Ulster County legislators expressed surprise — and in some cases anger — Thursday night at a county-financed mailing to voters which some say improperly advocates the relocation of family court from Kingston to the Town of Ulster.
“It didn’t come from us,” said legislature clerk Victoria Fabella of the mailing authorized by County Executive Michael Hein.
“I called the exec as soon as I got it and asked him what he was doing,” said Richard Gerentine of Marlboro, chairman of the legislature’s Ways and Means Committee and a staunch supporter of the relocation of the plan to re-house Family Court in currently vacant space at the Business Resource Center just off of Ulster Avenue. “He said it was only informational. I told him it was inappropriate to use county funds for that purpose and that he should have taken the money out of his campaign fund.”
Deputy County Executive Ken Crannell also said the flyer was “informational,” but said he did not know what it cost or how many were mailed. “The county attorney [Bea Havranek] said it was legal,” he said. He also noted that the legislature had approved the ballot wording.
The 8.5 by 5-inch flyer cost 47 cents to mail, according to a Postal Service clerk on Friday, approximately $28,000 if mailed to all 60,000 households in the county. Addressed to “postal customer,” it carries a “County of Ulster” return address.
The flyer states that the move has been approved by the state Office of Court Administration” and also details why the relocation would be beneficial.
Legislator Dave Donaldson of Kingston, who with fellow lawmaker John Parete tried in vain to get a judge to order the pro-referendum wording of the referendum changed to more neutral verbiage, called the mailing “an outrageous misappropriation of county funds.”
“Inappropriate and maybe illegal,” said Parete. “It inhibits the democratic process.” Parete said he intends to consult the district attorney on the matter.
The 71-word “Proposition Number One” will appear on the back of ballots on Election Day.
Last month, a state Supreme Court justice ruled against Donaldson and Parete who had argued the lengthy wording was an attempt to influence voters — “placing the thumb of government on the scales,” according to Donaldson. Legislator Jennifer Schwartz Berky said ballot propositions that attempted to “lead” voters have been overturned by the courts in other localities.
The legislature by a 9-9 vote upheld the wording last month after voting 18-4 in June to relocate Family Court. By law, to move a court facility outside the county seat must pass a referendum.
After the Ways and Means committee heard a report from legislative consultants on the proposed 2017 county budget proposed by Hein in September, Gerentine allowed Donaldson to address the 10 legislators in attendance on what Donaldson called “the Family Court debacle.” Donaldson charged the Hein administration with deliberately withholding information on costs and choices available to the county, allegations administration spokespersons denied in court.