By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
That’s why I was so pleased last May to name Dr. Penny Jennings as my choice for two crucial positions – Commissioner of Human Rights and director of the Office of Community Development.
Both jobs have a big impact on life in Rockland.
I was convinced then and remain even more convinced now that Dr. Penny Jennings has the perspective, education, personality and experience to make her the right person for the job.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that some in the Legislature – those who have much riding on preserving the status quo – don’t agree.
Even so, we were shocked that seemingly out of nowhere some in the Legislature blocked Dr. Jennings’ confirmation more than five months after I appointed her.
There was no indication beforehand that the vote would not be approved. At the multiservice committee meeting the resolution confirming the appointment was approved unanimously and Legislators Philip Soskin, Toney Earl and Aney Paul all asked to be added as sponsors.
A week later all inexplicably voted no.
This is the first time in recent memory that the Legislature has failed to approve an appointment for commissioner.
There’s a lot riding on this appointment, which might explain why entrenched politicians don’t want Dr. Penny Jennings – a smart, well-educated African-American woman who is beholden to no one – to lead these agencies.
The Commission on Human Rights investigates discrimination in housing, employment and other parts of life based on race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or other factors.
Rockland County is a suburban melting pot. People from all over the world settle here because of the quality of life this county offers.
We are a mix of races and religions, from our large Jewish and Christian communities to people of the Muslim faith, to the Hindus who worship in Pomona at one of the largest temples in New York to the Zoroastrians who recently built a national center for their religion right here in Rockland.
For the most part, everyone gets along with everyone else. But sometimes there are misunderstandings – or worse –
based mainly on ignorance. It’s the job of the Human Rights Commissioner to bring our communities together and instill an atmosphere of respect and inclusion.
It takes a special person to do such work, someone with a knack for bridging divides and the passion to make a community better.
The Community Development Agency also requires a leader with the mix of administrative, financial and people skills.
That agency receives millions, mostly in federal grants, that is supposed to be used for projects to better our communities.
My administration has long had questions about some of that funding. We’re not the only ones – the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has informed us that it too has some questions.
We welcome a total accounting of the funds that come in and out that agency and Dr. Jennings was brought in to do just that: review operations from top to bottom.
She is in the process of making changes when her confirmation by the Legislature was unexpectedly derailed.
As a former NYPD detective, I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in facts.
Here are some facts:
• Dr. Penny Jennings is a highly educated, intelligent woman who has already demonstrated her commitment to making Rockland a better place.
• Her contributions have been recognized by many people and organizations including the NAACP which has honored her numerous times for Excellence in Achievement and for Empowering the Lives of Young People.
• Her talents have been recognized by the Rockland Youth Bureau, the Rockland District Attorney, the towns of Orangetown and Clarkstown, the village of Nyack, the New York state Assembly, the Westchester Board of Legislators, Governor Andrew Cuomo and President Obama.
• She founded A.C.T., Inc. – Adults Caring for Teens, a not-for-profit in Nyack which provides trained adult mentors for at-risk youth.
• She has served as area director for WESTCop, the Rockland Community Action Partnership, an anti-poverty agency in Spring Valley and Haverstraw.
• She has a doctorate in law and policy from Northeastern University and has taught social policy, public and non-profit organizational management, public administration, public budgeting, human resource management, ethics, human rights and youth development.
In short, she is the perfect person to lead these two agencies and a credit to the people of Rockland.
We will fight to make sure she gets that opportunity – even if it means upsetting the status quo.
There’s one last chance to right this terrible wrong –the Rockland County Legislature could reconsider at the November 15 meeting.
If you feel that Dr. Penny Jennings should be given the chance to serve the people of Rockland, please give your legislator a call at 845-638-5100 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
And regardless of the outcome of this nomination, you have my word that we will get to the bottom of where this HUD money has gone – no matter where the evidence takes us.