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Rye Playland lawsuit filed by Ken Jenkins seeks to torpedo Astorino's plan for park

Westchester Legislator Ken Jenkins visits with a patron

Westchester Legislator Ken Jenkins visits with a patron at Rye Playland. Jenkins and four other legislators came to the park to thank patrons for visiting. (Sept. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

The chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, Ken Jenkins, has made good on his threat to file a lawsuit to stop County Executive Rob Astorino from handing over management of Rye Playland to a local nonprofit.

In a complaint filed in Westchester County Court in White Plains on Thursday, Jenkins (D-Yonkers) asked the court to annul the April 18 votes cast by Astorino and budget director Lawrence Soule on the Board of Acquisition & Contract -- the votes that approved the Republican county executive's management agreement with Rye-based Sustainable Playland Inc.

The complaint argues that only the Board of Legislators, not the county executive, has the right to transfer management of county assets to third parties and that only the board can approve leases on county property lasting more than five years.

"It is another unfortunate attempt by the Astorino Administration to circumvent the authority of the Board of Legislators," said Jenkins in a statement.

A judge is scheduled to hear arguments in the case on June 24.

The lawsuit is the seventh filed by Jenkins and other Democratic lawmakers to attempt to stop Astorino from following through with policies they oppose. They've sought to block Astorino initiatives hiking fees for county-subsidized day care, canceling bus routes, funding infrastructure projects and appointing members of the Board of Acquisition & Contract itself.

The lawsuits have had mixed success, with Jenkins and the Democrats winning some legal skirmishes in the cases and Astorino prevailing in others. A judge has yet to decide on Jenkins' complaint about shutting down a little-used bus route without legislators' approval.

In a statement, Astorino's communications director, Ned McCormack, noted that only Jenkins was a party to the lawsuit, whereas, in past court actions, multiple Democratic lawmakers often joined the chairman.

"This appears to be nothing more than obstructionism on the part of Ken Jenkins," McCormack said. "It is very telling that he could not get one other legislator to sign onto his lawsuit."

Sustainable Playland has proposed investing $34 million in the much-loved but aging and unprofitable county-owned amusement park.

Under the terms of the agreement, the group would make major alterations at the park, including clearing space for a Great Lawn modeled after the one in New York City's Central Park. The company would subcontract individual attractions to firms with expertise in particular areas -- running amusement park rides, for example, or ice skating facilities.

The agreement would begin in October and last for 10 years, with an option for a 10-year extension.

On April 18, Astorino and Soule supported the agreement. Jenkins, the third member of the board, voted against it and vowed to sue.

Jenkins has long argued that Astorino was overstepping his bounds in turning the park over to Sustainable Playland.

Astorino has countered that, technically, the agreement with Sustainable Playland is not a lease and that the county executive can allow the nonprofit to run the park in the same way he lets vendors manage county-owned golf courses.

In his statement, Jenkins dismissed that claim. "The ten-year agreement that the County Executive wants to sign with Sustainable Playland is just a lease by another name," said Jenkins. "I am confident that a court of law will agree with me on this."

The county executive has acknowledged, however, that lawmakers need to approve major structural changes at the park. Under the terms of the agreement, Sustainable Playland must submit an improvement plan for the park by late June. Astorino would then file that plan with legislators for their approval.

Under the terms of the agreement, if lawmakers don't approve the improvement plan by the end of the year, the deal is null and void.

Sustainable Playland spokesman Geoff Thompson issued a statement reminding the county politicians that the nonprofit wanted to get to work on schedule.

"SPI wishes to move forward and governmental uncertainty and delays hurt all Westchester County residents," he said.

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