Editorial: Government feud puts pressure on nonprofits at Playland

Westchester Children's Museum Board President Ira Greenstein and Westchester Children's Museum Board President Ira Greenstein and Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins sign a lease agreement Thursday to house the museum at the former men's bathhouse at Rye Playland. Looking on from left are: Tracy Kay, executive director of the children's museum; Legis. Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining); Legis. Bill Ryan (D-White Plains); Campaign for the Westchester Children's Museum Board President Corinne Zola; Legis. Judy Myers (D-Larchmont); and county Majority Leader Pete Harckham (D-Katonah). (Oct. 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Westchester Board of Legislators/Thomas Staudter

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When it comes to one-upsmanship, Westchester County lawmakers have really outdone themselves.

By signing a $1-a-year lease for 10 years with Westchester Children's Museum on Thursday, the Board of Legislators -- really the board's chairman, Democrat Ken Jenkins of Yonkers -- have all but ensured that Playland Amusement Park in Rye will be mired in legal trouble.

Despite bipartisan support for the concept of a museum (they have asked the county executive to move forward with a lease), county legislators from both parties are calling this recent deal illegal because the law says it's the county executive's job to execute leases or contracts. Even the Children's Museum acknowledged after signing the lease that its validity is in question.

This sort of obstinacy where legislators and Republican County Executive Rob Astorino act alone is too common. It escalated recently when Astorino said he didn't need the board to pursue an overhaul at the county-owned amusement park, which has been losing money and attendance for years.

What's unique now -- and what's troubling -- is that two civic-minded not-for-profits, both willing to invest tens of millions of private dollars into the park, have been dragged into the middle of the political tit-for-tat.

A children's museum based at one of the historic bathhouses at Playland is a worthwhile concept and has wide support -- especially when you consider the children's museum organization plan to invest at least $6.4 million in the building. But the lease signed by Jenkins, with the backing of a few other Democratic legislators, could undermine the museum if legal battles surface. And the even larger attempts by another nonprofit organization to revamp the entire 280-acre park with a new outdoor ice rink, great lawn, field house and other year-round attractions also could be at risk.

This recent spat between the county executive and legislature puts far too much of the onus on Sustainable Playland Inc. -- a group recently chosen by Astorino to turn the tide of the amusement park -- and the county board-supported Children's Museum to sort out a treaty in this cold war.

This potentially volatile situation can't be allowed to derail this rare and great opportunity to improve Playland.

With serious talks and some luck, these two private entities will be able to hammer out a compromise in which a children's museum becomes part of a new year-round amusement venue.

That may be best way to ensure that Playland's reinvention doesn't get caught up in the usual power plays.

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