Leni Santoro | Democrat
CHARTER REVISION COMMISSION member Shirley Felder-Morton took part in lively discussions at the commission’s July 23 meeting in the Government Center in Monticello.
Chartering a Greater Transparency
By Leni Santoro and Barbara Gref
MONTICELLO August 3, 2007 With the clock ticking down to fall ballot time the Sullivan County Charter Revision Commission has stepped up the pace of both its meeting schedule and its agenda for the next few meetings.
On Monday, July 23 three resolutions were discussed and two resolutions were passed unanimously and sent onto the Sullivan County Legislature for its consideration.
The first resolution concerned how elective vacancies were filled. It was decided that in order to maintain efficiency in the government the wording should be changed as follows: vacancies shall be filled upon the certification of an election.
The second resolution will amend Article 7 of the Sullivan County Charter in regards to the responsibilities of the sheriff’s office. Article 7, should the legislature approve it, would henceforth include under the sheriff’s duties, “provide a road patrol for the county.”
The resolution had previously received much thought and discussion before settling upon its generic language. Rather than state a specific number of officers to comprise the road patrol, which could become restrictive if not enough officers were mentioned should the county grow and expand to the point where that number became insufficient to patrol the county, it was decided that the more generic language would allow for the future growth and needs of the county as they emerged.
The third resolution concerned section C9.02-C of the county charter and the duties of the county auditor.
When it comes to transparency in government the Sullivan County Charter Revision Commission could be said to apply a combination of 3-D and X-Ray lenses to any wording they wish changed from the original in the Sullivan County charter.
After almost three quarters of an hour of back and forth discussion about what to include in the auditors duties, it was felt that here too, in order to allow the charter to be effective and to extend into the next ten years generic language would be better than citing specific organizations or offices which could change over time. The final wording reads thusly: C9.02-C [the county auditor shall] conduct management and performance audits of county administrative units and county funded programs, any of whose members are appointed, funded, or [receive] funds for which the county is responsible, and submit audit reports to the county legislature and where applicable to the county manager.
It was further decided that the county attorney’s office should be consulted to ensure that the language chosen met legal requirements. The matter will come up again at a future meeting of the Charter Revision Commission.
A 10th legislator?
Also at the July 23 meeting, a measure that would have established a tenth legislator for Sullivan County was floated.
The motion, made by Callicoon Center farmer and Commission Co-Chair Dick Riseling seeks to add an elected chairperson to the body of nine district legislators which already exists as the county’s governing body.
Riseling said he suggested the tenth legislator, the chairperson, be elected on a county-wide basis, work full-time, have a full-time salary but still have only one vote, on a par with the other nine legislators.
As it stands now, one of the nine legislators is elected from within the legislature to act as chairman. The process is usually dictated by the party which holds the majority in the legislature. There is no public election for the chairman.
Due to the “press of business,” Riseling said, the legislature chairman is required to spend many more hours doing the job of chairman than the part-time legislative position.
Riseling said the measure also puts into place a county-wide legislator who could feasibly act as a complement to the county manager, who is not an elected official but is often seen as running the county.
Some observers also felt that Riseling put forth the resolution as a means of bridging the gap on a lively discussion that’s already been going on at charter commission meetings: Whether to have an elected county executive (a la Orange County) or to stick with an appointed County Manager.
Charter commission member Bill Duncan of Woodbourne said he felt the resolution was unexpected but welcomed as an innovative proposal. Commission members are “intrigued” by it, was Duncan’s assessment.
Riseling was asked to flesh out the idea in greater detail and to include a description of duties for the publically elected chairperson.
An intermittent public debate over the wisdom of establishing an elected county-wide executive was among the key issues that cropped up when the charter commission was first established and it is one of the few issues that has the potential to deeply change the way the county is currently governed.
The commission is now engaged in passing a number of resolutions which could become changes to the county charter. The changes proposed by the charter commission must first be accepted by the legislature for placement on the November ballot. Then a public vote on any changes would take place at that time.
Because the ballot clock is ticking, the charter commission is now meeting more frequently in order to make key decisions.
The next three meetings of the commission will take place on Monday, August 6; Monday, August 13 and Monday, August 27 at 4 p.m. in the legislative hearing room in the Sullivan County Government Center in Monticello. The meetings are always open to the public.
The Riseling Resolution
Charter commission co-chairman Dick Riseling has proposed this change to the Sullivan County charter, the document which governs the county.
• The County Legislature shall be composed of ten legislators.
• The Chair of the Legislature will be elected on a county-wide basis, will serve for a term of four years, will have one vote and will be a resident of Sullivan County.
• Nine legislators will be elected from single member legislative districts, will serve for a term of four years, have one vote and shall be a resident in the legislative district from which they are elected.
• With the exception of the Chair of the Legislature, legislators shall be elected from the Legislative districts described as municipalities, census tracts and census blocks as defined by the United States Census Bureau, as follows
Riseling also recommended that the annual salary of the Chair of the Legislature shall be $80,000; that the annual salary of the nine legislators elected from single member legislative districts shall be $35,000 (up from about $20,000) and that all members of the legislature will be provided medical and health benefits available to managerial level staff employees of the county.