Hugh Reynolds: Rules of engagement

The columnist Reynolds.

The columnist Reynolds.

Can a county legislator be forced to serve on assigned committees? The short answer is no. But that won’t stop some solons from continuing to gnaw on this bone of contention.

The controversy, so-called, arose in January when Ulster legislature Chairman John Parete announced his committee assignments. A few legislators protested they hadn’t requested those committees. Because of their experience, they said, they would serve the county better on committees of their choosing. Majority Leader Don Gregorius, after opposing the new chairman’s election, groused that Parete had acted arbitrarily, which wasn’t entirely the case.

Ken Wishnick of New Paltz was originally assigned to the Public Health and Social Services Committee. Wishnick told the chairman that because of a recent tragedy in his family, the suicide of his son, he’d prefer not be involved in healthcare oversight. He cited his extensive experience in economic development. Wishnick told me the committee’s “limited” oversight responsibilities on the Park Point project in his home town was not a factor in his request.

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Parete split the baby, offering Wishnick an appointment to the Public Works and Capital Projects Committee and appointing Craig Lopez of Ellenville to the health committee.

T.J. Briggs chairs the Economic Development Committee, which includes Jim Maloney, Chris Allen, Lynn Archer, Herb Litts, Mary Beth Maio and Hector Rodriguez.

Wishnick turned down the public works assignment. Now a man without a committee, he regularly attends meetings of four others, including economic development, he said. He comments extensively, as only he can, but he does not have a vote.

In memory of his son, who he said had urged him to become more involved in public service, Wishnick ran for the legislature in 2011. “I take my role as a legislator very, very seriously,” he said.

Oddly enough, given his recent experience, Wishnick, after turning down two committee assignments, says it should be mandatory for legislators to serve when called. Under state law, however, they don’t have to. They can’t even be forced to attend regular meetings. There are no penalties for non-attendance, other than at the ballot box and through the irritation of their colleagues. Absentee legislators don’t even need an excuse. Roll calls before legislative meetings, “Nineteen present, four absent,” are the only official notice of no-shows. Bottom line is that the Laws and Rules Committee can’t force legislators to do their jobs, only make it embarrassing for them not to.

No show by Gallo

“Shameful!” said an observer. “Sufferin’ succotash,” said Sylvester the cat. “Wow!” said staff photographer Phyllis McCabe, on hand to record the non-event for posterity.

All this because Mayor Shayne Gallo was a no-show at the annual Kingston mayor’s address?

And more. Or less.

The 1994 city charter specifically requires the mayor to deliver an annual message to the Common Council in the first month of the fiscal year — but not necessarily in person — on the state of the city and his legislative agenda for the year. Since this freshman/sophomore council has on average about a year’s experience, most probably don’t realize that this is the first time in at least recent history that a mayor has failed to deliver a mayor’s message.

A “so what?” from residents is to be expected. Less so the comment from Alderman Brian Seche, a Gallo ally — “it’s just another speech.”

That these annual addresses tend to be predictable, pedantic, partisan, too, and in written version, all too often boring is a matter of record. But that doesn’t mean they should be blown off, especially when they’re required by law.

It’s hard to get into the mayor’s head about these things. He doesn’t communicate well and tends to sulk before lashing out. These days he isn’t talking to our reporters, so we have only hints of his motives.

Here’s a theory: By blowing off the mayor’s message, the mayor was pointedly and deliberately telling the Common Council, the duly elected legislative branch of the city, to go fish. By doing so he was sending the same message to their constituents, which collectively are his, too.

Why any politician planning on a second term (like Gallo) would do something that senseless remains a head-scratcher.

As for the aldermen, they can either act like adults or — God help us all — act like the mayor.

Mercedes Mike

As winter grudgingly turns to spring –— perhaps those red breasts we spot on early-bird robins is from frostbite — can speculation about the near-term prospects of leading local politicians be far behind? Odds are we’ll get back most of the same characters, but some might at least float their names out there.

County Executive Mike Hein is again getting “mentioned” for lieutenant governor. He might even be a name on somebody’s short list. He’s been to this dance before. Indeed, he may have orchestrated it.

In 2010, Hein had been in office for just over a year when buzz about lieutenant governor and this new guy from Ulster briefly flared. The nod went to then-Rochester mayor Bob Duffy, who has yet to commit to a second term running with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Neither has Cuomo, who says he won’t “talk politics” until the June party conventions, committed to Duffy. Naturally, this leads to speculation about Number Two on a Democratic ticket all but certain of re-election in November.

Hein, having relentlessly promoted himself as state-grade timber, modestly declines to enter into these discussions. He loves his job as executive, he says. Still, the sense that this political opportunist would love to be lieutenant governor persists.

It’s a little-known fact that the executive, by statute, already has a hand-picked successor should the office fall vacant. But nobody really expects that man, the thoroughly unpolitical Commissioner of Finance Burt Gulnick, to run for anything.

For the usual suspects, we turn to the executive inner sanctum, the unholy trinity, as it were, of County Attorney Bea Havranek, Chief of Staff Adele Reiter and Deputy Executive Ken Crannell. Collectively, this threesome represents the mouthpiece, the enforcer and the executioner, the very heart of the administration, all of them keepers of the secrets.

Havranek, who can turn on the charm when necessary, is a former Rosendale town supervisor. Crannell was recruited from Nassau County. Reiter came in with the furniture, and the executive goes nowhere without her. Edge: Havranek.

That said, I don’t think Hein is any closer to Cuomo’s inner circle than he was in 2010. A-type personalities like the governor and the executive can only clash. Hein, unlike the invisible Duffy, is nobody’s second banana.

There is of course the remote possibility of Cuomo securing the Democratic nomination for president in two years, but then there’s somebody named Hillary and a guy named Joe to contend with. I’m rooting for the hometown boy, as I’m sure are more than a few department heads and laid-off county workers. After five years of Hein as county executive, here’s hoping somebody buys him a Mercedes-Benz for that one-way trip to Albany. I’d be happy to pay the Thruway fare.

Emergency communications

Some say momentum is shifting on the drive to upgrade the county’s 20-year-old antiquated e-911 emergency communications system. Indications are that it already has.

Two years ago the county firefighters’ association put out a questionnaire asking whether members were prepared to pay (about a quarter) of the upgrade cost, computed at some $27 million at the time. Forty-one percent of 51 companies (including the city) said no, and a similar proportion had no response. A new survey taken late last year found 65 percent in favor.

What changed? For one thing, the price tag, now figured at $16 million plus interest, with the locals picking up $4 million of that.

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