By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Here are the essentials of what you need to know about our county government and our elected representatives.
On a regular basis, the County Legislature meets in public three days a month. While weather and other events can occasionally force changes, those three days are usually the first three Thursdays of the month.
(In the case of this month, April, the Passover observance has shifted the meetings to the second, third and fourth Thursdays.)
The first two Thursdays are reserved for committee meetings. Almost every committee features five voting legislators, though any legislator (and you, the public) are welcome to listen and ask questions.
These committee meetings are where the bulk of public discussion occurs, as committee members are tasked with determining whether a particular matter should go in front of the full Legislature or not.
If a committee passes a resolution, it then goes to the full Legislature for all nine members to vote on. That typically occurs in public on the third Thursday of the month.
In committee, public comments are allowed at the end of every meeting. At the full Legislature, public comments are given at the beginning, via a signup sheet.
Unless a larger room is needed, committees always meet inside a room separating the County Legislature and County Manager offices, at the end of one of the Government Center’s second-floor hallways.
The full Legislature gathers inside the Hearing Room, which sits at the end of a parallel second-floor hallway in the Government Center.
(Don’t worry about getting lost: there’s a map in the first-floor lobby, plus a helpful security guard if you have questions.)
• On the first Thursday of the month, usually running from 9:15 a.m. to around 2 p.m., these committees meet: Personnel, Community & Economic Development, Health & Family Services, Public Safety, and Sustainability Policy. (The Veterans Committee meets on the first Thursday of every other month at 2:30 p.m.)
• On the second Thursday of the month, usually running from 9:15 a.m. to around 3 p.m., these committees meet: Management & Budget, Public Works, Planning/Environmental Management/Real Property, Government Services, and Executive (where all nine legislators are on the committee).
• On the third Thursday of the month, starting at 2 p.m., the full County Legislature convenes to formally adopt or reject resolutions passed on to them from the committees, plus make presentations, listen to public comments and vote on any other matters necessary.
• One committee, Capital Planning and Budget, has an irregular meeting schedule, with the next gathering set for June 7 at 11:15 a.m.
• There is a thought to make some of these meetings more accessible to those who work during the day. A “tryout” of that idea will occur on April 26 at 4:30 p.m., when the full Legislature will meet in the Hearing Room (instead of at the typical 2 p.m.).
• Meetings are subject to change for a variety of reasons. For the latest info, check out the Democrat’s Legal Notices in the Classifieds section and the Meetings listing on page 2A of every issue, or call the Legislature office the day before the meeting at 807-0435.
there’s One place you’re not invited
There is one kind of Legislature meeting, however, that is NOT open to the public though some legislators are trying to change that.
Both the Democrats and Republicans engage in what is known as caucusing, where they meet with fellow party members and sometimes county staff to ask questions, discuss strategy and determine policy.
That’s why you may show up at a committee meeting and get the feeling a particular issue has already been discussed because it has been, behind closed doors, amongst just the Democrats or just the Republicans.
Some legislators defend caucusing as a necessary way to air concerns, suggest ideas and make remarks without fear of appearing silly or dumb. They don’t have to choose their words as carefully as they do in public.
Other legislators, however, see it as creating mistrust amongst voters and enabling the majority party to more easily push through a political agenda.
At least one New York State county features public caucuses, but whether Sullivan County legislators will open up those discussions remains to be seen.
For more info
While we’ve tried to be comprehensive, you’re bound to have more questions.
Legislature Clerk Annmarie Martin and her aide, Ellen Cutler, are incredibly knowledgeable on all things Legislature and can be reached at 807-0435 or via email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
New York State law now requires municipalities to post agendas, resolutions, minutes and related documents on their websites before every public meeting, if possible.
Typically a day or two before the Legislature meets, you can find a list of discussion topics, items up for vote and presentations at www.co.sullivan.ny.us.
When you’re on that webpage, click on the “Find a Department” tab on the right side, then pick “County Legislature.”
In a green box on the left, you’ll see a listing of documents from which you can choose.
Of course (warning: shameless plug!), if you miss a meeting, you’re likely to read about it in the next edition of the Democrat.
To best interact with your legislators, you have to know how and where to find them.
Here’s a list of the nine legislators and the ways you can reach them:
• For all nine, the mailing address is 100 North Street, Monticello, NY 12701
• Scott Samuelson, District 1 (towns of Bethel, Cochecton, Delaware and Tusten): cell 866-0744, office 807-0443, email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org
• Kathy LaBuda, District 2 (towns of Forestburgh, Highland, Lumberland and Mamakating, plus Village of Wurtsboro): home 888-4910, office 807-0442, email@example.com
• Kitty Vetter, District 3 (towns of Liberty, Neversink and Rockland): home 439-3605, office 807-0441, firstname.lastname@example.org
• Jonathan Rouis, District 4 (Town of Mamakating and Village of Bloomingburg): work 888-5656, office 807-0435, email@example.com
• Cindy Gieger, District 5 (towns of Callicoon, Delaware, Fremont and Liberty, plus Village of Jeffersonville): cell 701-0708, office 807-0445, firstname.lastname@example.org
• Cora Edwards, District 6 (towns of Fallsburg and Liberty, plus Village of Liberty): office 807-0438 (she holds “constituent hours” from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday-Friday), email@example.com
• Gene Benson, District 7 (towns of Fallsburg and Neversink, plus Village of Woodridge): cell 701-7033, office 807-0439, firstname.lastname@example.org
• Ira Steingart, District 8 (towns of Fallsburg and Thompson, plus Village of Monticello): cell 798-5582, office 807-0440, email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org
• Alan Sorensen, District 9 (Town of Thompson and Village of Monticello): home 796-1137, office 807-0444, email@example.com