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Advisory Board & Abstentions
Cause Legislative Controversies

By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO — August 17, 2004 – A proposed citizens advisory board presented for discussion by Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham drew opposition from several Republican lawmakers Thursday at the Legislature’s Executive Committee meeting.
The proposal would allow each legislator to nominate one member from their district and the six remaining positions to be filled by the chairman, minority leader and county manager (although the proposal did not say if the nominations would be spread out equally).
One of the 15 members would include a representative from the county manager’s staff.
The proposal states there was a need for the board so “the Legislature can be more responsive to the needs and issues that are of concern to the residents of the county.”
The board would be charged with “studying, consulting and advising the Legislature on all matters decided by the board.”
The board would meet once a month and would be advised to develop a work plan at the beginning of each year regarding its most serious issues.
Legislator Ron Hiatt was supportive.
“The more open government is, the safer government is,” he remarked.
But fellow lawmaker Greg Goldstein disagreed.
“I don’t know what you are looking to do,” he said. “We are all accessible.”
Minority Leader Rodney Gaebel expressed worries about “another layer of bureaucracy. . . . Be careful what you wish for.”
Nobody was more opposed to the board than Jodi Goodman, however, who said she already has a group of nearly 80 people in her district who discuss local issues.
“This could undermine my group,” she said.
Abstaining? Gotta Say Why . . .
In a surprising development, two abstention votes last month by Republican legislators Leni Binder and Jodi Goodman were reversed after Cunningham said the lawmakers failed to provide a reason for their votes on the proposed county takeover of Harris Alport’s Bay #1 in the 10-Bay T-Hangar near the Sullivan County International Airport.
The resolution failed to pass after a plea by local businessman John Nichols, who wanted to purchase it.
Binder said that classes she took from the state explained that she did not have to provide a reason for an abstention.
But County Attorney Sam Yasgur looked up the county’s own rules on the issue, after he was instructed to by Cunningham. He said the rules require lawmakers to provide a reason for abstentions, or those votes can be reversed to the affirmative side of a resolution.
Furthermore, Yasgur said the rules only allow for abstentions if the legislators state they have a conflict of interest.
Goodman responded, “If I wanted to vote yes, I would have voted yes.”
Both legislators said they wanted more time to research the issue, and Goodman called the vote reversal “insulting.”
Binder said she had never seen such action in the last nine years.
“For nine years, people have abstained without a reason.”

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