Mount Vernon Comptroller candidate Derickson K. Lawrence is the Plaintiff in a lawsuit to prevent what he alleges was an illegal transfer, by Mount Vernon City Council, of emergency federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds that circumvent the Office of the Comptroller and will be directed to the Board of Water Supply. Westchester Supreme Court Judge Susan Cacace signed my Order to Show Cause, Thursday, May 13th.
Judge Susan Cacace directed city officials to detail why she should reject Lawrence’s bid to block the city’s move to have federal funds end up with the city water department and his alternative proposal to have the state comptroller or a third-party escrow account assigned to receive the money.
Lawrence, the former Chair of the City of Mount Vernon Charter Revision Commission from May 2019 – Nov 2020, contends that recent legislation adopted by the city council and Board of Estimate and Contract violated the city charter because it in facts arrogate the power of the comptroller to manage and disburse city funds. He also questions the ability of the water department to properly manage the funds.
“We live in a democracy based on the consent of the governed,” Mr. Lawrence shared with Black Westchester. “I bring this action on behalf of the tired and frustrated taxpayers of Mount Vernon, to bring order to the disorder, and to promote responsible receipt and transparent use of ARP funds in a way that will meet:
- The short-and long-term financial needs of City of Mt. Vernon.
- The federal guidance on the use of the ARP funds.
- The terms of the Mount Vernon City Charter and New York State Law”
“This legislation as it’s written, as of April 28, 2021, violates local and state laws and does not serve the public interest. As such, it cannot and will not stand.”
Lawrence, members of the clergy, and taxpayers called on the City Council and the City administration to repeal their their recent city ordinance (see below), Monday May 3, 2021 at a press conference on the steps of City Hall.
The legislation, with full support or Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard (SPH), which is in effect until June 2022 – six months after Deborah Reynolds leave office – targets the Comptroller over her lack of financial transparency and failure to accept federal funds in the past. BW is told the city of Mount Vernon set up a process in which the city clerk would accept the American Rescue Plan funds and pass them off to the Board of Water Supply. Lawrence took it to court arguing that the move would effectively strip the powers of an elected official, something that can only be done through a public referendum.
I believe the lawsuit is baseless,” Mayor SPH shared with Black Westchester, “but we welcome it. Unfortunate this may hold up much needed federal funds, but we will respect the process.”
Mount Vernon is expected to receive $42 million, half this month and the remainder in a year. The legislation provided that the council, the mayor, the water commissioner and the comptroller would all be involved in decisions about how the money is spent and all expenditures would have to be approved by the council and the Board of Estimate, which includes the mayor, council president and comptroller, Lohud reported.
Pastor of Greater Centennial Church A.M.E. Zion Church, Rev. Stephen Pogue – one of the members of the clergy at the press conference calling for a repeal of the city ordinance – shared with Black Westchester that he feels this “ordinance sets a dangerous precedent that will set the foundation for future legislation to violate the charter of the City of Mount Vernon.”
In terms of addressing a suitable place for the federal ARP funds, Lawrence states that “the administration and the City Council need to do the hard work to develop a new set of alternatives, hopefully with community input, which does not add additional risks to the city, nor violates its charter.”
Rev. Darren Morton, SPH’s Chief of Staff and Council President Marcus Griffith – who are both also running for Comptroller defended the legislation as an unusual measure under unusual circumstances though when Lawrence brought it up the possible violation of the charter during a virtual Meet The Candidates forum hosted by Greater Centennial and moderated by Rev. Pogue and Rev. Jeffrey Wheeler, Pastor of Mt Calvary CME ‘The Promise Church’, Tuesday, May 11th.
Stay tuned to Black Westchester for more on this developing story.