Anti-ward activist with ties to Ramapo discusses $130,000 in funds

An opponent of the recent ward referendum in the Town of Ramapo was recently revealed to have sent an email on September 29-the day before the vote-which detailed how $130,000 was raised for the purpose of defeating efforts to install a ward system.

Mona Montal, who serves as both the Ramapo Democratic Part Chairwoman and as the town’s director of purchasing, explained in the email that most developers in the town contributed between $10,000 and $20,000, while other consultants contributed as much as $5,000. In total, her 63isEnough PAC raised $130,000 of it’s $170,000 goal.

At the time the email was sent, $95,000 of the funds had already been collected by Teno West, the town’s bond council. Montal argued that contrary to the contents of the message, she did not know how much had been contributed or the names of the contributors themselves.

The referendum last week was marred by logistical difficulties including confusion over voter eligibility, absentee ballots and allegations of fraud by anti-ward activists representing themselves as members of the Board of Elections. State Supreme Court Justice Margaret Garvey invalidated the referendum and ordered a new vote.

The Town of Ramapo has already decided to appeal Garvey’s decision.

Rockland County deemed most fiscally-stressed in New York

Rockland County is the most fiscally-stressed municipality in New York, according to a state comptroller’s office report.

The county is tied with the Village of Suffern on the list, which tallied 35 fiscally-stressed localities out of 1,043 overall. According to the office, the county’s repeated borrowing, high deficit and low cash reserves contributed to the designation.

The county’s deficit reached a high point of $125.6 million in 2012, due in part to fiscal mismanagement and overestimation of revenues which forced the county into heavy borrowing. Though the county has entered into steep debt in an effort to get out of its current predicament, it has seen some luck with improved Moody’s credit ratings.

County Executive Ed Day responded to the report: “Comptroller DiNapoli’s report detailing 2013 conditions comes as no surprise. The people of Rockland County elected me to fix the financial mess we inherited. Since January, we have taken significant steps to restructure county government and cut operating costs, resulting in a bond upgrade and a positive outlook from Moody’s. That said, this report should serve as a stark reminder – to our residents and our legislators – that Rockland County remains in a precarious financial situation. This administration will continue to take the necessary steps toward fiscal health.”

East Ramapo to pay $49,000 on lobbyist

The East Ramapo Central School District is set to pay $49,000 for the help of a major lobbying firm in its continued efforts to secure state education aid and repair its damaged image.

According to the school board, Darren Dopp, 55, will serve as a “media consultant” for the school district by interacting with press, though this role is not mentioned in the resolution approving his contract with East Ramapo. He is the first public relations staffer for the school district in several years, a role for which he will be paid approximately $7,000 per month for seven months.

Years before working with the school district, Dopp served as communications director for former New York Attorney General and Governor Eliot Spitzer. He served under Spitzer from 1998 to 2007, leaving his post due to the “Troopergate” scandal in which he allegedly helped Spitzer use state police to investigate a political rival.

After his departure from state government, Dopp served as a partner at Patricia Lynch Associates, where he was promoted to communications director in 2009. East Ramapo is currently undergoing an examination by a state fiscal monitor after many years of allegations that the predominantly Orthodox Jewish school board was cutting public school services and mismanaging assets to benefit private religious schools.

U.S. to modify ebola-screening procedures

In an effort to curb the spread of ebola, President Barack Obama announced on Monday that the federal government would implement more stringent screening procedures for airline passengers at risk of carrying the deadly virus.

Obama did not announce specific measures, but it is anticipated that stronger safeguards would be placed to ensure passengers from heavily-impacted African nations such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Possible screening procedures include closer monitoring of travel histories and passenger temperature checks.

At the same time, Obama stopped short of calling for an American travel ban to affected countries. No American flights directly link to the three most severely impacted Africann nations, though transfers are available at European air travel hubs.

The news came as doctors in Dallas continue to care for Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian national who was diagnosed with ebola last week while visiting the U.S. and whose status is now critical. Meanwhile nurse in Madrid became the first person known to have contracted ebola outside Africa.

