Time change

Controversy erupts at a rescheduled meeting

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 4/28/21

MONTICELLO, NY — Last Friday’s special meeting of the county legislature started at 4 p.m.

Rescheduling it from Thursday may have been difficult. But the result, and the meeting …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Time change

Controversy erupts at a rescheduled meeting

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — Last Friday’s special meeting of the county legislature started at 4 p.m.

Rescheduling it from Thursday may have been difficult. But the result, and the meeting itself, angered observers and frustrated legislators.

“The meeting was never really scheduled,” said chairman Rob Doherty on Monday. “A special meeting needs a 48-hours notice,” which the Friday meeting had. “There was a 3 a.m. placeholder on Facebook” before a meeting time was finally agreed on.

Luis Alvarez, Joe Perrello and Ira Steingart were unable to attend. Nadia Rajsz showed up by phone, after struggling with a bad Zoom connection. Alan Sorensen and George Conklin were able to attend on video but with the standard delays.

Michael Brooks, Nick Salomone and chairman Rob Doherty were all present.

When Conklin briefly blinked out, Doherty said, “To vote, you need to be on the camera.” 

At that point, about 15 minutes in, Rajsz appeared, also on audio. “This is a nightmare,” she said, sounding frustrated. “No one ever should go through this. Very difficult to get onto Zoom... finally, I could get on by phone. It should not be this difficult.” 

Doherty warned them that either one should get on video for a vote to be held but a discussion could still take place. Eventually, Conklin was able to videoconference.

They discussed the discretionary funds and then focused on the resolutions.

“I just want to say one thing before we start,” Rajsz began, and reminded the legislature that they had originally agreed to meet at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday. On the new date, she said, there was no public comment, just a 48-hour notice to rearrange schedules and “I don’t even know what the hell this is about. I’m not in agreement with any of this happening at such a late hour on a Friday.” She tried to invoke Rule 36, which would lay over the question until they had discussion time, and when “we could be better prepared... This is not the way to operate Sullivan County business.” 

Doherty said that a resolution affecting two RNs at the care center had to be dealt with. 

“That can wait!” Rajsz replied. “It’s not that critical.”

County attorney Michael McGuire spoke briefly with the chairman, and Doherty said, ”Nadia, you aren’t part of the quorum at the moment, so you can’t invoke Rule 36... you can’t vote.”

She asked why. “Because we can’t see you,” he said.

“Well, whose fault is that?”

“It’s not mine!”

“Mr. Chair, I have been Zooming—” Rajsz said, and was overridden by Doherty, who was trying to move the resolutions along. “You know this is me.”

“Thank you very much,” he said. “Rules are the rules, thank you very much.” 

Protests erupted from the audience. 

“Where in the world does it say that you have to see me?” Rajsz demanded.

“Alan, are you in favor?” Doherty asked.

“I’m in favor, but I ask Tom to speak to Nadia’s question,” Sorensen said. 

Cawley (the deputy county attorney) began to speak; he was asked to bring the microphone closer, and Doherty said, “Come on, let’s just go, we can all hear... we’ve gone over this several times.” 

Legislators had to appear by videoconference, Cawley said. “Telephonic appearances are not allowed... If you’re not in full participation, you’re not part of the quorum” and can’t call a rule or vote.

“I understand, let’s go,” Doherty said, and the meeting moved along. All resolutions (except # 6) passed 5-0.

“I want to say one thing,” Rajsz said at the end. 

“You’re out of order right now!” Doherty answered.

“You’re out of order!”

“We’re all out of order!”

And so it ended. A call to chairman Rob Doherty to clarify the time of the meeting and the reason for rescheduling was not returned.

Public comment was not allowed, but two frequent commenters shared the following. They were slightly edited for space or clarity:

From Dave Colavito: First, time and again we’ve witnessed technical failings thwart legislators and county employees attempting to attend meetings during the COVID[-19] pandemic remotely. Today was no exception. 

Today, legislator Rajsz, through no fault of her own, was able to make audio but not video connection today; legislators Perrello, Alvarez, and Steingart were unable to attend entirely. 

It’s high time rules of the legislature be amended to address this.  A successful system check before each meeting should be required for meetings anticipating remote attendance to proceed. Legislators (and their constituents) should not be penalized for failing technical systems. Either the system works when it should, or the meeting should be postponed until it does or until all nine legislators can attend in person.

 Next, chairman Doherty’s refusal to permit public comment during a meeting on such consequential matters as being voted on today was a disgrace. Today’s meeting had been rescheduled several times, and it is widely believed he settled on a time and day when only he and four other legislators who’d support his agenda could attend. Rajsz hadn’t initially anticipated being able to attend remotely.

From Catherine Scott: Bottom line: it’s about good governance. I believe in government by the people and for the people. I believe in being fair. I can agree to disagree. 

When the sale of the care center was announced, I was a complete novice [in how government worked]. I attended meetings, month after month. Yesterday was just an example of how off-the-rails Sullivan County has become.

There were eight or 10 citizens in the audience, and we were very upset. The chairman was rude and harsh to Nadia Rajsz. Nadia had every right to be able to ask why she couldn’t sign into Zoom; [IT] could have come in to help.

This was just the chairman pushing through his agenda. What are you afraid of? You’re an elected official. If you don’t want to hear the people, then step down.

The job isn’t all accolades—it’s dirty and loud and noisy. This is really dangerous. But it’s a lot harder to get away with this if people are watching.

What will happen if we don’t show up and shed light on this?

From the Sullivan County Democratic Committee: They called for the chair to step down, arguing that the last-minute meeting ensured a quorum of Republican supporters.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment