The rules of the legislature

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 2/1/22

MONTICELLO, NY — The dysfunction of the Sullivan County Legislature has been a topic of interest for some time. Legislators have gone on record complaining about not receiving proper …

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The rules of the legislature

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — The dysfunction of the Sullivan County Legislature has been a topic of interest for some time. Legislators have gone on record complaining about not receiving proper information before having to make decisions and about a lack of communication between legislators.

At its January 27 executive committee meeting, the legislature discussed a number of proposals aimed at addressing some of those issues, and at improving the body’s efficiency of operations.

One of the proposals called for workshop meetings to be held in advance of each week’s committee meetings. As legislative chair Robert Doherty explained them, county attorney Mike McGuire, county manager Josh Potosek and he would be present at those meetings to answer legislators’ questions about agenda items for upcoming committee meetings. Commissioners or department heads would also attend such meetings and answer questions as requested; legislators could contact Potosek in advance of each workshop with requests for county employees to be present.

Legislator and minority leader Ira Steingart came out early in favor of the idea; “I’ll speak for myself, I don’t see a negative with this.” He did suggest a number of clarifying amendments, specifying that the meetings were non-mandatory and explicating that the county manager would be the point of contact for commissioners and department heads.

Steingart was the only legislator of the four who had voted against Doherty as chair to support the workshop meetings; Nadia Rajsz, Luis Alvarez and Joe Perrello opposed the idea.

Pre-COVID, said Rajsz, she would call Potosek and meet with him and relevant commissioners directly if she had a question on something coming before a committee. “That’s how it was done. And then COVID happened, so that went by the wayside. But I don’t think making these committee meetings, referring to the workshop concept, is beneficial in any way.”

Doherty understood Rajsz’s point, he said, and agreed with it to a certain extent. “But not every member can call a meeting with Josh and the commissioner, so its just easier to do it in an open setting… Its just getting more information out.”

The motion ultimately passed with six votes to three.

Another rules suggestion involved more strictly regulating public comment at committee meetings. While a three-minute time-restriction for an individual’s public comment was already on the books, the proposed resolution made it the clerk of the legislature’s duty to track that time.

While Steingart had supported the concept of a workshop, he opposed the idea of changing public comment rules. He had an issue with a rule that took away authority from a committee chair to run their meeting, he said.

Politics also came into question, when Steingart brought up recent committee chair reassignments. Prior to the week’s legislative meetings, Doherty had altered the assignments for several of the county’s standing committees, notably replacing Rajsz with legislator Nicholas Salomone as the head of the Health and Family Services Committee and replacing Perrello with legislator George Conklin as the head of the Public Works Committee.

Doherty wasn’t the first chairman to stack committees, said Steingart, adding that Doherty had the votes to control nearly every committee. He asked that Doherty not send a message to the public that, in passing the resolution, the legislature didn’t care about what they had to say.

“You have control already,” he said. “This isn’t necessary.”

The resolution to have the clerk track speaking times ultimately passed with five votes to four.

Discretionary funding

The Sullivan County Legislature also heard another round of requests from applicants for discretionary funding during its January 27 meetings.

The county awards discretionary funding to community and nonprofit local entities that have needs of countywide significance, tied to identified county and municipal goals. Past recipients include organizations such as the Delaware Company and the United Way of Sullivan County.

Darrin Jamaar Raynor, CEO of People in Mind of New York, came before the legislature to request discretionary funding in support of his organization’s programming.

People in Mind is a community organization focused on youth development. It hosts programs such as professional development workshops, tailored mentoring and health and wellness initiatives.

“There’s not enough nonprofits that actually do educational support for youth in our community,” said Raynor. What was different about his nonprofit, he added, was that it brought its programs directly to the community, without going through the schools. “Sometimes we gotta pull this away from the school to be able to bring it back to the community, so everybody sees it.”

Raynor asked the legislature for funding to support a five-stage educational program, each stage of which would run for four to six weeks. The stages would include one on good citizenship (which would build relations between local youth and law enforcement) and one on financial literacy.

The legislature also heard a presentation from Bill Silver, speaking as the chair of the parks committee of the Liberty Rotary Club.

The club was asking for funding to restore the tennis courts in the Town of Liberty’s Hanofee Park. The club had supported a previous renovation, said Silver, and age had reduced the courts to a rippled and dangerous state.

“Repair of the courts will promote healthy recreation and activity choices by [the county’s] residents,” said Silver. “And those choice will be safer without the existing cracks, ripples and holes.”

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