‘Are we here to go to chicken barbecues?’

Rob Doherty on accusations, conflict and getting things done

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 5/12/21

MONTICELLO, NY — “They stood up there and lied,” said Rob Doherty, chair of the Sullivan County legislature. “They are being disingenuous.” 

He meant the April …

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‘Are we here to go to chicken barbecues?’

Rob Doherty on accusations, conflict and getting things done

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — “They stood up there and lied,” said Rob Doherty, chair of the Sullivan County legislature. “They are being disingenuous.” 

He meant the April 26 press conference, when legislators from the minority—three Democrats and a Republican—accused him of lack of communication, bullying and disinterest in working with the whole legislature.

In an interview on Wednesday, May 5 and again on Saturday, May 8, Doherty pushed back.  

Communication breakdown?

Is there a lack of communication? He says there isn’t.

He produced an email printout, sent from the legislative clerk, dated April 20 and addressed to all the legislators. It announced, “This week’s special meeting will be held on Friday, April 23 at 4 p.m. instead of the originally planned date and time.” 

“Where Nadia [Rajsz] is quoted as saying they weren’t told, that’s a lie,” Doherty said. “Ira [Steingart] says something along those lines... we’re telling him we’re switching it.” And “nobody responded to that email. Not one person responded to that email.” 

Since it was a special meeting, notification had to be sent out 48 hours beforehand. April 20 qualified.

“So, who’s not communicating?” he asked. “I’m not communicating, or they’re not communicating?”

Communication has also come up during meetings when legislators get resolutions and say they haven’t seen them before. 

“A lot of times, you hear Nadia or Joey [Joe Perrello] say, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen this before,’ which means we haven’t spoken about it in [the conference room], which we’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to talk about it [in the legislative hearing room], and then you go back and forth. You make the issue public.”

Ultimately, Doherty says, it stems from a misunderstanding of what a resolution should be. 

“One thing we’re changing is how the government operates. The older legislature, the resolution is the end of the discussion, but [for the current legislature], it’s the beginning of the discussion. That’s when you present your idea and then you debate it. [If] you don’t want to hold onto it, you table it, or you can use Rule 36 to put it off for 24 hours and you can discuss it more.”

Conflict

Doherty has a reputation for being very hard on people, especially Rajsz, who frequently disagrees with him. Rajsz has accused him of bullying. 

“I really am strong in my convictions because I’ve already researched the topic,” he said. “In the [Sullivan County Democrat] editorial, where they reference ‘the dog ate my homework,’ [that’s because] the old legislators tended not to come prepared for meetings.”

Preparedness is a theme he returned to frequently. Are legislators prepared? Are they asking questions? Are they engaged with the topic? “What no one says about me is that I’m ill-informed; I do my homework on every topic. I can tell you about anything that goes on.”

Being prepared comes up with the care center, committee meetings and, especially, with the Code of Conduct, which was voted into being on April 23. The Code of Conduct is a short document, listing what’s expected behavior-wise of legislators and staff at the government center. One section discusses repercussions for insubordinate staff. 

“One email went out on February 24 [about] the Code of Conduct,” Doherty said. 

That was followed up on March 1 by another, from assistant county manager Michelle Huck, telling legislators that they were going to discuss the code on April 15. “They were given seven weeks notice... [and] you come to the meeting and you’re not prepared to discuss it?” he said, voice rising in irritation. “And Nadia is quoted in the newspaper as saying we need more time to prepare. How much time do you need?”

So, what does that give them? Where’s the benefit?

It gives legislators more time to not do their job, he said.

But what else? 

“That’s it! It’s got to come to a vote! You can play all the games that you want, you’ve got to invoke Rule 36, you can do whatever you want—”

So this is just a way of putting off the vote—

“So as not to do their job,” he said. “The old boards, I found, tend to kick the can down the road, where I like to get the business of the county done.” 

The point is change

“Why are we here?” he demands. “Are we here to go to chicken barbecues?” 

Doherty sees his role as identifying what needs to be changed, working out the process with legislators and people at large, and then pushing it through—making it happen. 

There’s a long list of projects or ideas in the works, from proposed hemp farms, to a municipal composting initiative, to trails, to bringing tourists to the Delaware River, improving the health ranking, fixing taxes, education, jobs, etc. 

“We’ve identified a lot of problems,” he said, “and through discussion comes solutions... I’ll talk to anyone.”

Working together

And despite all, Doherty said, things get passed, and not just five-to-four. He lists them:

Moving the Sullivan County Adult Care Center to the LDC?  8-1.

Pick the operator of the ACC? 7-2. 

Energy tax? 7-0; Steingart and Alvarez were absent.

The change of the departments in the government center, that saved over a million dollars a year? 7-0.

The most controversial one, he said, was picking the county attorney. “That was 6-2 and Joe Perrello abstained.”

“On the five biggest topics that faced this board, there’s been a supermajority. I don’t know what they’re talking about. You don’t agree with me, but you’re voting with me?”

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