editorial

Thursday at the government center: A hullabaloo

By LAURIE STUART
Posted 2/3/21

 

My precocious three-year-old grandson arrived this week with a new word: “Hullabaloo.”

“What does it mean?” I asked him. He didn’t say, so I looked it …

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editorial

Thursday at the government center: A hullabaloo

Posted

My precocious 3-year-old grandson arrived this week with a new word: “Hullabaloo.”

“What does it mean?” I asked him. He didn’t say, so I looked it up.

An informal word, it means a state of commotion, excitement, or violent disturbance.

Synonyms include blather, bluster, clutter, commotion, disturbance, furor, fuss, helter-skelter, pandemonium, ruckus, rumpus, squall, stew, tumult, turmoil and uproar among others.

How he accurately depicted what was going on at that very moment in the Sullivan County Legislative Meeting Room will remain a mystery.

There, it was a hullabaloo.

First, legislators were in a panic over a rushed vote to pick one of three companies to lease the Care Center at Sunset Lake. There had been one meeting for introducing the three finalists recommended by the Local Development Corporation (LDC). In that three-hour session, when companies were introduced, showed promotional videos and answered questioned, no structure was used. Candidates had differing amounts of time, with one company receiving 10 minutes more than the other two. Since there was no prepared process, questions for each company were not uniform.

The helter-skelter synonym seems apt here.

Thankfully, the vote was postponed to who knows when by legislative rule, utilized by Luis Alvarez. (Adoption of an amended set of legislative rules was also on the morning’s agenda.)

Later that afternoon, the legislature would be embroiled in deciding action to take on an ethics violation by the aforementioned legislator. In that discussion, it was unclear whether the alleged incident actually occurred. Once again, there was a lack of process in bringing it before the county’s ethics committee and a lack of interviews with people who were there who could ascertain what actually took place. Added into that mix was a January 22 county-issued statement by the legislative chair outlining the alleged offense in detail—which, I noted when it came into my inbox, was eye-raising and lacked jurisprudence. Since legislators were unsure what happened and how it was adjudicated, they unanimously voted to take no action against their colleague.

Ruckus, rumpus, squall and stew come to mind.

But that wasn’t all.

Also in the morning’s agenda was a resolution to terminate the contract with the Sullivan County Visitors Association. This was espoused and articulated in a county-issued statement by the legislative chair as necessary in order to begin a 60-day renegotiation of the tourism contract. With much consternation about pandemic timing, plus heartful and statistic-filled testimony from leaders in the hospitality sector, the legislature, again thankfully, tabled the decision for 30 days. Lawyers could, undoubtedly, weigh in on whether a contract needs to be terminated in order to be renegotiated.

As you can imagine, with all this hullaballoo going on, including a naturalization ceremony in the lobby, the government building was filled with engaged citizens. At one point that morning, COVID-19 restrictions had law enforcement asking people to leave. The way this got translated to the deputies performing the safety-requirement task because the building was in lockdown by order of the legislative chair is another example of the power of hullabaloo.

It was so confusing and upsetting to county residents, who could see snippets on social media and were calling loved ones in the building, that communications director Dan Hust issued an in-the-moment press release that the building was not in lockdown. Lockdown is a systematic protocol that involves sounding an alarm throughout the building and locking inner doors. While the front doors were locked, the government center was open; Hust’s release was accurate.

Unfortunately, even as we report on the proceedings, pour over the video recordings and gather testimony from those involved, it is hard to ascertain what is actually going on and why. Who is manipulating whom? What version of the truth are people selling? Why?

The more important question, though, is how does this hullabaloo dissipate?

That’s another of my grandson’s favorite words: dissipate, the absorption of energy so that it becomes thin and disappears. (Think steam rising off of a bowl of mac and cheese.)

This lack of structure, transparency and obfuscation of what ought to be competent legislative processes must be adjusted. Legislative chair Rob Doherty can take the first step by slowing the pace and communicating with all legislators before asking them to cast definitive and binding votes. He needs to lead his legislature in making informed decisions. No more surprise resolutions.

In the end, for now, disaster was averted. There were no mishaps and no rushed decisions.

Congratulations to everyone: the legislature, the county staff and the engaged citizens that saved the county last Thursday from a heck of a hullabaloo.

It was messy. Democracy always is.

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