In one of the more obscure footnotes to a routine January meeting (other than 45 gun advocates expressing themselves) Ulster County’s legislature passed a resolution asking the county executive to begin sharing personnel information. Specifically, the legislature would like to be kept apprised monthly of all hirings, firings and retirements. Under the current system, legislators find out who’s on board, or more likely these days, who’s left, in the executive’s annual budget released in early October.
But as even legislators appreciate, a budget is a living, breathing document, subject to change over the course of a year. As anyone who’s drawn up a budget knows, revenues are usually more difficult to predict than expenses (personnel, for the most part).
This was not the Ulster legislature’s first attempt at getting access to the working operation of the executive. I was at an informal meeting between then-first-month county executive Mike Hein and then-legislature chairman Fred Wadnola in January 2009 at which Wadnola asked for monthly personnel reports to be sent to the legislature. Operating the government was his job, Hein said in so many words. Read the budget.
Hein, who had dealt with a meddling legislature for almost three years as county administrator, knew that he’d be spending half his time on personnel issues if he allowed legislators to look over his shoulder on every hire-fire-retire issue.
There may be some privacy issues, though public jobs — all of which are listed by name and salary in the annual budget — should certainly be treated differently than jobs in the private sector.
It’s doubtful the territorial executive has softened much on that issue, but I’m hearing through the grapevine that staff is at least willing to “discuss” the matter with legislators. As legislative-executive relations go, this could be considered progress. The larger question is, should the public be entitled to know how taxpayer dollars are being spent (on personnel), and if so, why doesn’t the executive himself issue such a report on a monthly basis? Doing so would lend some credence to claims of transparency.
It is perhaps entirely appropriate that this month’s meeting of the county legislature about gun control was switched to Kingston’s Ulster Performing Arts Theater (UPAC) in anticipation of a larger than usual turnout.
Legislature Chairwoman Terry Bernardo, who says she will not attempt to resurrect gun advocate Charlton Heston for the occasion, was being just south of coy in announcing the move to the 1,600-seat theater was being done to provide adequate First Amendment (freedom of speech) access. The smoking gun she seeks to showcase is the Second Amendment to the constitution, which protects the right to bear arms.
The legislature was scheduled to debate approve a resolution, later approved 14-8, against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tough new gun-control laws enacted by the state legislature in early January. More than 500 Ulster County people attended two previous sessions on the subject.
The public doesn’t much care how sausage (laws in a democracy) is made, only how it tastes. The Ulster County Legislature, in the process of tinkering with the basic tenet of representative government that the business of a legislature is done in committee, may rue the day it did.
At issue is whether a negative vote in committee prevents a resolution from going to the full legislature for a vote. Under the rules of the state Assembly, which govern all legislatures, the full body, usually by a supermajority, can “relieve a committee of its duties” and act on a matter.
The Laws and Rules Committee of the Ulster County Legislature, which for all we know could be just flapping its jaws, is considering whether a negative committee vote should be sent to the floor, so noted. Doing so would considerably diminish the power of committees, rendering their deliberations and recommendations less meaningful. Here, some legislators might be careful what they wish for.
He said no
As party leaders appreciate, it’s never too early to begin recruiting candidates. In that vein, state Republican chairman Ed Cox was rattling off a list of could-be’s against Democrat incumbent Gov. Cuomo for next year during a recent interview on Liz Benjamin’s Capital Report on YNN-TV. Among Cox’s can’t-lose nominees, including several GOP county executives, was, to my surprise, two-term congressman Chris Gibson of Kinderhook.
Not to belittle the retired Army colonel, but I didn’t know he was on anybody’s radar screen for higher office. It turned out higher office isn’t on his radar, either.
No, said the congressman through a spokesperson, he’s flattered to be mentioned, but has every intention of filling out this term, and as pledged, the next one, should voters concur. You see, Gibson, 48, is committed to a term limit ending in 2018, which means he’ll run for Congress two more times.