By CHRIS EBERHART
and ASHLEY HELMS
Westchester County residents will see two new committees they don’t recognize within the Board of Legislators this year.
As the board selected its committees and subsequent chair-persons for the 2014-2015 legislative term, newly-elected chairman Mike Kaplowitz, a Yorktown Democrat, along with newly-elected vice chairman Jim Maisano, a New Rochelle Republican, decided to break down the Government Operations Committee, which was vetting the Sustainable Playland Inc., proposal, into two separate committees. The new committees stemming from Government Operations are the Infrastructure Committee and the Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing Committee.
The Sustainable Playland proposal is intended to allow the Rye-based non-profit to take over operation of the historic, county-owned amusement park in Rye and turn it into a park that can be used all year.
According to Kaplowitz, he took a look at the Government Operations Committee and felt that it had too many items to handle for just one group.
“[The Government Oper-ations Committee] was struggling to get through their oversight. It was an inefficient way of dealing with all the items,” Kaplowitz said.
Breaking it down into two committees came down to an issue of efficiency, he said, and the Playland proposal will now be in the hands of the Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing committee, chaired by Peter Harckham, a Katonah Democrat.
Harckham said the board needs to ratify Sustainable Playland’s proposed improvement projects. The committee will look over each individual upgrade plan outlined for Playland, but Harckham said there are some outstanding questions that need to be answered by Sustainable Playland first regarding financing, taxes and marketing plans.
Catherine Parker, a Rye Democrat who was recently elected to fill the seat of Judy Myers, a Larchmont Democrat who did not seek re-election last year, will join the committee vetting the SPI proposal and also serve as the chairwoman of the Environmental and Energy Committee. She said there hasn’t been much conversation surrounding Playland yet, but she believes in her committee to come up with “a bipartisan agreement.”
Other members of the Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing Committee include Ken Jenkins, a Yonkers Democrat, Virgina Perez, a Yonkers Democrat, Bernice Spreckman, a Yonkers Republican, and Michael Smith, a North Castle Republican. The vice chairperson of the committee is yet to be determined.
In addition to Playland, Harckham said the Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing Committee will also be responsible for monitoring the 2009 affordable housing settlement between the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the county, which mandated 750 units of affordable housing be built in 31 county communities over a seven-year period.
The plan is for the Labor, Parks, Planning and Housing Committee to meet every other week, but Harckham said if the group gets very busy, they may meet more often.
“There’s nothing holding us back,” Harckham said. “I’ve never shied away from a heavy work load.”
In addition to splitting up the Government Operations Committee, a majority bipartisan coalition on the Board of Legislators appointed committee chairpersons based on seniority and each legislator was given a leadership position.
The bipartisan coalition of seven Republicans and two Democrats—Kaplowitz and Vir-ginia Perez of Yonkers—was formed during the 2014 budget process last December to bring change and cohesion to the Board of Legislators after two years of lawsuits and tension between both political parties under the leadership of former chairman Ken Jenkins, a Yonkers Democrat, members of the coalition said.
The new committee structure and leadership decisions were put into motion by Kaplowitz and Maisano, who said he and Kaplowitz wanted to have each legislator lead a committee in order to have every voice heard.
“We wanted all of the legislators to be part of the leadership,” Maisano said. “The composition of each committee is evenly balanced between Democrats and Republicans to guide the committees to compromise.”
Under the chairmanship of Jenkins, the board’s committees were led solely by Democrats.
Legislator Sheila Marcotte, an Eastchester Republican, said that, because the committee chairpersons are broken up by seniority, the legislators’ offices inside the Michalian Building, located on Martine Avenue in White Plains, are no longer separated by political party. Now, she said, Republicans are next to Democrats, which promotes conversation and bipartisanship.
“Before that,” Marcotte said, “It was Republicans on one end in the small offices and Democrats on the other end in big offices. We never saw each other except on the floor or in committee.”