Last August 31, 2011, Mayor Clinton I. Young, Jr., Westchester County Board of Legislators Vice Chairman Lyndon D. Williams and Recreation Commissioner Peter J. Neglia, as well as hundreds of elected officials and community members broke ground at the new Stadium at Memorial Field. The $12.7 million renovation of Memorial Field had pushed forward despite attempts to derail its progress. Mayor Young and Vice Chairman Williams were joined by U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel, State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Council members Steven Horton and Yuhanna Edwards.
At the ground breaking, Young stated, “I thank Vice Chairman Lyndon Williams for delivering the funding for this important project. Memorial Field is a jewel for the city and the County of Westchester. It’s a real exciting day for the City of Mount Vernon,”
Mayor Young announced that Mount Vernon based Avanti Building and Construction Corporation had been awarded the contract to perform Phase I of the Memorial Field project, which included demolition of the old stadium and construction site prep work. The demolition was expected to be completed in three months. Of course, this was now almost two years after the money authorized by the County of Westchester.
As time advanced, concern was finally voiced by Westchester County Board of Legislators Vice-Chairman Lyndon D. Williams (D-Mount Vernon) who said he was unhappy that the $12.7 million state-the-art Memorial Field renovation project continued to be stalled because if inaction by Mount Vernon city officials. In a letter to Mount Vernon Mayor Clinton Young and City Council President Karen Watts, Vice-Chairman Williams expressed disappointment with the city’s delay of a project, which he had worked hard to have funded through the County’s Legacy Program. “It’s been two years since the City of Mount Vernon and the County entered into an agreement for the development of Memorial Field into a state-of-the-art stadium through the County’s Legacy program,” said Vice-Chairman Williams.
“In December 2009, eleven (11) months after approving the Memorial Field project, the County Board approved a similar project in New Rochelle. Although Mount Vernon’s Memorial Field project was approved almost one year before New Rochelle, the Flowers Park Renovation Project in New Rochelle is far ahead and is in its final phase of completion. The New Rochelle City Council adopted bid legislation in early 2010 and bids were awarded in May 2010,” said Vice-Chairman Williams.
Where is the money? That is the question on the minds of taxpayers throughout the City of Mount Vernon. On Tuesday, May 17, 2011, bids were opened for Memorial Field to begin the construction phase of the project. Prior to the bid opening by the Board of Estimate and Contract, City Clerk George Brown made it crystal clear that the City of Mount Vernon had only $11.5M to spend on the re-building of Memorial Field.
As the bids were opened, the lowest bid came in at $13.7M leaving a shortfall of $2.2M. Many taxpayers questioned the motives of City Council President Karen Watts. The Journal News and News 12 ran stories about City Council President Watts collecting unemployment insurance while on the City of Mount Vernon payroll. Watts may face criminal charges.
City Hall inundated with e-mails and phone calls regarding the situation of Watts. Concerned citizens are looking for answers and seeking advice on how to oust her from office. Mount Vernon resident Mike Sklar publicly called for Watts’ resignation.
In a story in Mount Vernon Exposed, one of the city’s news blogs, it was alleged that Watts had reached a deal with Mayor Young., regarding his help with her unemployment situation. Mayor Young then allegedly told Watts that he would help her out if she endorsed his candidacy for Mayor and publicly trash Comptroller Maureen Walker. Again, it was alleged that Watts agreed to this deal. It was told to Mount Vernon Exposed that Watts’ public endorsement of Mayor Young was scheduled for the same day the Journal News and News 12 broke their stories about Watts’ unemployment fiasco.
It has also been alleged that Watts will be stepping down from the City Council after all approvals are complete for the Memorial Field project. Mayor Young has allegedly agreed to hire Watts as the Recreation Commissioner. It is public knowledge that Watts is having financial difficulties such as 20 thousand dollars in back taxes. This type of behavior leads to major improprieties, scandals and corruption. Watts would then be out publicly lobbying for Mayor Young’s re-election campaign as part of the deal to push her criminal activity under the rug.
The Memorial Field project was planned poorly from the beginning. Greed and incompetence were the key driving forces behind this project. As part of the agreement with the County of Westchester, the City of Mount Vernon now has to maintain all County roads and sewers previously owned and maintained by the County of Westchester. One single road opening to repair the County sewer line that runs through Memorial Fields will cost upwards of $500K.
City Officials also seriously underestimated the true cost of construction for the Memorial Field project. City Officials put the price tag for construction at $13M when in fact the cost of construction is $21M. Where is the money?
Where to Park? Poor planning on the part of City officials also comes into play with the Memorial Field project. The ambitious design of Memorial Field currently plans to accommodate 6,500 spectators and employees; however City planners did not factor in parking for all these cars. On average, a car holds approximately 2.5 persons. This would equate to 2,600 cars at full stadium capacity. The current facility can only accommodate 400 cars. There was speculation that City Officials plan on using eminent domain to demolish homes on Garden Avenue to build a new parking lot for Memorial Field. Poor planning done by City officials will prove costly for taxpayers as the Town of Pelham will likely litigate to stop the construction of Memorial Field.
