Hugh Reynolds: O’Halloran the bucketman

Pity Dave O’Halloran, southern Ulster resort operator and the county Industrial Development Agency (IDA) board chairman dealt the unhappy hand of attempting to negotiate between County Executive Mike Hein and arch-enemy Independence Party Chairman Len Bernardo on an IDA tax deal. A comedy/tragedy in at least a dozen acts, the roots of rancor between Hein and Bernardo extend to their 2008 contest for county executive, handily won by Hein.

One of the highlights of that campaign was Hein accusing Bernardo of “lying” on his IDA application about how many people he would employ at his Skate Time roller rink in Accord. Supposedly 20 jobs were to be created, whereas fewer than half a dozen actually did. Bernardo said the deal was more about creating tourism and sales-tax revenues than jobs.

Hein and Bernardo had a brief rapprochement last year when Bernardo, as Independence chairman, endorsed the executive for another term – a decision Bernardo says he now regrets. Of late, Hein has been banging the drum for Skate Time to pay its full taxes, based on the employment issue. The IDA, in the process of chastising “underperforming” clients, voted 6-1 last week to ask Bernardo to “volunteer” to pay another $8,500 a year in taxes, less than half of what’s contractually required. Two other underperformers were similarly advised.

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In the meantime, Hein has engineered a takeover of the IDA itself in recommending in his 2013 county budget that the agency be incorporated in his “one-stop shopping” economic development operation.

At first, I’m told, the independent IDA (with its revenue stream coming from fees it collects from applicants) wanted absolutely nothing to do with being part of anybody else’s economic development operation. That position has recently softened, I’m told, to a one-year “trial period,” with the county picking up some $85,000 in IDA administrative costs. Does anybody realistically expect Hein to give back the agency a year from now?

Hein doesn’t respond to inquiries from Ulster Publishing — or some other media outlets, I’ve noticed — but O’Halloran did. I asked the board chairman if it didn’t look like he was carrying Hein’s water by banging Bernardo and giving up the IDA (for a year).

He chuckled … or was it a sigh? “If we don’t penalize Bernardo to the extent some people think we should, we get accused of going too easy,” he said. “If we agree with Hein that maybe his one-shop-operation proposal might make sense, we get accused of caving in. Either way, we’re carrying somebody’s water.”

If so, can we now refer to O’Halloran as “Bucketman?”

Leadership

Two-year elected officials are forever complaining about the brevity of their terms of office. “We have to run every other year,” is one lament. “It takes two years just to learn the job.” Every now and then voters are given the opportunity to extend terms. Results have been mixed. In Lloyd this year, voters rejected four-year terms for the supervisor and highway superintendent, but extended the clerk’s to four years.

This won’t go anywhere, like most of my suggestions to officialdom, but I think it’s time the county legislature elects its leaders to two-year terms. The way it works now is the entire body is elected to two-year terms, and its leaders are elected every year. As a practical matter, leaders are elected to two-year terms — one and one — it being rare that anyone gets bumped in what amounts to midterm.

So why not formalize the process?

One-year terms produce unrest and anxiety, horse-trading and chicanery, devious behind-the-scenes dealing, all of which is going on right now as legislators decide — with the executive’s active attention — who will wear its mantles come January 1.

Party caucus designations don’t much matter. The majority and minority leaders, chief cat herders in fact — get paid another $2,500 each to preside at caucus and count noses.

The chairman, paid an additional $9,500, gets elected by the entire legislature. Once a powerful figure when the legislature was running things, the chairman should be — but isn’t in this executive-dominated system — a figure of considerable importance.

Which brings us to next month’s annual legislative elections. Will one-year incumbent Terry Bernardo be back for another term at the helm, or will the various machinators on both sides of the aisle — including the executive — send her packing back to the back row from whence she sprang? She’s been a legislator three years.

Bernardo, who has heard the footsteps, says she is “absolutely” a candidate for re-election. She is confident she will be returned to high office. Bernardo heads a 12-member legislative majority, but as in any group of two or more — ask any married couple — consensus is not always the case. There are Republicans who don’t particularly admire the chairwoman — rebellious Kevin Roberts of Wallkill comes to mind — but at least three in the 11-member Democratic minority do, so ergo, her chances of prevailing are at least even.

Then, there is the so-called “real majority” in the legislature, the 19 legislators from both sides of the aisle endorsed by the Independence Party. Some members need that line more than others, but all covet it. And who holds the key to those endorsements? Why none other than Bernardo’s husband Len, the aforementioned Independence Party chairman.

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