Rye Playland repairs touch off more mudslinging in Westchester

Westchester County park officials and legislators walk past

Westchester County park officials and legislators walk past a severely damaged boardwalk in the Kiddieland section of Playland in Rye. (Jan. 30, 2013) (Credit: Angela Gaul)

Superstorm Sandy made a mess of Rye Playland.

Now vague allegations of favoritism are creating controversy over the cleanup.

On Monday, Westchester County Board of Legislators chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) sent a letter to Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore asking her to investigate county contracts related to public works projects -- including repairs at the county-owned amusement park.


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The letter alleges that county officials may have given illegal payments to an engineering and construction firm and, separately, raises questions about how the county awarded contracts for Playland repairs.

"I request that your office begin investigation concerning possible criminal activity by either county personnel and/or other entities associated with the award, performance, or management of county contracts for public works projects," wrote Jenkins to DiFiore.

FEW SPECIFIC DETAILS

The letter doesn't identify who might be involved in the alleged illegal payments and doesn't mention the role that Jenkins and other Democratic lawmakers' played.

"Upon information and belief, a certain company that contracts with the county for various engineering and construction management services is believed to have received payments or other compensation from county personnel without having performed actual work or for unwarranted activities," the letter states.

Asked which company received the money -- and who made the payments -- Jenkins' spokesman, Tom Staudter, declined to name anyone.

"These are things that the district attorney is going to have to investigate," said Staudter. "It's not incumbent on us to specify one company or another."

Deputy County Executive Kevin Plunkett cited the lack of specificity in a statement on the allegations.

"I am appalled at the fabrications from Mr. Jenkins in his letter," said Plunkett. "They are designed solely as political attacks."

ASTORINO GUIDED BY COUNTY COUNSEL

In his letter, Jenkins seems to refer to Titan Construction, a White Plains firm given a $2.1 million contract to rebuild the park's south boardwalk. The contract was awarded in April. Jenkins and other Democratic lawmakers have long questioned why Titan received the contract after another firm, Mace Construction of New Rochelle, was designated the successful bidder in March.

"It has come to light that a certain contract award associated with emergency repairs of facilities at Westchester County Playland Park in Rye has been rescinded from the lowest responsible bidding company and re-let to another company, contrary to county requirements and without legitimate basis," wrote Jenkins.

Democratic Legislators have also suggested that Astorino might have slighted Mace out of racism.

"Just looking at that on its face can lead one to think that perhaps this person was not selected because he was a minority," Legis. Lyndon Williams (D-Mount Vernon) told News12 on Wednesday.

Astorino has refuted the criticism.

"Mr. Jenkins knows full well the county followed the letter of the law relating to the requirements of public bidding, on advice of the county attorney for the Playland Boardwalk repairs," Plunkett said.

BACK AND FORTH ON CONTRACT

Mace was awarded the contract under a process that regulates emergency repairs. But soon after the contract was awarded, County Attorney Robert Meehan informed Astorino that a mistake had been made: the emergency process for the bids had been initiated properly in November 2012, Meehan said; but under state procurement laws, it was no longer valid when the county finally got around to awarding the contract in March 2013.

Based on Meehan's input, Astorino started the process from the beginning. In the end, Titan's bid was around $180,000 less than Mace's original proposal.

Astorino has also pointed out that lawmakers played a role in how Titan won the contract.

When Williams raised questions about Titan's contract at a March 21 meeting of the county's Board of Acquisition & Contract, Astorino noted that inaction among lawmakers was a major reason why so much time passed between the date of the storm and the decision on a contract to fix the damage.

Citing the need for emergency repairs, Astorino had sent lawmakers a request for funding to repair the boardwalk on December 3. But the board hadn't approved the funding until January 28. Mace received the contract around two weeks later, only to have it rescinded on the basis that the whole process had taken too long.

"You waited 60 days for what should have been approved immediately," said Astorino, according to a video of the meeting. "Why did you as vice chairman of the Board of Legislators wait 60 days to approve the funding?"

DIFIORE REVIEWING LETTER

On Wednesday, Williams told News12 that he and Jenkins' were simply asking DiFiore to look into the issue.

"What the chairman is trying to ascertain by the letter is to make sure that the public has confidence in the bidding process," he said.

DiFiore's spokesman, Lucian Chalfen, said the district attorney was reviewing the letter. As of Wednesday afternoon, said Chalfen, Jenkins hadn't sent other materials besides the letter.

Work on Playland's south boardwalk is expected to be finished by opening day on Saturday.

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