to blame for the current crisis!
ED HICKEY October 20, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Again Yada, I hear you and your question(s) direceted to those in the public arena or had been at some point. The illegal immigration issue should have been addressed long ago, not just locally, when it became difficult to walk into the post office, but nationally when this trend became grotesquely obvious everywhere! Staying in the direction your comments appear to be going, along with many residents', including mine, there are MANY that should be made to answer directly the questions relating to mismanaged funds and backroom deals that ultimately have put (what appears to be) the final nail in Peekskill's box! Audit? You bet ...
Wendy Kelly October 20, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Just talked to a fella that said he employed a woman paid her decent salary paid her cash for her child care. Her gratitude was thanks it has been swell but I do better on social services. This is what we are breeding in our society today. Yes they all come out to vote when it pertains to school issues since they don't pay property taxes and not one showed up for Common Council meeting nor PC meetings perrtaining to Meth Clinic agenda. Sadly petition signature dissapeared too. Guess it was the Housing Pimp at his best!
Ray Adamick October 22, 2012 at 04:14 AM
Why don't some of you run for office, if you think you can do better!

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