The chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers), on Thursday said he and other lawmakers would file a lawsuit to stop County Executive Rob Astorino from handing management of Rye Playland over to a nonprofit.
"There will certainly be litigation," said Jenkins, speaking at a meeting of the county's Board of Acquisition and Contract in White Plains. "The board's powers are being circumvented in an agreement that would call for someone to manage a property that is 100 percent under the purview of the board."
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The move would be the seventh time Jenkins and other Democratic lawmakers have turned to the courts in their disputes with Astorino, challenging the Republican county executive's decisions on subsidies for child care, bus routes, funding for roads, bridges and other projects and appointments to the Board of Acquisition and Contract itself.
All of the bills go to county taxpayers, in the end.
"It's unfortunate," Astorino said of the new challenge from Jenkins. "That's been the pattern of the Democrats on the board. It's unfortunate everything has got to be political and everything has to be decided in court with them."
The two sides have had mixed success in the lawsuits, each losing some and winning others.
At the meeting, the Board of Acquisition and Contract approved by a vote of 2 to 1 a contract agreed upon between Astorino and Sustainable Playland, a Rye-based nonprofit that has proposed investing $35 million into the beloved but shabby county-owned amusement park. Astorino and his budget director, Lawrence Soule, are two members of the board. Jenkins is the third member.
Jenkins and other Democratic lawmakers have long said Astorino was overstepping his authority by negotiating an agreement with Sustainable Playland without their approval. Astorino has claimed he can negotiate an agreement in the same way he hires operators for county golf courses.
Legislators clearly have a role in the process.
Under the terms of the agreement approved Thursday, Sustainable Playland must file a construction plan for the park within a month. Legislators have until next year to approve the plan. If they don't, Sustainable Playland has the right to pull out of the deal.
Jenkins said that role wasn't enough, however.
He said it still isn't clear whether Sustainable Playland has the financial wherewithal to follow through with its plans. Jenkins also questioned how the agreement would pay down existing debt on the park and how the county and nonprofit would share responsibilities in running it.
"There is significant concern about the investments we have made in Playland that we're still on the hook for," Jenkins said.
A spokesman for Sustainable Playland, Geoff Thompson, said he was pleased by the board's vote to approve the management agreement, despite Jenkins' protest.
"It's still a very significant step," Thompson said. "This is a seminal moment. It gives us standing we didn't have before."
Astorino bemoaned a potential delay to the execution of the agreement. It's taken two years to finalize the agreement and develop a plan to refurbish the 1920s-era park and bring it into the 21st century, he said.
"To put your hands over your eyes and pretend there isn't a problem at Playland is being either political or naive," Astorino said.