City Council President Yuhanna Edwards
City Councilwomen Karen Watts
While governments across the country are doing more with less, the government in the City of Mount Vernon, for some strange reason feels they are exempt from cutting spending. When cuts are made, they come from a vindictive and selfish approach without rhyme or reason.
This year we have two budgets before the people of Mount Vernon. One that was prepared by Mayor Young that calls for a 5.5% property tax increase and one that was prepared by the City Council and the Comptroller that calls for a 4.4% property tax increase.
On Tuesday, December 14th, 2010 Mount Vernon residents got a chance to weigh in on the 2011 spending plan. The standing room only public hearing was the only chance for the public to voice their opinion before the Board of Estimate and Contract adopted the 2011 spending plan.
While the two budgets differ when it comes to cutting spending and downsizing government, one budget line item remains the same in both budgets. Under the line item “Outside Contracted Service” members of the Mount Vernon City Council have sneakily added an additional $50K into this budget line item for a total of $70K, a 250% increase in spending over the prior year.
Over the past few weeks’s members of the public have contacted Mount Vernon Exposed ™® about the Mount Vernon City Council’s arrogance and continued abuse of public funds. Mount Vernon Exposed™® then began an investigation as to why the Mount Vernon City Council™® needed so much money for “outside services” in these economic times. On Wednesday December 23rd, 2010, Mount Vernon Exposed™® learned what the $50K for “outside services” was being used for.
According to the anonymous source, the $50K was being used to hire a high priced political consultant and public relations firm. The political consultant part of the firm would be to aid Councilwoman Diane Munro-Morris is her re-election bid, and the public relations part of the firm would be to aid the City Council of spreading their propaganda to the masses and to attack Mayor Young at every opportunity. The name of the public relations firm is Scheinkopf LTD. The proposal sent to the Mount Vernon City Council dated October 26th, 2010 calls for a fee of $3K per month plus expenses. The proposal was addressed to the Mount Vernon City Council and the public. The public however, has never seen a proposal from Scheinkopf LTD.
However, Mount Vernon Exposed™® demanded proof as we always do of such an egregious accusation. The tipster also told Mount Vernon Exposed™® that there was a deal in place that would benefit a certain (male) candidate that wants to run for Mayor in 2011. The agreement reached is if the City Council retains the firm at the proposed rate of the $3K per month, the candidate (male) that referred the firm to Council members would receive the service of Scheinkopf, LTD at no charge. Not a bad deal some would say. However, taxpayers are not aware of the “hidden charges” or expenses as Scheinkopf puts it. Just one mailing to City of Mount Vernon residents could be over $10K per mailing.
Upon review of the proposal reveals that the attempted hiring of this public relations firm is political in nature and not about getting out the Councils’ message. The City Council has already shown that they have no respect for the taxpayers in the City of Mount Vernon nor do they care about ethics. Earlier this year, the City Council retained a law firm that represented them in election matters during their campaign. The controversial hiring of this law firm came even as some council members expressed their reservations about the lack of expertise with the law firm. Mount Vernon Exposed™® has learned that Councilwomen Karen Watts was the figurehead behind the hiring of this law firm. Councilwomen Watts is also the go to person between the candidate (male) and the public relations firm in question Scheinkopf LTD.
Councilwomen Karen Watts has come under fire lately by City of Mount Vernon taxpayers. During the December 8th, 2010 meeting before the City Council, Mount Vernon resident Mike Skylar stated on the record that he wanted Councilwomen Watts to resign because she had an outstanding property tax liability of almost $30K with the City of Mount Vernon. “Having this kind of outstanding debt, leaves you susceptible to bribes and corruption” said Skylar. Other residents have stated to Mount Vernon Exposed™® that they do not feel Councilwomen Watts could effectively govern with this outstanding debt looming over her head. Some have said it is similar to ethics charges that embattled Congressman Charles Rangel is currently facing. Councilwomen Karen Watts will be sworn in as City Council president on January 3rd, 2011.
