Legislator Ryan Moves Forward with "Westchester Renewed"

Citizen-run Westchester County Charter Revision Commission at Center of Initiative to Improve County Government

2/4/2010 10:24:09 AM

 

 

(White Plains, NY) ~ In an action that could profoundly affect how county government operates in the future, Westchester County Legislator Bill Ryan (D-WF, White Plains) today moved forward with Westchester Renewed, a far-reaching initiative centered on a citizen-run Westchester County Charter Revision Commission.

 

“The Westchester County Charter has not undergone a complete and systematic review since it was approved by the voters in a countywide referendum in 1937.  That was over 70 years ago,” stated Legislator Ryan.  “It’s time to take a thorough look at how Westchester County government is working and how it can be improved.”

 

“What steps should we take to right-size our government?  How can we streamline its operation? How can we make it more efficient and less expensive?  How should we revise our Charter so that it reflects today’s realities and provides the flexibility we need to ensure a county / local partnership that benefits all of our residents and taxpayers,” continued the Board’s former Chairman.  “These important questions need to be answered.”

 

Legislator Ryan has long maintained that “government needs to work smarter, become more efficient and less expensive.”  He sees this as the major challenge facing government at every level – federal, state, county and local – and in every form – general purpose units, school districts, authorities and special districts.  “Westchester County government should accept this challenge, lead by example, and be a model for others to follow,” said Ryan.

 

In introducing this Act, Legislator Ryan noted that beyond realizing greater economy and efficiency in our own County government operation, the Charter review process could help identify State laws and regulations that need to change if the County is to have greater flexibility and be in a better position to help localities streamline and reduce costs.  That would be through consolidating / centralizing some of their locally-run programs and functions and shifting service delivery responsibility and operations to the County.   

 

“If the Westchester County community, with all of its many taxing jurisdictions, is going to be in the national headlines each year, let it not be for having the highest combined property tax bill in America, but let it be for real progress and innovation in service delivery and cost containment,” urged Ryan.

 

Legislator Ryan also noted that the work of the citizen-run Charter Revision Commission would be an ideal way for people to become knowledgeable about the operations and responsibilities of county government and involved in the decision-making process resulting in meaningful recommendations to the Board of Legislators.  The County Charter is the people’s document and the people should be the ones to recommend changes that reflect how they want to be governed.

 

Process

 

With the new legislative session underway, Legislator Ryan has placed “Westchester Renewed” before the Board of Legislators for consideration.  Today, he has filed with the Clerk an Act which, if approved by the Board would authorize creation of a Westchester County Charter Revision Commission.

 

Back in mid-December, he introduced “Westchester Renewed,” as an initiative that could profoundly affect how county government operates in the future.  At its center is a citizen-run County Charter Revision Commission.  The Board did have a brief opportunity to discuss this proposal in committee prior to the conclusion of the 2008-2009 legislative session.

 

In reintroducing this item, Legislator Ryan has asked the Board to refer it to the Committee on Legislation – for any needed modifications and changes to the Act establishing the Commission and specifying membership, duties and responsibilities – and to the Budget and Appropriations Committee – for determining the resources to be provided to the Commission to carry out its assigned duties.  Other than resources, the Commission is to operate independent of county government.

 

Legislator Ryan is asking for thorough consideration of this proposal and a prompt report to the full Board for a vote.

 

The Commission

 

Westchester’s Charter Revision Commission would be made up of members representing a cross-section of the county, reflecting the resident taxpayer, business, non-profit, labor and government sectors of the Westchester community. It would examine structural innovations for and alternatives to the current form and structure of County government.  On or before March 1, 2011, a report of findings, conclusions and recommendations would be submitted to the Board of Legislators for implementation or, depending on what’s proposed, brought before the  voters in a referendum. 

 

The Charter Revision Commission would be composed of 31 members to be appointed as follows:

 

  • Each of the seventeen County Legislators would individually appoint one (1) member to the Commission 
  • The Chairman of the County Board of Legislators would also appoint one (1) additional member to serve as the Chairperson of the Commission
  • The County Executive would appoint two (2) members to the Commission
  • The County Clerk, District Attorney, Chief Administrative Judge of the 9th Judicial District would each appoint one (1) member to the Commission
  • By a majority vote of the County Board of Legislators, one (1) member shall be appointed from each of the following seven organizations: the Westchester County League of Women Voters, the Westchester Putnam Central Labor Body, the Civil Service Employees Association, the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association, the Westchester County Municipal Officials Association, the Business Council of Westchester, the Westchester County Association, and one (1) member from a non-profit agency providing services in Westchester County.

Some types of issues that could be considered include:

 

  • Consolidating/merging/eliminating various county departments and functions
  • Centralizing various services now handled by municipalities; consolidation of locally-run programs and functions; shifting service delivery responsibility to the county
  • Turning over certain discretionary county services to local municipalities and/or community based organizations
  • What’s best for Westchester: A publicly elected County Executive or an appointed administrator?
  • The role and structure of the Board of Legislators; changing the form and size of the legislative body
  • The need for and composition of a Board of Acquisition and Contract
  • Establishing an Office of County Comptroller