Court Rules Claxton, McKenzie and Talbot Acted Illegally

Must Resign

“Illegal” – that is how NY State Supreme Court Justice Cacace described the December 1, 2015 actions by Councilpersons Claxton, McKenzie, Rigger and Talbot. They broke the law and, as Justice Cacace declared, they also broke provisions of the Peekskill City Charter.

The immediate remedy for such egregious actions by the Democratic majority of the Council is the City Manager’s Tentative 2016 Budget now becomes law, causing a 5.9% tax increase instead of the 3.59% tax increase that the Republican Council members fought for.

The long-term remedy is that Claxton, McKenzie and Talbot must follow Chapter C, Article IV § 25 of the Peekskill City Charter regarding “Penalty for violation of Duty” which states that any officer who “violates or evades any provision of law or of this Charter… shall, on conviction forfeit his/her office.” The only question is whether they will finally do right by the citizens of Peekskill and leave on their own volition or will they require another lawsuit to make them abide by the law. InsidePEEK predicts they will ignore the City Charter once again, and cause further chaos.

Charter Chapter C

As we stated in our previous post announcing the lawsuit, when challenged about the illegal December 1st meeting, Councilwoman McKenzie declared “sue me.” As we know, somebody did. Now she and her cohorts must pay – with the loss of their elected positions. The taxpayers of Peekskill will also pay, with a higher tax increase than what Mayor Catalina proposed.

Previous Posts on this topic:
Peekskill Council Majority Sued Over Illegal Meeting
Evidence Clear Council Majority Acted Illegally

Remember – on November 30, 2015, well after the election, Claxton, McKenzie, Rigger and Talbot voted to authorize the ability to enact a property tax levy above the mandatory 2% Property Tax Cap. This vote was taken even though a tenant of the 2015 “Positively Peekskill” platform was that they would not vote to go above the tax cap. That didn’t take long – just 3 weeks to prove they were lying all through the campaign.

Reading the attached Judgment by Justice Cacace one is stunned by the total disregard for law and the City Charter. The Council Majority violated every procedure and law in place to take their illegal actions. Some of the words used by the Court to describe the actions of Claxton, McKenzie, Rigger and Talbot: “Invalid, null and void” adoption of the budget; “failure to comply with Peekskill City Code”; “none of those provisions (of the City Charter) were complied with”; the budget vote was “unlawfully undertaken during an invalid Special meeting”; “failed to lawfully adopt a budget.”

Sadly, this court judgment declaring illegal activity is not the end of Peekskill’s embarrassment. Far from it. There is much more to be settled. The Westchester District Attorney’s Office investigation on Claxton’s illegal grants is in full swing and other investigations by NY State Comptroller and Attorney General’s Offices are ongoing against The Preservation Company and their parent organization, Hudson River Healthcare.

There is also McKenzie’s illegal and unethical sharing of confidential employee information by forwarding an official email to a political operative.

InsidePEEK believes the only way the City of Peekskill can move forward in a positive manner is for the perpetrators of all the illegal and unethical actions to resign – and go away. The hubris, contempt and arrogance by the guilty is extraordinary. It has made Peekskill the embarrassment of Westchester. Unfortunately, it will continue as long as those causing it remain in City Hall.

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Town of Cortlandt Action Causes Amended Lawsuit

CortTownBoard

The Town of Cortlandt is in trouble again. When will they learn?

The town was recently slapped with a serious lawsuit by an organization called The Hudson Ridge Wellness Center for imposing a moratorium as a means of improperly blocking a proposed project from moving forward (see previous InsidePEEK post).

Moratoriums can be important and useful if used properly. They is a way for a municipality to investigate and research uses of geographic locations, as is done during the Master Plan process and zoning reconsiderations. Moratoriums are NOT designed to illegally prevent a viable project AFTER the planning process for that project has begun! The Puglisi Administration has an established practice of using moratoriums as a tool to block certain projects and specific developers from exercising their legal right to move forward through the planning process once their project has been proposed. They got away with it for years but times have changed and now people are fighting back and are no longer afraid to challenge Puglisi and her rubber stamp board.

According to the Journal News, The Hudson Ridge Wellness Center has filed an amended lawsuit in response to a recent vote by the Cortlandt Town Board to reaffirm the illegal moratorium they imposed to stop the Hudson Ridge project for Quaker Ridge Road. The $15 million civil rights suit contends that members of the town board “have a long history, dating back to 1987,” of adopting moratoriums to “delay, derail and/or obstruct development projects,” in the Town of Cortlandt. Their research shows that Puglisi and town officials have used this tactic against projects at least 25 times since 1987. That is an absurd number of times and shows the absolute disregard for providing due process to applicants. By stopping so many projects it is no wonder the revenue for the town has plummeted and taxes continue to rise at an alarming rate. Just think of the $ millions in revenue that could have been collected since 1987! Think of the funds that would have been available to maintain the crumbling infrastructure the town now faces.

