By a 16-0 vote June 18, the Westchester County Board of Legislators approved a measure requiring that Westchester County police and public safety chaplains be active members of the clergy either residing in or presiding over congregations in Westchester.
The measure will codify as law requirements enacted as an executive order in January by County Executive George Latimer.
“It should go without saying that anyone serving as a public safety chaplain here should be a member of the clergy and a member of the community,” said bill sponsor Legislator Terry Clements (D- New Rochelle, Pelham, Pelham Manor). “Unfortunately, this has not always been the case.”
Clements added, “I’m happy that the Board has built on what the County Executive has done to make this a matter of law.”
Board Chair Ben Boykin said, “The people of Westchester deserve an open, responsible government, not one that operates by rewarding cronies, and that’s just what the Board intends to deliver. By backing County Executive Latimer’s actions with a law, we will make it harder for future administrations to take Westchester back to the way things were.”
The law also requires that any chaplain be approved by the Commissioner of Public Safety and be included on a public list of such appointees provided twice yearly to the County Executive, County Attorney and Board of Legislators.
The measures come after two former Department of Public Safety chaplains, Jeremy Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz, became embroiled in an influence peddling scandal last year.
In a corruption trial, Rechnitz testified that neither he nor Reichberg were rabbis or priests, nor were Westchester residents. Rechnitz was appointed chaplain in 2013 after a company he owned donated $15,000 to the campaign of then-County Executive Rob Astorino.
The Board on Monday night also backed another Latimer Administration executive order with legislation to ban the use of the name or the likeness of a sitting County Executive on promotional and informational signs on County property or property leased by the County, which Clements called an “irresponsible” use of taxpayer funds for political promotion. That measure passed by a 16-1 vote.