Letter to the Community From Orange County Executive DianaMay 18th, 2012 | By OP ED | Category: OP ED
LETTER to the COMMUNITY from ORANGE COUNTY EXECUTIVE EDWARD A. DIANA
As your County Executive and a lifelong Orange County resident, I believe there is no greater responsibility than upholding the integrity of public office. I stand by my personal convictions and beliefs and am committed to being fiscally and ethically responsible.
The Democratic Alliance, led by attorney Michael Sussman, has made a series of unfounded allegations regarding the Orange County Government Center project that I would ordinarily choose to ignore because of their obvious political bias. However, in this case, the serious nature of the issue before us compels me to set the record straight. To blatantly charge that I purposely withheld a FEMA report is an outright distortion of the facts.
Let me start by clarifying the role of the Orange County Office of Emergency Services, the department that has been overseeing the County’s disaster recovery process. Emergency Services is not a political entity. Their mission is to serve the residents of Orange County during times of crisis, disaster, or other needs, and to deal with the appropriate federal and state agencies in such instances. To insinuate that they delayed the process to reflect the Orange County Legislative calendar is completely false and unfair.
Orange County received the initial Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) report regarding their assessment of damages to the Orange County Government Center and was in the process of reviewing it with the necessary engineers, architects, industrial hygienists, and claim specialists in order to make the appropriate response when, unfortunately, not fully understanding the full scope and breadth of this complex process, a daily newspaper obtained a copy of the FEMA report and posted it on its website.
This ongoing claims process through which the County is proceeding with FEMA is no different than the steps you would take as a homeowner if you were disputing a damage claim with your own insurance carrier. You submit a claim, the insurance company responds, and ultimately you come to an agreed settlement. Many of us have been through this ourselves. This response and reconciliation process, as FEMA refers to it, is by its very nature an adversarial one. It is, however, the necessary process when differences occur in damage estimation and was the procedure communicated to us as the appropriate one by FEMA’s Critical Infrastructure Team Leader. The process, at this moment, is ongoing.
It is important to note that Orange County is a sub-applicant to New York State in this process, as are all local government entities when faced with similar situations. As a sub-applicant, our requests and submissions are reviewed by New York State Office of Emergency Management (NYSOEM) to ensure that we are following the appropriate protocols and making requests that are within acceptable programmatic guidelines.
Throughout this process, I have been very careful to never allude to or guess at any dollar figure anticipated to come to Orange County from FEMA. To do so before negotiations are complete would have been irresponsible and could, in fact, even hamper the review and reconciliation process. What I have routinely said is that whatever settlement we ultimately receive from FEMA will be used to reduce the overall expenses of the Government Center project. These negotiations are still ongoing.
It is unfortunate that excerpted portions of the initial FEMA report are being used by individuals to attack not only my integrity, but the integrity of the many dedicated members of our County team who are working diligently to resolve this matter for the benefit of Orange County residents. Worst of all – they are being used for political purposes. Having read the report in its entirety, there were portions that could also have been used to bolster the case for a new government center, but the responsible action was to allow the FEMA process to proceed without interference.
The facts are no more complicated than this: we are proceeding exactly as we should, as per our right and duty under Federal law in this process. We will continue to pursue all avenues of funding to which the County is legally entitled to from FEMA and our insurance carrier.
The storms that devastated our region are on track to become the most costly natural disasters in New York State history and did unprecedented damage to our area. From the physical damage we will eventually recover. The deeper wounds have been caused by those who do not understand the process, nor do they even care, because it does not fit their political agenda.
I have no doubt that the debate will continue over the future of the Government Center and I look forward to continuing the dialogue. My one request of those who are currently disputing our role is simple – please stick to the facts and don’t rush the story. It is our duty and responsibility to the people of Orange County who have a right to the facts related to these exceptionally complex issues.