The town contends that this moratorium is valid since there are some differences regarding the application. Isn’t that what the planning process is for – to negotiate and discuss the aspects of a project and work together to make the project move forward as a benefit to the town? All proposals are a give and take and require careful review to take all concerns into account. Using a moratorium to stop a project in its tracks is not the legal way to approach it. The town should know this by now since they lost a lawsuit by another organization for this very reason. Now, they are going to pay a hefty sum, again, due to their actions.

InsidePEEK will continue to monitor this issue as the lawsuit moves forward.

Claxton Thinks She Can Ignore The Law

umbrella connections

Since when does the guilty party in a theft get to determine their own method of making restitution and punishment – or lack thereof? Is a bank robber who gets caught allowed to just give the money back and go on their merry way? Of course not. Does someone who gets caught cheating on their taxes get to just pay back the money without any penalty or any criminal charges? No way.

Well, that is what Drew Claxton and The Preservation Company (TPC) want you to believe they can do after getting caught knowingly distributing and accepting funds illegally. They want everyone to think since they admitted to the wrongdoing and offered to pay back the ill gotten funds that all will be forgiven and law enforcement will say thank you and leave them alone. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.

Peekskill Mayor Frank Catalina, an attorney, knows that something is wrong with this picture too. To his credit he first reached out to The Preservation Company to work out a path forward for all involved. Instead, he was greeted with political attacks and insults from The Preservation Company, Drew Claxton and other individuals connected with the Peekskill Democratic Party. Catalina correctly attempted to protect the City of Peekskill and collect as much information as possible to get a clear picture of what had occurred and if there was any exposure to the City.

Now, The Preservation Company and Claxton want everyone to think that just by paying back the NYS agency originally providing the grants and then Claxton reimbursing TPC will make everything go away. These are funds that were disbursed 8 years ago! In a recent press release addressing this issue, Mayor Catalina points out that there are actually NYS laws that must be followed under these types of cases. Not only must the illegal grant funds be repaid but interest must also be paid – 8 years’ worth.

InsidePEEK joins Mayor Catalina in asking about the terms on Claxton’s repayment of the funds. Why would Claxton pay TPC instead of directly to the State? Is it a one-time payment or over a period of time? How long? By paying TPC directly is Claxton now attempting to avoid paying interest? Did the TPC payment made to the State agency include interest? TPC President Alan Steiner may be a Putnam County Judge but he is not the judge on this case. Steiner, TPC and Claxton are obviously trying to get out in front of all the investigations underway and also counter the seemingly daily bad press and revelations of new wrongdoing. It won’t work.

Catalina reminds everybody that several investigations are currently underway. We know that the Westchester District Attorney’s Office is conducting a thorough investigation. The NY State Attorney General’s Office is conducting an investigation into the agency involved in the grant and may also be looking into TPC and their parent company Hudson River Healthcare (HRHC). They may also be looking into Claxton. Since there is extensive fraud involved the US Attorney may also be investigating. The NYS Comptroller’s Office announced this week they will be conducting intensive audits throughout the agencies involved in distributing grant funds.

All these investigations take time – many months at least. The Claxton corruption is just the beginning. It is a very tangled web indeed. The Journal News recently reported that Peekskill Democratic District Leader Lynne Nayman, a former TPC employee was a recipient of her own grant and TPC Director Jeannette Phillips’ daughter, also an employee of TPC, received a grant improperly. Emma McKinney, HRHC’s own ‘Credentialing Supervisor’ received two grants and stated to the Journal News recently, “we are all under the same umbrella.” That is some big umbrella – HRHC, TPC and the Peekskill Democratic Party. There are many more still to be named. More grants, more violation of the rules and more embarrassment for the City of Peekskill.

All this while we wait for the results of the recent lawsuit brought by a private citizen against the Democratic Council Majority for their illegal meeting and budget vote in December. Then there is the ongoing investigation of Councilwoman Vivian McKenzie for illegally sharing a confidential email containing privileged employee information with her political mentor Mike Morey (who then immediately shared it with the press).

These issues won’t be settled anytime soon. With more information yet to be exposed to the public and investigations with no end in sight, the citizens of Peekskill will unfortunately have to live with the microscope on their community. All the more reason Claxton should step down immediately. She should put the community first, not herself.

Peekskill Democratic Party in Chaos

Dems in Chaos

Things are not going well behind the scenes with the Peekskill Democratic Party these days. There seems to be a lot of finger pointing and confusion on how to deal with with the ongoing corruption investigations and exposed ties to The Preservation Company.

