Our Ulster County Legislature is going to vote on April 18 on Resolution 91 to ban memorializing resolutions as a part of its legislative agenda. This is a sad decision for our local democracy and will have the effect of stifling communities and individuals from expressing their values and needs as a collective. This collective voice is the foundation and precursor to the creation of new and better laws that will have an effect on all our citizens.
A memorializing resolution is a non-binding statement that municipalities or groups come together to create about something that matters to their quality of life or to a value they hold in common. It is a statement of intent or value that is not a law but a way, especially when done in concert with other municipalities, of creating a vision. These resolutions let other bodies of government know where a community stands on issues such as the environment, healthcare or civil liberties. Sometimes, if enough communities make the same resolution, it has a direct effect on state, county or local policy making.
One notable example of the power of memorializing resolutions to exert influence can be seen in the number of communities who made resolutions against fracking which ultimately factored into the decision of our governor to ban fracking in New York State. While we can make calls to our elected officials as individuals, the power of a collective voice can be more impactful and more expedient when trying to convey important points of view.
Some members of our legislature have decided that memorializing resolutions take too much time to debate and therefore should be eliminated. Chairman Ronk claims that a letter from a legislator is a sufficient replacement. He also claims that citizens can get up in front of the legislature and make a statement on what they want and that three-minute statement would be just as powerful. But once a citizen speaks (or even has the courage or wherewithal to speak) that is the end of that particular voice. The governor will never hear that speech whereas a passed memorializing resolution is newsworthy because it is the voice of many and is brought before the public for continued input before the vote takes place.
I feel a deep concern that some of our elected legislators, given their oath to serve our best interests, have fallen into an insular and narrow path with the creation of this ban. I would like to argue that all democratic processes take up time and if a memorializing resolution is one of the tools that legislators can use to speak on behalf of the public, what would the next tool that takes up too much time be? I also feel that the Ulster County Legislature has the possibility of setting the tone for the smaller towns, cities and villages county-wide. Is limiting public input and discouraging mutual cooperation between legislators and the citizens the best way to go? These are uncertain times in our democracy as it is. Do we really need, here in Ulster County, to put a tragic limit on the direct and personal wants, needs and desires of our citizens?
I say to our Legislature, vote no to Resolution 91. Vote for your constituents to be more empowered; not further hobbled.