MAYOR FOSTER TO BLAME FOR PEEKSKILL’S FINANCIAL WOES
Matt Witchger is a former Republican District Leader and member of the Board of Tax Assessment Review. This editorial originally appeared in the Peekskill Patch.
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 & 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 by the 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 & Touche professional should have known better.
Even worse than Foster’s cavalier attitude toward the law and fair play – and arrogance seems to be the life blood of her one-party rule – is her refusal to take responsibility for the dire state of the 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 the 2009 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.