Adding to the chaos was the resignation of their long-time chairwoman, Marina Ciotti. From what we have been told by InsidePEEK readers close to the Democratic Party, one even a former member, is that there is an inner struggle on staying loyal to a leader, no matter what wrongdoing was committed (as they usually do), or is it time to do what is best for the party and cut ties with the person and rebuild the party’s image. Ciotti wanted to cut ties with the corruption and move forward. She felt she had taken enough bullets over the years for the party and didn’t want to continue on the current path of destruction. She was at odds with Claxton and Morey and it became too much to deal with – so she quit. This left pseudo-chairman Morey with a problem. How was he to find someone to continue running the party in the mold he created and willing to be controlled by him? More on that later.

Another issue to contend with is Drew Claxton’s replacement when she steps down. Oh yes, she will step down. Word has it that Morey and Claxton are looking for the best time and method for her to bow out gracefully. InsidePEEK believes it will be impossible for it to be done gracefully – that time has passed. Her arrogance continues and is grating on everyone’s nerves and causing too much negative focus on the City, so her leaving office will be met with cheers – from both sides of the aisle. One thought is they could wait for that early morning knock at the door from the law enforcement. That would give them the most time for her to attend meetings and maintain the majority. They have loose ends to tie up before there is a stalemated council. They have already started doing this with their recent Ethics Board appointee. We know, it sounds like an oxymoronic statement to talk about the sitting Dems voting on an ethics board appointment but it happened. More on that in a future post.

No, Claxton and Morey know the best time to leave will be sooner rather than later. They know more revelations of her activities are on the way so they may regret waiting too long. Claxton has recently made public she has health concerns that are requiring attention. While it is unfortunate that she has serious health concerns, Morey is not one to let a tragedy or any situation go to waste. It is one of his signatures. So, expect Claxton to step down in the not too distant future for health reasons. It is a perfect cover for the true reason and one that can gain that graceful exit they are looking for – or at least as close as they can get to one.

So what happens next? Will a replacement get appointed or will a Special Election take place this November? InsidePEEK predicts neither will happen. There will remain 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans on the Common Council – a stalemate for sure. Theoretically, it may be possible for a compromise candidate to emerge that would gain the 4 votes needed for appointment but it is unlikely. One of our readers suggested that new member Andre ‘Noodle Noo’ Rainey may do the right thing and participate in a fair process that would produce a viable replacement. Based on what we have determined so far, InsidePEEK doesn’t believe Rainey would set himself apart from the party pressure. He was considered an independent person at first, whose lack of experience would be an asset for putting people ahead of party. That has not been the case. He has fallen in under Morey’s system and has let himself be steered awry by a certain restaurant owner who has financially controlled Rainey’s every thought and decision.

So what is the Democrats’ plan? InsidePEEK has been informed by very reliable sources that they hope to cause a Special Election this fall. Just as InsidePEEK predicted in an earlier post, this is a Presidential election year and would provide a local voter turnout favorable to the Democrats, something they cannot do on local election years. It also must be a woman candidate since Hillary Clinton will most likely be the Presidential nominee. Conventional wisdom by our readers is that Marybeth McGowan is the obvious pick since she is all of a sudden showing up to meetings. It is possible, but InsidePEEK wonders about this. We realize this may indeed come true but we question why then didn’t she run this past fall? She narrowly lost the previous election so it is likely she wants to redeem herself and her ego. Then again, InsidePEEK was informed she didn’t run because of a multitude of issues connected to a business she is involved in. This, even before the Claxton corruption story broke. So, now she may have concerns that her own questionable actions could become public. Running for office with a party that has been exposed from top to bottom as being involved in illegal activity is not a good framework to run for office in. Especially since McGowan was part of that same governmental body that was in power while these activities were taking place. There is also the Mary Foster connection, a definite political albatross.

InsidePEEK is told another candidate lurks in the wings waiting for her chance to emerge. We will unmask her soon enough once we fully obtain more information about her background. What we have been told so far is not good so we need more time to corroborate and verify. There is time since InsidePEEK believes there will be no agreement among the deadlocked council to approve a local election. So she won’t be needed for another year.

Getting back to the pressing issue that faced the Democratic Party in Peekskill – a new chairperson. Morey was challenged to find someone who was politically ambitious but willing to take his direction. He has found that person – and it is bad news for Peekskill. InsidePEEK readers who are connected to or were previously part of the local party described how Morey, and then later on Rigger, transformed the Democratic Party into a negative, partisan only and lack of progress party that changed Peekskill politics in a negative way – possibly forever. One of our readers wrote, “… we used to hold elections and even when they would get contentious, we could always come together afterward and move forward. Morey changed that.” Morey has made his living entirely in the political arena. He trained in Washington DC and brought those tactics to Peekskill. He only wanted to make a name for himself and move up the political ladder. He has done that – but at what cost to those around him and the City of Peekskill?

Finally, he has found someone in his own mirror image, a protégé who will continue in his style. His name is Terence ‘TJ’ Rogers, a 40-year-old political operative and employee of the Westchester County Board of Elections. He is not from this area and came here through his work for Congressmen John Hall. So here we go again. Get ready for more of the same.

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