Question: When is a minority not a minority?
Answer: When it becomes a majority.
Adele Reiter has been chosen to serve as Ulster County comptroller until the end of 2019. The former interim county executive was selected by a 16-6 vote by the Ulster County Legislature at a meeting at the community college in Stone Ridge Tuesday evening.
“I have no doubt she will excel in the position that we have appointed her to this evening,” said GOP leader Ken Ronk in a press statement released under his name. “The bipartisan nature of the vote is heartening because it befits Adele’s history of working with any and all parties to serve the residents and taxpayers of Ulster County.”
Reiter has said she will not seek the office’s new term in the November 5 election. The office was vacated when incumbent Democrat Elliott Auerbach recently accepted a state job.
Two Democrats, March Gallagher and Lisa Cutten, have announced their intention to seek the four-year county comptroller’s position in November. The minority Republicans have not announced a candidate.
Given the razor-thin Democratic makeup of the county legislature, Ronk was alert to opportunity. With the switch in allegiance of legislator Joe Maloney of Saugerties from the Republicans to the Democrats late last year, Ronk had had to surrender the chairmanship of the legislature in January to Tracey Bartels. Since then, the opportunities for Ronk to be kingmaker or queenmaker have been limited. Auerbach’s resignation gave him the chance to exert influence in a very creative way.
Adele Reiter, who served as chief deputy county executive under Michael Hein before he moved on to a commissionership in the Cuomo administration, is widely respected on both sides of the political aisle, even with those who don’t see eye to eye with her on matters of policy. According to Ronk, he had asked Reiter whether she’d be interested in serving out the last half-year of Auerbach’s term. She said she was. The eleven Republicans lined up behind Democrat Reiter. Several Democratic legislators, notably majority whip Lynn Eckert of Kingston and legislator Kathy Nolan of Shandaken, also indicated their support for her. In the end, five Democrats joined the Republicans to support Reiter.
The majority of the Democrats, however, were furious. How could Reiter audit a county government of which she had a week before been a senior manager? Wasn’t that a conflict of interest? Legislator Dave Donaldson secured a long letter from the Association of Local Government Auditors saying that government auditing standards “discouraged” appointing people who would perform audit work on matters for which they had previously been responsible. The independence of the audit function would be brought into question by such an appointment.
At the Laws and Rules Committee meeting in Kingston the previous evening, Reiter supporter Nolan defended her view. The standards discouraged but didn’t prohibit Reiter’s appointment, she said. A comptroller is more than an auditor. And Reiter had an unquestioned reputation for integrity.
The other Democrats present, who supported either Reif Kanan or Evan Gallo for the appointment, were unanimous in their view that a Reiter appointment would raise insurmountable conflicts of interest. They castigated the absence of the Republican committee members, Ronk and Kevin Roberts, for their absence at the meeting. If the legislature was to run on a system of committee review, why weren’t the Republicans in the committee there to talk things out?
The answer is simple. Ronk had the votes to get Reiter appointed. He had nothing to gain from getting into an argument about the appointment.