BY MICHAEL RICONDA
New City – In a unanimous vote on Wednesday night, the county legislature approved resolutions extending three existing bus contracts and preventing a transportation shutdown.
The resolution approves contracts with Transport of Rockland (TOR) and Tappan ZEEXPRESS for a three month time span between April 1 to June 30. It was passed under a motion for immediate need, a legislative shortcut which allows pending emergency measures to be introduced by a committee chairman without a committee vote.
“I think what we’re doing is responsible by keeping the buses running for three more months,” Legislator Ilan Schoenberger explained. “We all know that this process cannot go on ad infinitum. It has already gone on for two years or more and it has to be brought to a conclusion.”
The contracts were originally meant to fill a gap in service when Brega Transportation entered a legal battle with another transportation company over contested routes. After the legislature designated Brega as the winning contract bidder and overrode an executive veto, County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef directed the contract to be cancelled, protracting the legal wrangling.
According to Legislator Alden Wolfe, the extension of the temporary contracts was removed from the Budget and Finance Committee’s agenda to act against the executive’s tactics, which the legislature saw as obstructionist.
“This was pulled from the last committee meeting because of the feeling of many of us that by continually putting extensions on these contracts, we were essentially enabling the administration and giving them no incentive to end what I perceived as the practice of trying to get around this legislature’s determination that we wanted to move forward with a different vendor,” Wolfe explained.
After the initial resolution was dropped, legislators met with county executive representatives and came to the informal agreement, a rare instance of cooperation between the two branches. The hope is that by the end of the three month extension, a final decision will be reached on an appeal of the initial court ruling in favor of Brega.
Though Vanderhoef is not bound to abide by the agreement, Legislators Schoenberger and Harriet Cornell expressed a belief that he would. Cornell specifically pointed to a Federal Transportation Authority call to the executive warning they would withhold federal funds if the conflict continues, giving Vanderhoef a strong incentive to cooperate with the legislature.
“I too take the county executive at his word,” Cornell explained. “He wants to complete this, he wants to be sure that we don’t lose funds and I think we all feel that the buses need to keep running.”
In addition to the Brega vote, the Legislature also approved a series of memorializing resolutions to state and federal bodies, including a resolution requesting that New York State’s Senate pass the Rockland-Bergen Bi-State Watershed Flood Prevention and Protection Act and a resolution expressing support for Paula Bohovesky, who was murdered in 1980 and whose killers will soon be up for parole.
Side note: The Rockland County Times has learned that William Schule, a Rockland County Transit administrator at the center of bus contract negotiations, had been placed on administrative leave two weeks ago, while allegations of intimidation and bullying levied against him were investigated.
County transportation employees have been warned against having any contact with him. Schule was instrumental in writing the Request for Proposal which solicited bids for the county bus contract and was primarily responsible for evaluating those bids. More on this situation as it develops.