The Putnam Examiner

Odell Moving Forward on Bikepath Country Contract

We are part of The Trust Project
MaryEllen Odell
Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell

County Executive MaryEllen Odell is pushing ahead with plans to allow a private company to post signs with advertising on the Putnam Trailway despite resistance from some legislators.
Odell, who has asserted she has the authority to sign a contract with Bikepath Country without the legislature’s approval, is asking the legislature to pass a memorializing resolution supporting the contract.
“The law department is affirming the fact that I do, in fact, have the authority to execute the agreement,” Odell said. “I’m going through the process exactly as I would if I did need their authority.”
The county’s law department has said Odell has the authority to sign the contract, but several legislators have questioned that position.
The resolution, which the legislature’s Audit Committee is set to consider Monday night, expresses support for the contract but acknowledges the county executive’s office has the power to sign it.
“The contract which is currently being considered involves the supply of materials and finished products, as well as the furnishing of ongoing maintenance services, and as such does not require approval of the Legislature,” the resolution reads, before going on to recommend the agreement “be executed by the county executive.”
Several lawmakers, including Sam Oliverio, have accused Odell of usurping the power of the legislative branch. In a memo to the rest of the legislators, Oliverio asserted the legislature’s backing is needed even though no funds are expended because the signs are placed on county-owned property. Oliverio, the only Democrat on the legislature, asked for both positions to be presented to a court before the contract is signed.
“Our County Attorney’s interpretation of our Charter is only their interpretation,” Oliverio, who had a heated exchange with Odell on the matter at a meeting earlier this month, wrote in a memo. “And for the better interests of our constituents, I am formally requesting a legal opinion from our Court System on these matters.”
Bikepath Country’s proposal would install approximately 50 signs on the county-owned bikeway, including markers every half mile. The company, owned by Mahopac residents Ivan Bellotto and Richie O’Keefe, would take care of the installation and maintenance of the signs as well as the bikeway’s upkeep at no cost to the county. It would then sell space on the signs to local businesses for advertising. If the company made a profit, it would be split evenly with the county.
Supporters, including Legislative Chair Rich Othmer, have said the proposal will help the county maintain the bike path while saving taxpayer dollars and perhaps even generating revenue.
There’s been vocal opposition from some citizens and lawmakers. Some of it stems from a resistance to any kind of commercialization of the bikeway, which some users see as an escape from civilization.
“[My wife] Joanne and I are strongly against the proposal to add multiple signs and advertising to the rail trail [bikeway],” Patterson resident Hunter Pollock wrote in an e-mail to Legislator Ginny Nacerino. “We feel this is not a positive change for the people of Putnam and the County should not be influenced by the advertising revenue.”
Some legislators, while open to the advertising, have concerns about Bikepath Country, a startup with no experience on a project of this scale. Additionally, statements made in the company’s bid on the project have drawn scrutiny since The Journal News reported the it misrepresented its history with two Florida municipalities. In its references, the company says it “implemented [its] revenue-generating program via stewardship signage opportunities” in the City of Tallahassee and Pinellas County.
Paul Cozzie, the Recreation & Parks director for Pinellas County, told The Putnam Examiner the county was nearing a contract with Bikepath Country but had not entered one yet and no signs had been installed. When read the description in their bid for the Putnam bikeway project, Cozzie said, “That probably is the wrong choice of words. It has not been implemented yet.”
Tallahassee, meanwhile, rejected the plan, according to a report in The Journal News.
Odell has cited the safety benefit of having markers. On Thursday, the county sent out a press release with testimony from public safety officials making the case for the markers.
“The importance of proper trail markers cannot be over emphasized,” Commissioner of Emergency Services Adam Stiebeling said in the press release. “Knowing instantly the correct location of a caller in an emergency situation is essential to the safety of the people that are making use of the Bikeway trail each and every day.”
Odell said the signs would include the correct firehouse so dispatchers know whom to dispatch to in case of an emergency call.
Odell expects to have enough votes for the resolution to pass. In interviews legislators Carl Albano, Joe Castellano, Nacerino, and Othmer all expressed support for the proposal. Along with Oliverio, legislators Dini LoBue, Anthony DiCarlo and Roger Gross have shown more skepticism over both the company and Odell’s authority to sign a contract without them.

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.