There is also a question of law if the City Council can legally hire a public relations firm without first obtaining an RFP. It appears that the hiring of this public relations firm without first obtaining bids is illegal in nature and violates state and local law. This will not be the first time that the Mount Vernon City Council has violated the law. It has come to the attention of Mount Vernon Exposed™® that Councilman Steve Horton has already said that he will vote against this abuse of taxpayers’ money just as he has done in the past pertaining to the hiring of counsel to defend against the Inspector General lawsuit. The Mount Vernon City Council lost that battle due to the hiring of a law firm that was not experienced in municipal law. The Mount Vernon City Council is appealing the decision of the Hon. Joan Lefkowitz at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars to the City of Mount Vernon taxpayers.
The hiring of this public relations firm and whether the Mount Vernon City Council can legally do it without first obtaining bids for this service may ultimately come down to being decided by a Judge. Under New York State municipal law, the hiring of professional services is exempt from the competitive bidding process. Under state law, professional services are classified as services requiring special skill or specialized expertise. However, a question of law arises if a public relations firm does fall under this category. How much skill or expertise is required to attack the Mayor and to prepare a few mailings and newsletters? Taxpayers however are provided with recourse to bring an action against the City Council. Taxpayers are provide d this relief under §51 of New York State General Municipal Law.
§ 51. Prosecution of officers for illegal acts. All officers, agents,
commissioners and other persons acting, or who have acted, for and on
behalf of any county, town, village or municipal corporation in this
state, and each and every one of them, may be prosecuted, and an action
may be maintained against them to prevent any illegal official act on
the part of any such officers………
the part of any such officers………
There also are possible ethics and/or criminal charges looming for incoming City Council President Karen Watts for collusion and big rigging. Mount Vernon Exposed™® was informed that the proposal from Scheinkopf LTD. was sent to her directly. Such actions are illegal and violate Mount Vernon City Charter §74. Such proposals should have only been received by the Board of Estimate and Contract of which Councilmember Watts’ is not a member.
§74 of the Mount Vernon City Charter
§ 74. Proposals.
No contract shall be let, except after the receipt of sealed bids or proposals
therefor, and no bids or proposals shall be received at any time other than at a
regular meeting of said Board and unless they conform to the rules of the Board and
the general ordinances of the City Council. All bids or proposals must be endorsed
by the title of the work or materials to which they related, and the name of the
bidder and his residence or business address. It shall be the duty of each member of
the Board to be present at the time and place mentioned in the public notice for the
opening of bids or proposals, and such meetings shall be open to the public. After all
the bids or proposals have been presented, but not until the time stated in the
public notice for holding the meeting, all bids or proposals shall be opened by some
member of the Board or by its clerk publicly and in the presence of the bidders and
other persons there present, and an abstract of all of such bids or proposals, with
the prices and security offered, shall be transcribed in a book kept for that purpose,
without any change, correction or addition whatever. A majority of the Board need
not be present when such bids or proposals are opened. The Board may reject all
bids or proposals received at any meeting and advertise again for new bids or
proposals to be received at another meeting as above described. No person
submitting, or on whose behalf a bid or proposal is submitted, nor the principal or
sureties on any bond or security accompanying the same shall have the right to
withdraw or cancel any such bid, or proposal, or bond until the Board shall have
awarded the contract for which such bid or proposal is made, and such contract
shall have been duly executed. All proposals or bids submitted as provided in this
chapter shall be accompanied by a certified check, cash or bid bond, for at least five
per centum (5%) of the amount of such bid or proposal. Performance bonds are not
required on any proposal on a purchase contract where the total contract is twenty-five
thousand dollars ($25,000.), or less. (As amended by L.L. 1955, No. 4; L.L. 1962,
No. 7; L.L. 1972, No. 1; L.L. 1988, No. 24
Sheinkopf LTD Proposal
Mount Vernon Sets Hearing on $86.8m Spending Plan