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Party Feuding Impacts County's Senior Panels

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- After elections, Chairman of the Westchester Board of Legislators Kenneth Jenkins (D-Yonkers) selected a Democrat to chair every legislative committee. The Republican-led generational, cultural and ethnic diversity committee, which focused heavily on senior issues, was merged into the Democratically-chaired community service committee, leaving Republicans with no committee heads.

Legislator Bernice Spreckman (R-Yonkers), who chaired the disbanded diversity committee, has since accepted nominations to head two other senior organizations, igniting a new round of party bickering about the progress of these bodies.

Republican lawmakers, including Spreckman, blame party politics for burying senior issues by merging the generational diversity committee with the community service committee.

"You have this committee 15 years and all of a sudden they’re taking it away. They put it into a community service system that really cares about social and mental health programs and social work...It will take a while before they get to it. I think it deserves its own committee," Spreckman said. "To me there was no reason to take it away. It was political."

Jenkins did not return two calls for comment. Thomas Staudter, a press representative for Democratic lawmakers, said consolidation was designed to streamline the county's bureaucracy.

"The chairman was looking for ways to consolidate committees and save money on the board. He put it (the generational, cultural and ethnic diversity committee) in community services, which is a good place for it," Staudter said. "We will not end up giving the seniors any less attention or services."

On Friday, Spreckman accepted nominations naming her the chair of Westchester County's Council for Seniors and a parallel federal organization through 2015. She vows to continue advocating for seniors in her new leadership roles.

"I’ll bounce back and come back twice as strong because that’s me. I want to continue to do the work that I do no matter what it takes," said Spreckman, who has been working with seniors for 32 years.

Jenkins responded by urging the Republican County Executive Robert Astorino to reincarnate the council for seniors, which he said had not met since December 2009 in a press release.

Ned McCormack, a spokesman for Astorino , said the council for seniors and its federal counterpart have been conjointly meeting with the now defunct generational, cultural and ethnic diversity committee since 2001.

"Bernice would use her committee to bring all these groups together and sort of streamline this process so the same people wouldn’t have to go to three different meetings," said McCormack, who said Astorino’s administration feels confident that Spreckman's new roles will supply her with ample community feedback to continue crafting policy to assist seniors.

Democrats say the meetings described by McCormack aren't valid because council for senior members haven’t been approved by the lawmakers for at least two years, as the county charter requires.

"We have not gotten any appointments since the county executive has taken office," said Staudter. "Whether the county executive reappoints them or not, they still have to be approved by the board of legislators. Twelve people who call themselves the council for seniors may very well be meeting, but they’re not the council for seniors until they’re approved by the board."

Astorino kept the same members on the council when he took office in 2010 because he was pleased with their work, McCormack said. He maintains that the appointees were already approved by lawmakers.

Now that two years have passed, McCormack said the county executive will "systematically see if we need new blood."

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