Democrat Photo by Nathan Mayberg
THE SULLIVAN COUNTY Charter Review Commission held its third monthly meeting on Monday to discuss revisions to the Sullivan County Legislature's constitution. The few comments made revealed some simmering frustration with the current political system. Leading the meetings (clockwise from the far end of the table) were Richard Riseling of Callicoon Center, Shelly Weinstein of the Town of Thompson, secretary Terri Waverla, Noel Van Swol of Long Eddy, Sandra Schultz of Forestburgh, Robert Green of the Town of Thompson, Jack Gallagher of Neversink, Shirley Felder of Woodbourne, Tom Lambert of Neversink, Ed Mack of Forestburgh, Bill Duncan of Woodbourne and Lilian Rubio of Liberty. Absent from the meeting was Vicky Vassmer-Simpson of Bethel.
Debates County's Future
By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO April 28, 2006 A new form of government or a return to the Board of Supervisors?
An elected county executive or an appointed county manager?
Those are some of the decisions the countys Charter Review Commission is dealing with as it begins its review of the countys charter. The commission, appointed by the County Legislature, held its third monthly meeting this past week.
A sense of disapproval of the current legislative process seemed apparent among the commission.
Led by Callicoon Center farmer Richard Riseling and Monticello auto dealer Robert Green, the commission will be making recommendations to the County Legislature in a year and a half on how the charter (or constitution) should be changed and possibly the entire legislative process.
Riseling made the timeline estimate of a year and a half after Mondays meeting, at which a number of concerns were raised by members regarding the current political structure.
But their findings will not be binding. The Legislature can accept or reject their recommendations outright.
The charter only calls for its review every ten years. The original charter was drawn up in 1993 by the Board of Supervisors but did not take effect until the Legislature took office in 1995.
Long Eddy resident Noel Van Swol has called for a bicameral legislative process by which a Board of Supervisors and County Legislature would share power. The Legislature will never abolish itself, he said, but is too remote from the people. One town board didnt even know who their legislator was at a recent meeting, he stated. He suggested that legislative districts be compacted, adding that 27 counties in the state currently have a Board of Supervisors.
Tom Lambert, a professor of economics at Sullivan County Community College, was also eager to discuss alternatives to the Legislature, but Riseling and commission member William Lucas said that discussion should wait until the commission hears from representatives of other counties and their experiences.
Another proposal made by Van Swol during the meeting was a call for a two-thirds majority for decisions such as the firing of the county manager. Van Swol was a supporter of former County Manager Dan Briggs and spoke out on the day he was voted out. He said such a rule would provide more political stability in the government. Major decisions would require support from the minority party, he said, rather than the current situation where the majority partys agenda usually holds up on most issues.
Van Swol is against the election of a county executive. To do so, he said quoting Legislator Rodney Gaebel, would be leaving the position up to the two county chairs, who help decide who gets on the ballot. Van Swol is also against the position, because most county executives have veto power.
County Attorney Sam Yasgur has had experience with both an appointed county manager and an elected county executive. Both work, he said, but it depends on the person.
The meeting also featured one remark about the salaries of legislators. Under a certain section of the charter, the salaries of the legislators are limited to $21,000 apiece, said Lambert. The current salary of the legislators is $19,768, while Chairman Chris Cunningham earns $29,040. That prompted Lambert to ask whether the intent of the original charter was to attract the lowest-paid government employees.
They thought it was a part-time job, answered Van Swol.
On other issues, Riseling said a part of the charter which sets education requirements for the county manager does not belong in the constitution. That will be discussed further in the future.
Riseling would also like to see more oversight of boards appointed by the Legislature, including the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency.
Lucas wants the charter to spell out a structure that deals with conflicts of interest among legislators and government employees.
Jack Gallagher of Neversink questioned what would happen if the legislature violated its own charter. Ira Cohen, County Treasurer, along with Van Swol, responded that such a violation would be treated with respect by the judiciary system. Article 78 proceedings could be brought against the county. Two such actions actually have been taken against the Legislature since it was created. One was by a legislator and a citizen and the other by the Board of Elections in 2003.
The commission expressed a desire to meet with former town supervisors who sat on the Board of Supervisors and could help comment on the difference between the two bodies of government. Some would also like to know what the intentions of the Board of Supervisors were when they wrote the charter and set up the Legislature.
The commission meets on the fourth Monday of each month at 4 p.m. in the Sullivan County Government Centers legislative conference room.