Hugh Reynolds: One Mo time

Last week, the Arkville-based Catskill Center for Conservation and Development announced the as-yet-unbuilt Mount Tremper visitors’ regional interpretive facility will be named for U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey. The long-delayed project had been Hinchey’s from the get-go. It was Hinchey as assemblyman in 1988 who secured $1.5 million in state funding to build an interpretive center some 25 miles northwest of Kingston on Route 28.

As locals and state bureaucrats dickered and bickered over the design of the facility, time, as usual, marched on. Inheriting a fiscal mess from Mario Cuomo, the man he defeated by a whisker in 1994, Republican governor George Pataki redlined the project as one of his first acts in office. Pataki, a conservative for a few years, let the site go to the dogs, apparently reasoning that the chances of anything happening were slim. Subsequent efforts under other governors of various stripe failed to revive the project.

Two years ago, Hinchey, guarding his legacy as a go-to, get-it-done legislator, was able to secure $380,000 in federal funding to design the interpretive center. It will take many, many times that much money to complete the project.


There remains, moreover, the elephant in the living room, to wit, location. Mount Tremper, nestled in the foothills of the Catskills, is a lovely site, even if one has to step carefully, but the immediate gateways to the Catskills (in Ulster County) are its three Thruway exits. It’s always been my belief that the interpretive center should be located at one of them, probably Kingston, with its direct access to Route 28.

Schematic plans are on file at architect Joe Hurwitz’s West Hurley office for a county visitors’ center at the traffic circle. Plans for what was envisioned as a million-dollar project were abandoned in 2004 when the county and the state Thruway Authority (which owned the land around the traffic circle) couldn’t get together on price and other matters.

The Catskills interpretive center was always a great idea, albeit unduly delayed to its own detriment. Ye gads! Ronald Reagan was president when Hinchey secured the original appropriation.

A closing thought: Put Hinchey on the center’s board of directors. Nobody has more incentive to get it done in a timely manner than the man for whom it will be named.

For the people

It may be a reflection of the times we live in, but a vast majority of those polled have either contempt and/or aversion for/to their elected legislators. Congress, never a paragon of popularity, is bottom-feeding at around 17 percent. Don’t even ask about the state legislature. It’s clear people don’t trust these institutions to do the right thing. And yet re-election rates top 90 percent, regardless of a legislator’s record. Hello, Charlie Rangel.

A serious debate is under way as to whether the Ulster County Legislature should have final authority on reapportionment, a subject near and very dear to all legislators’ hearts.

With the original 2006 charter and subsequent administrative code vague on this subject, the legislature assumed the authority last year, with only two votes dissenting. A state Supreme Court judge also vested final authority in the legislature.

The executive favors a charter amendment that leaves final adoption of reapportionment to an independent reapportionment commission. Legislators prefer final approval by a majority of their members. Under those circumstances, threats of vetoes by the executive would be moot.

But can legislators be trusted not to act in their own interests? Dr. Gerry Benjamin, an oft-consulted former political science professor at SUNY New Paltz and a former legislature chairman intimately familiar with politically motivated back-room reapportionment deals, says self-interest is fundamental to human nature. He supports an independent reapportionment process in part because as a former chairman of the charter committee, he designed the system.

Majority Leader Ken Ronk, New Paltz alum, begs to differ, citing the overwhelming bipartisan vote that approved the current reapportionment. Ronk, a bright young legislator, was being just a bit disingenuous. The votes for approval came from a consortium of self-interested legislators.

While I’m inclined to disagree with the executive on many things — his methods in most cases — and while elected officials should take precedence over those appointed, Ulster’s precedent-setting reapportionment process has been widely hailed for its transparency, thoroughness and fairness.

That government by polling is obviously flawed. The present system has worked well and undoubtedly changed some attitudes about self-serving government. And these days that is a very good thing.

Charter chat

Commissioners outnumbered speakers eight to two at a public hearing called by the Ulster County Charter Revision Commission in Kingston on Tuesday night. A majority of the 11-member commission was in attendance to hear public comment on the commission’s recommendations on legislative and executive powers.

County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach, one of two public speakers to address the hearing, asked the commission to include him or his designee as a voting member of an auditing committee recommended by the charter commission. He also recommended the commission adopt rules of succession for his office similar to those in effect for the executive’s office. The current (2006) charter gives the county legislature the authority to fill a comptroller’s vacancy, pending a special election. Under the charter, the executive names his successor until a special election can be held.

After some prompting, county Legislator Jeanette Provenzano spoke briefly to the need to keep the commission’s work intact. She also praised the commission’s “diligence, fairness and transparency.”

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