When the Westchester Board of Legislators was taken over by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats at the beginning of the year, the new leadership, with Michael Kaplowitz as chairman, got rid of the staff lawyer who had represented the board in many of its lawsuits against County Executive Rob Astorino.
Now, Legislator Ken Jenkins, who as chairman over the last four years initiated the lawsuits, is requesting outside counsel to continue the cases, which touch on Playland, the county’s contracts board, capital projects and the county bus system.
But Kaplowitz said he wants to come to a negotiated solution among legislators and between the legislature and the administration, both to set a new tone for the relationship between the branches and to save the money it would cost to fight the lawsuits.
“We’ve had intense discussions with the ninth floor and our colleagues on these issues,” Kaplowitz said.
But Jenkins said the charter requires the defense of the lawsuits.
“Those actions don’t go away so there’s a responsibility to cover them with counsel,” he said.
He also said the cases are defending important principles and any settlements would require the administration to follow the charter and laws passed by the board.
Jenkins initiated some of the lawsuits as an individual legislator with other members of the former leadership. But the suit on changes to the makeup of the Board of Acquisition and Contract was authorized by the full Board of Legislators in 2012 after it was filed. The board also approved the lawsuits over the board’s power to add capital projects to the budget and challenging the elimination of a bus line. Jenkins filed the Playland lawsuit, challenging Astorino’s right to approve a management contract without board input, on his own. A second Playland lawsuit challenging the legality of the contract was filed in December.
The county attorney’s office, which is charged with representing both branches of Westchester County government, has represented Astorino in the lawsuits. The board’s lawyer, Matthew Gallagher, made $109,000 last year.
Photo: Westchester Legislator Ken Jenkins, right, and County Executive Rob Astorino, left.