Meanwhile Legislator Watts had been busy making deals with Mayor Young and others. Intercounty Paving was hired at a cost of $600K to repave various streets throughout the City of Mount Vernon. The project had a mysterious cost overrun of $309K and immediately thereafter, Comptroller Maureen Walker began to audit the contracts and change orders for Intercounty paving. Instead of allowing the audit to take its course, Council President Watts joined forces with Mayor Young and decided to vote to pay Intercounty Paving over the objections of Comptroller Walker. Needless to say Comptroller Walker did not vote on behalf of this payment.
The audit that was being conducted by the Comptroller’s office didn’t mean anything to Watts and company. I guess being afraid that Mayor Young would expose her dirty little secret influenced her to vote the way she did on Memorial Field and to issue payment to Intercounty Paving. The City of Mount Vernon is a municipal mess of mismanagement and corruption.
Cost overruns are common in the construction business, however many experts and professionals view cost overruns as a scam to bilk the consumers out of tens of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars. The paving of Mount Vernon City streets performed by Intercounty Paving and approved by Commissioner Horton were not installed to the Dept. of Transportation and NYS BID Specifications. In fact, the work done by Intercounty Paving that resulted in overbilling City of Mount Vernon taxpayers $309K, was done prior to City Council approval. Watts was fully aware that the original purchase order was only for $600K. Instead of protecting the taxpayers that she was elected to serve, Watts chose to go along with the status quo and voted to defraud the City of Mount Vernon of $309K, knowing fully that the deal was made in her and Mayor Young’s best interest.
Intercounty Paving was represented by August Nigro, a big time financial supporter of Mayor Young. Mr. Nigro is also a high ranking member of Mayor Young’s golf outing committee. Sources told Mount Vernon Exposed that Mr. Nigro was in attendance at the Board and Estimate meetings in attempt to put pressure on City officials to release funds that he was not entitled to.
The illegal payment authorized by Watts and her colleagues on the City Council was done even though City Council members received written notification of the ongoing audit. Watts is no stranger to controversy. At the Board of Estimate meeting, Watts was adamant about Intercounty County paving getting paid.
Mount Vernon Exposed recently learned that a complaint was filed with the F.B.I and the New York State Attorney General’s office seeking a full investigation on Watts and Intercounty Paving. In addition to possible corruption on behalf of Watts’ and Intercounty Paving, City of Mount Vernon taxpayers will again be left holding the bag due to greed and incompetence of City officials.
The New York State Department of Transportation sets forth guidelines for paving road surfaces. The D.O.T. standards were part of the Bid Specifications but were not adhered to by Commissioner Horton and Intercounty Paving. Hot Mixed Asphalt is not to be applied to surfaces that are colder than 34 degrees, and the cutoff date of November 15, is clearly stated in Bid Specifications. Eager to say that roads were not paved during an election year, Mayor Young chose to put his personal ambitions and agenda above the constituents that he was duly elected to serve. Streets in Mount Vernon were paved up to and including December 27, 2010, well after D.O.T regulations and guidelines. The damage of this blatant abuse is irreparable, the reason for these dates and temperatures for work to be performed is, if applied when it’s cold the Hot Mixed Asphalt will not stick to its surface and will not adhere and lift over time. That is the purpose for following the D.O. T. State Regulations. The State of N.Y. wouldn’t condone this type of taxpayer waste of monies. Funding for the paving of City streets came from two sources; Mount Vernon taxpayers and Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS). The City of Mount Vernon is in danger of losing the (CHIPS) money due to City officials not adhering to guidelines.
Meanwhile on January 31, 2012, Ernie Davis, the newly elected mayor has put the brakes on his predecessor’s plan to raze the old stadium at Memorial Field to make way for a state-of-the-art sports complex. Instead, Mayor Ernie Davis is proposing a more modest renovation at the field that he says will cost less in the long run and preserve the 81-year-old stadium and tennis courts. Davis said Tuesday he recently ordered Avanti Building Construction Corp., the contractor hired for the park site’s preparation, to halt further demolition. The contractor will be paid for the work it has done up to this point.
This “is a historic building, and it should be treated as such,” Davis said during a Board of Estimate and Contract meeting Tuesday. “To take it down and put up what they have planned to put up to me is ludicrous.” The original plan, backed by former Mayor Clinton Young, called for razing the old stadium and building a new complex with grandstands to seat 4,000; an eight-lane track; an illuminated synthetic-turf football/soccer field; a natural-turf illuminated soccer field; and an illuminated basketball court. The city broke ground at the site in August amid much fanfare.
Davis said Tuesday that such a project would be grossly out of scale with the city’s needs, and would almost certainly exceed the original 2009 cost estimate of $12.7 million. Maintenance alone would cost the city about $600,000 per year, he said. Davis’s revised plan calls for a running track with fewer lanes; grass playing fields; the restoration of the old stadium with renovated bathrooms and improved handicap access. He would also like to incorporate a restaurant into the new design.
Davis could not provide a cost estimate for his proposal Tuesday, but maintained it would be cheaper than the original plan. The county had committed $9.7 million from its Legacy Program to fund the project, with the city responsible for the balance.
Westchester County Legislator Lyndon Williams said Tuesday that the county’s commitment was based on the original design approved by the city and the county in 2009. Williams said that any new plan will have to be reviewed by county officials if the city is to continue receiving that funding. Still, Williams said he is not opposed to changing course, as long as the field is rehabilitated in some form. “My role is to change what I see as a very deteriorated facility,” he said. “I have no basis for quarreling with a different vision.”