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Legislators feeling way around issues, each other

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — January 22, 2008 — Thursday proved to be a nonstop working day for Sullivan County’s newly reconstituted Legislature, with public meetings and executive sessions running for nearly seven straight hours.
• In the Public Works Committee meeting, Division of Public Works (DPW) Commissioner Bob Meyer said that, to cut costs, the county landfill’s working face (the open, active area of the landfill) would no longer be available to commercial waste haulers on Saturdays.
Originally scheduled to take effect on February 1, the new rule would not affect private citizens seeking to drop off trash directly at the landfill or its transfer stations, and commercial haulers would still be able to have access every Saturday from 7:45-11 a.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
But when it was revealed that local haulers had not been consulted in the drafting of this plan, District 7 Legislator Leni Binder – who wasn’t against the change – angrily criticized the lack of input.
When County Manager David Fanslau said it was a matter of high overtime costs (around $22,000 a month), Committee Chair and District 2 Legislator Kathy LaBuda asked Binder if the inclusion of haulers’ concerns would really have changed her mind.
“That’s not the issue,” Binder replied.
“They’re not the policymakers,” said LaBuda of the haulers, only one of whom was in the room that day. “We are.”
“Shame on us for not listening to our constituents,” Binder shot back. “… Once again, I am uncomfortable with the process.”
The resolution was ultimately amended to enact the rule on February 15 in order to give haulers time to prepare and comply, but both Binder and District 9 Legislator Alan Sorensen (both Republicans) voted against the new rule.
However, since Democrats LaBuda, District 4 Legislator Jonathan Rouis and District 3 Legislator Elwin Wood voted for it, the measure was sent on to the full Legislature for its vote this Thursday.
• During the Public Works Committee meeting, Sorensen – in whose district the landfill is situated – expressed concern over a proposed $25,000 study by Public Financial Management to analyze the costs and benefits of expanding the landfill.
Sorensen perceived a conflict of interest in the company’s plan to utilize DPW staff in determining its recommendations, which was met with a rebuke by LaBuda.
“You don’t know their position on whether they want to expand the landfill or not,” she told Sorensen of DPW employees.
“I don’t want to put them in that position,” replied Sorensen.
Rouis, however, said he perceived the same conflict with legislators and called for confidence to be placed in county employees.
“We’re hiring the right guys,” Rouis remarked. “. . . Allow them to do their job.”
Sorensen was not dissuaded, arguing that landfill studies must be conducted as objectively and transparently as possible.
“I think we have to look very carefully at assumptions,” he said.
• Sorensen again tangled with Rouis during the Executive Committee meeting, which Rouis chairs.
Without warning, Sorensen introduced a resolution calling for the full Legislature meeting (typically held the third Thursday of every month at 2 p.m.) to be rescheduled to 6 p.m. to accommodate those in the public with day jobs.
The resolution also requested legislative meetings be broadcast via the Internet, similar to Dutchess and Putnam counties’ governmental meetings.
“It would make our government more accessible, more open,” Sorensen explained.
Rouis said he would entertain the rookie legislator’s resolution, but “in the future,” he told Sorensen, “as I would never do to you in your meeting, [don’t] just show up and introduce a resolution.”
Sorensen said he had put a copy of it in every legislator’s mailbox two days ago, but by that time even fellow Republicans were confessing reservations with the resolution.
“That’s just saying, ‘I want world peace,’” Binder told Sorensen. “… I think that we really need a bit more.”
Binder said costs and cameramen would have to be determined (though she thought it could be doable), and as it turned out, Management Information Systems chief Lorne Green told legislators that indeed his department is looking into it.
As for night meetings, LaBuda pointed out that those had been tried before without success in attracting a larger crowd – and costing the county an extra $10,000-$30,000 in order to have county personnel on hand at times they’d otherwise be off.
Besides, added District 5 Legislator Frank Armstrong, many constituents consider Monticello too far to travel for meetings, so legislators should always be trying “to get government to them.”
In the end, only Sorensen and District 1 Legislator David Sager, the other fresh Republican face on the Legislature, voted for the resolution, and so it failed to move on from there.
• Legislators unanimously agreed on a variety of other items, however, including Rouis’ plan to replace legislators’ desktops with laptops in order to cut down on paper and increase access to information and resources on the fly.
Monticello Judge Josephine Finn walked away with a commitment for partial funding of her $30,000/year Dream Project which provides high-risk youth with a unique 10-week opportunity to have fun, learn and take responsibility all at once.
County monies would help find staff and provide more courses for Monticello children who, said Finn and others, don’t fit in at Boys and Girls Club or YMCA functions.
Those who graduate from the program become mentors to the next batch of participants, and Binder agreed with Finn that it has the potential to become a national model.
Indeed, said Binder, if one child is kept out of rehab because of the Dream Project, the program has, in essence, paid for itself for the next five years.
“This is probably one of the best things I’ve ever heard of,” added District 6 Legislator Jodi Goodman, who hopes to see the year-old program expand into her hometown of Liberty.
“It’s a nice one-two punch to combatting a problem we all know is out there,” agreed Rouis.

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