North Castle Supervisor Michael Schiliro unleashed harsh criticism of County Legislator Michael Smith last week after a guest column by the lawmaker’s aide accused the town of refusing to cooperate with county officials to help renovate the historic Miller House.
The column, written by Anthony Amiano and published in last week’s Examiner, stated that some speakers who implored Smith and county officials at a recent town meeting to renovate the 277-year-old house in its current location put on a performance that was worthy of a Broadway show.
Amiano’s piece also referred to the Friends of Miller House, an organization that was formed to help fundraise for future programs at the site, as “radical.” The reference was made because Friends President Ed Woodyard compared county government’s disregard for the site to ISIS blowing up Palmyra in Syria during discussion at the June 24 town board meeting.
An outraged Schiliro said the column was “deplorable” for attacking volunteers and for misrepresenting circumstances that has led to the current standoff and the events at last month’s discussion.
The supervisor, who questioned whether it was Amiano or Smith who wrote the piece, also dismissed the column’s claim that Smith is one elected official who was able to help bring progress on the matter before the current town administration came into office.
“I challenge any of you tonight to leave here tonight, drive past the Miller House and tell me what it looks like and tell me what progress has been made since he’s been in office,” Schiliro said referring to Smith during the July 8 town board meeting. “There hasn’t been any progress in a decade or two.”
The current town board, the town’s Elijah Miller House Committee and the Friends of Miller House want the Virginia Road structure to be renovated on site. But County Executive Rob Astorino and Smith support repairing and moving the house because the county should not spend more than $1 million to restore the structure on a difficult property that is next to a cement factory. The house, which has been owned by the county since 1917, was George Washington’s headquarters during the Battle of White Plains.
Schiliro said he and other town representatives met with Astorino’s Chief of Staff George Oros and other county representatives last summer to relay the town’s current position to the administration and believed those talks were productive. Schiliro also informed county officials that he and Councilman Stephen D’Angelo had been kept out of discussions on a proposal backed by former supervisor Howard Arden to move Miller House to the town-owned Fountain Park, an idea the town now opposes.
“But to be accused of, this town board and this administration, to have done nothing is foolish,” he continued. “To compare what we do here to a Broadway show is disgraceful. Quite frankly, it’s disgraceful. We don’t operate that way. We’re transparent, we put a process in place and that’s how we operate.”
Reached last week, Smith said Schiliro’s administration has done little to further the discussion except to say that they want to keep the house at the current site. He reiterated that the county is not interested in restoring and maintaining the structure on Virginia Road.
Smith then criticized Schiliro and town board members for refusing to disavow Woodyard’s comment.
“To have the county government compared to terrorists especially when we have people fighting overseas, is just horrible,” Smith said. “I can understand it being an oversight that night, but to refuse to say anything almost three weeks later is so egregious.”
Schiliro countered last weekend that he wouldn’t have chosen those words but that Woodyard is one of the town’s most dedicated volunteers on a wide variety of efforts. The comment reflected the passion and frustration of many town residents, he said.
Amiano said it was outrageous that Schiliro would question his integrity by insinuating that he attached his name to a piece that he didn’t write. He pointed out that he has written letters to the editor on several other unrelated issues.
Unless the municipality and county can engage in productive talks, Amiano warned the town may no longer be asked for input.
“Quite frankly, the county is going to move forward and North Castle is not going to be involved in the process much longer,” he said.
Schiliro said he hasn’t heard of any other plans for the house. Kensico Dam Plaza had at one time been discussed but that is no longer in the offing.
The supervisor added that it was apparent that a move to town-owned property would have relieved the county of its financial and legal obligations to maintain the house.
Oros said last week that the county is committed to restoring the house but it wouldn’t make sense to spend the amount of money needed for an “extremely problematic” site.
He denied that the county had been trying to unload its obligations. In 2013, discussions were ongoing to work out an agreement outlining responsibilities for different tasks. For example, the county would have been in charge of structural repairs and maintenance while the town would have been responsible for painting.
Smith said he believed that the Miller House debate is now being used as a political issue because North Castle resident and Friends of Miller House treasurer John Diaconis announced last month he will oppose him for the District 3 seat. A communication between himself and the town board on the matter found its way into Diaconis’ hands and was read, Smith charged.
Diaconis dismissed Smith’s comments and said for many North Castle residents saving Miller House cuts across political parties.
“The citizens of North Castle have been working for several years to save this important historical site,” Diaconis said. “I regret that Mr. Smith has chosen to turn this into a political issue. I just want the county to follow the law and properly repair and maintain the house.”
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/