Supreme Court effectively legalizes same-sex marriage in five states

In a major victory for proponents of same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court declined on Monday to review appeals against lower court rulings for same sex marriages in five states, effectively legalizing unions in those states and sending an implicit message to lower courts.

The rulings, which affect Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin, were made without comment and contain no instructions to other state courts considering challenges to similar laws. However, this places the decision in the hands of state courts which ruled against marriage prohibitions, granting a default victory to gay rights activists.

Both supporters and opponents of the laws called for the court to take up the issue to provide a more definitive answer. It is the latest major victory for gay marriage in the past two years, another being the 2013 reversal of key parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act which laid the groundwork for several future rulings.

The decision also reflects a major statistical shift. With the Supreme Court’s deference to state decisions in the five states, more than half of Americans live in the 30 states where gay couples can obtain marriage licenses.

On Wednesday, however, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy placed a stay on the legal redefinition of marriage in Idaho and Nevada.

Chicago teen arrested after attempting to join Islamic State

A 19-year old Chicago man was arrested Saturday after he attempted to board a plane to Turkey in an effort to join the Islamic State terror group in Syria.

Mohammed Hamzah Khan, an American citizen who hails from the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, was arrested at O’Hare International Airport as he attempted to pass through security. After being questioned, the FBI executed a search warrant of his home and found a letter to his parents outlining his plans and other documents which indicated he planned to cross the Turkey-Syria border to reach the Islamic State.

Khan has been charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group, a charge which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years.

According to the FBI, about 12 Americans are known to be fighting alongside Islamic State militants in Syria right now. About 100 have attempted to reach the group and failed or returned to the U.S. after their attempt.

DeBlasio aide investigated for failure to disclose relationship with felon

A formal inquiry was launched last week to examine the decision by a top aide to Mayor Bill DeBlasio who failed to report that she was living with a man with a serious criminal record.

Rachel Noerdlinger, who works as chief-of-staff for Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s wife Chirlane McCray, is under scrutiny for failing to report that her live-in boyfriend Hassaun McFarlan had a history of five criminal infractions, including a manslaughter conviction in 1993 and interstate drug trafficking charges in 2003.

In spite of McFarlan’s past, DeBlasio came to Noerdlinger’s defense, arguing he had “full faith” in her and that the actions of her booyfriend should not be held against her. She is also one of a small number of employees who were granted a special waiver from the requirement that top level City Hall aides reside in New York City.

Before working with McCray’s to boost the New York first lady’s public image, Noerdlinger spent several years as a public relations manager for Rev. Al Sharpton, a major DeBlasio ally.

Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to be sold for $1.95 billion

Ownership of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, a famed New York landmark, will soon be transferred to a Chinese company as part of a historic $1.95 billion deal.

Hilton Worldwide Holdings, which currently owns and operates the famed hotel on Park and Lexington Avenues, will sell it to Anbang Insurance Group, which will likely renovate the hotel while Hilton continues to operate the property under a 100 year management contract. They are one of three groups which offered to purchase the hotel.

It has been speculated that Anbang will attempt to convert the 47-story tower’s upscale apartments into condominiums so the company can sell them at a profit.

New Jersey child becomes first fatality of enterovirus outbreak

A young boy fro Hamilton, New Jersey has become the first confirmed death due to enterovirus D68, the severe respiratory illness which has swept across the United States in recent weeks.

Eli Waller, 4, died in his sleep without visible symptoms on September 25, but tests confirmed over the weekend that EV-D68 was responsible for the illness which took his life. He was one of nine confirmed enterovirus cases in the state.

According to the CDC, EV-D68, a respiratory illness which resembles the common cold and most often affects young children, has infected 594 people from mid-August to October 6. Samples of the virus have been detected in four other people who have died, but the exact role of EV-D68 in the deaths is still being examined.

The CDC recommends that those who wish to avoid EV-D68 should use common sanitary and anti-common cold measures such as hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes and the avoidance of physical contact with EV-D68 patients.

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