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Rockland County Exec Takes Action On Loan Issues, Personnel

WAMC, Allison Dunne

The Rockland County executive alleges that the county legislature scuttled his choice for human rights commissioner and director of the Office of Community Development for political reasons. And he is firing back with a plan that includes keeping the appointee on the county staff.

Republican County Executive Ed Day is seething over the Democratic-controlled legislature’s move earlier in November not to confirm the appointment of Dr. Penny Jennings as Human Rights Commissioner and director of the Office of Community Development.

“I looked at it as, at the very least, political obstructionism,” says Day. “That will not get in the way of doing the right thing for the people of Rockland, and that’s the simplest way I can put it.”

Here’s what he means by “not getting in the way.”

“She will be remaining with county government in an administrative role assigned to the Office of Community Development. She will continue her mission. She will continue her work,” Day says. “And wherever the investigation that she is involved in goes, it will be revealed. And we’re going to make that the people of Rockland County’s tax dollars are taken care of.”

Day refers to investigations how public funds have been allocated by Rockland’s Office of Community Development and used. He says they are loans via the Community Development Block Grant program under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Democratic Legislature Chairman Alden Wolfe, in an emailed statement, says Day, “does all concerned a disservice by perpetuating the untruth that Dr. Penny Jennings’ rejection was in any way connected to an investigation. To date, the Legislature still has received NO information from the Administration regarding any investigation or its efforts to enforce loan agreements with CDBG loan recipients.” Wolfe goes on to say, “Ed Day’s effort to place Dr. Jennings in an ‘administrative role’ is just one more insult to the Legislature and the democratic process outlined in our Charter.” 

Day says it’s the first time the legislature has not affirmed an acting human rights commissioner.

“Basically, she was sandbagged. Not only that, there was a social media character assassination effort going on which I think was disgusting,” says Day. “I don’t know who was behind it but anybody either through action or acquiescence who let that happen should be ashamed of themselves.”

In the meantime, Day assigned Myrnia Bass-Hargrove to oversee the departments of Human Rights and the Office of Community Development. She will retain her role as Rockland's director of community relations. Day says apart from personnel, he is implementing another change.

“Effective immediately, no Community Development Block Grant programs will be funded unless they are fully reviewed and approved by Dr. Jennings, the county attorney and our county auditor,” Day says. “In addition, we will confer with the federal HUD auditors and investigators before one penny is conveyed of taxpayer money going forward.”

Day also announced legal action.

“The county has started legal actions against two entities that have failed to pay back the taxpayer funds,” Day says. “One is PAL Auto of West Haverstraw and the members of that family. The second is a community outreach center in Ramapo.”

The manager at PAL Auto was not available for comment. The Community Outreach Center did not respond to a request for comment.

According to The Journal News, the previous Human Rights Commissioner and director of the Office of Community Development served for 16 years before being ousted this past spring. The paper says Ram Nagubandi filed legal action for the attempt to have him fired. The matter was settled with Nagubandi agreeing to leave his job.

Wolfe says a legislature committee meeting is scheduled for November 29 to hear from the administration on the matter. Wolfe says he expects a full briefing.   

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