BY CAROL MCILMURRAY
Dr. Penny Jennings, Rockland County Executive Ed Day’s interim appointment to the postition of Chair of the Human Rights Department, was recently rejected as the department’s permanent leader by Democrats on the County Legislature. Signs of trouble between Dr. Jennings and legislators first appeared in July.
Dr. Jennings, who earned her associate’s degree at Rockland Community College and her master’s degree and a doctorate in law and policy from Northeastern University, says that Legislators Ilan Schoenberger and Aron Wieder treated her unfairly at a July 26 meeting of the Rockland Budget and Finance Committee, going so far as to ask, “Is this because I am African-American?”
Aron Wieder denied the accusation. He said he is not going to support her appointment because she is not qualified for the job. Chair of the Legislature Alden Wolfe contended in a press release this week that Jennings was rejected because she did not report to legislators as they asked her to, instead answering mainly to County Executive Day
Day contends Dr. Penny Jennings is a “highly educated African American woman…this is real talent I am bringing to county government, we are losing an opportunity with a highly qualified African American doctor because of petty politics…it’s a real shame.”
Day said Dr. Jennings had excelled in the position, pointing to rallies for unity she held when fireworks where thrown at two Rabbis homes in New City. “Not one county legislator was there. Do they need a personal invite?”
Jennings also held a vigil for the 50 Americans who were slain in the gay nightclub massacre. The county executive pointed to her contributions to organizations such as the NAACP, which she and the county executive are both members of.
Dr. Jennings founded Adults Caring for Teens (A.C.T. Inc.), a nonprofit based in Nyack that provides trained adult mentors for at-risk youth. Dr. Jennings also was area director for WESTCop, the Rockland Community Action Partnership, which coordinates anti-poverty strategies in Spring Valley and Haverstraw, prior to her appointment.
Dr. Jennings believes the real reason behind the County Legislature’s failure to reappoint her may be because HUD monies are now being distributed more evenly, when in the past the guideline criteria favored the Ramapo democrats district. As reported last week, special investigators from HUD are coming down to Rockland to inspect several locations and their paperwork for fraud under the prior regime.
Specifically, seven small business loans are also being investigated thanks to the work of Dr. Jennings, Day said. The County of Rockland plans to proceed with litigation against Pal Auto in W. Haverstraw for failure to repay a loan made in 2012. Pal Auto, 51 S. Route 9W was given a $100,000 Section 108 loan through the county, stated Day. The loan was meant to assist the owner with inventory purchases. Day said the business has not made one payment on the loan since 2014.
Whenever a small business loans granted by the federal government and administered by the county are repaid monies can then be redistributed to new businesses. Failure to repay loans hurts other small businesses in the area. Day believes there are “countless” other loans that have failed to be repaid “since the turn of the century.”
“We are trying to crack through a culture here in Rockland County where repayment of loans is an afterthought,” said County Executive Ed Day.
Section 108 Loan Guarantee Program is for low interest loans intended to assist in economic development, housing rehabilitation, and other projects. County Executive Day and County Attorney Thomas Humbach explain the county guarantees these loans and if the borrower defaults, then the county is responsible for repayment.
Day’s office said the possible fraud and corruption unearthed by Dr. Jennings nears $800,000 and that “may be just the tip of the iceberg.”
“The previous occupant of this post (Ram Nagabodni) never did work like this, Dr. Jennings should be applauded for her work…not have petty politics turn her human rights position into collateral damage.”
Day concluded by saying, “If the county legislators believe that stalling Dr. Jennings appointment will stop a thorough investigation into the matter, then the County Legislators are woefully mistaken.”
This Saturday Nov 19 is slated to be Dr Penny Jennings last day at the county building. No word yet on what, if any, legal action Dr. Jennings may enact.