GovernmentThe White Plains Examiner

Feiner, Town Board Embroiled in Greenburgh Internship Controversy

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A controversy pitting Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner against his Town Board colleagues erupted over a sharp disagreement regarding spending on summer interns.

Feiner sought to increase the budget line for the town’s high school and college interns from $15,000 to $25,000 for 2023 in the recently completed budget process. However, fellow Democratic board members pushed back, arguing that at a time when the supervisor asked for department heads to tighten their belts while dipping into fund balance to deliver a 6 percent tax rate reduction, spending more on interns was not a priority.

Councilwoman Ellen Hendrickx, who is completing her first year on the board, was outspoken in her opposition to Feiner’s attempts. Hendrickx said she and the council support the program but said the town pays its interns more than virtually every other government in Westchester, including the county.

Last year, 47 high school and college students participated in Greenburgh’s internship program, which is overseen by Feiner and Town Clerk Judith Beville.

“If you’re going to be so careful with the taxpayers’ money, why are you spending taxpayers’ money on these interns,” Hendrickx said. “It’s a nice, beneficial program but it’s not really in the purview of the town to do that. So you’re taking taxpayer funds to pay for these interns and the departments are asked to give up monies and we have potentially difficult times ahead of us and we went into the fund balance.”

A stipend of $400 for high school students and nearly $600 to college students for the six-week internship.

Feiner countered that the popular program, which has been in place for about 12 years, has provided life-changing experiences for many of the participants. Last year, it ran into a shortfall because it has been his policy to accept every student who applies, and by June the town had a record 47 interns for last summer.

Feiner said he would not reconsider. The program accepts students from the town’s wealthiest and high-achieving school districts as well as those without stellar reputations, he argued, saying it allows youngsters from different walks of life to work alongside one another.

In one instance, a former student who had been mentored by Tony Award-winning playwright J.T. Rogers was able to get an interview with a casting director in Los Angeles, Feiner said. Hillary Clinton is among the other notable people who have participated.

“We have a budget of over $100 million and we passed the budget unanimously,” Feiner said. “We have a 6 percent tax rate decrease (in 2023), and the big controversy is over the $10,000, which is stupid, really. This program can change somebody’s life forever.”

This year, Feiner said the extra $10,000 was derived from the Zuckerberg Institute, run by Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, Randi.

However, Hendrickx and Councilman Francis Sheehan said the projects, which the students select themselves, sometimes have no connection to the town. Sheehan said last summer some students worked on analyzing whether Westchester County can offer year-round free Bee-Line bus service.

To make matters worse, he said, when interns were taken to Regeneron for part of one day, the town rented a coach bus for the short trip to the corporation’s headquarters for $1,340 instead of using the Bee-Line buses. The county had suspended fares last summer.

“Their big project for the summer was lobbying Westchester County for the free buses so more children and adults can take advantage of the free buses, and Councilwoman Hendrickx had the audacity to suggest at a work session that why not have the interns take the buses down to Regeneron,” Sheehan said. “It’s right down (Route) 9A. That was greeted by considerable disdain in public.”

Sheehan suggested slightly reducing the stipend for each student if Feiner doesn’t want to have a cut off to avoid a shortfall.

Hendrickx, who analyzed municipal internships from around the county, said the board later learned that Feiner had shifted the $10,000 to pay for the extra interns without their knowledge.

“All five board members are the decisionmakers here, not just the supervisor alone,” she said. “The voters expect us to use our independent judgment and act as good stewards of their tax money, and not merely to rubber stamp one person’s desires and wishes.”

Feiner said he will search for donations from local companies and corporations, like the town has done in the past, to ensure that any student who wants an internship won’t be turned away.

He said many of the public service projects, such as lobbying the state Department of Transportation to fix local state roads, have paid off.

“We want to treat them not as clerical workers but more like legislators,” Feiner said.



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