At the Ulster County Legislature’s Oct. 15 meeting, County Legislator Kathy Nolan submitted a resolution that would formally “censure,” or publicly admonish, Legislator Hector Rodriguez of New Paltz for violating the county’s sexual harassment prevention policy, but the body declined to take a vote on it.
Nolan said that she submitted the measure to the legislature before the deadline to get the item on the docket for the body’s next meeting “in order to let the women who brought these complaints know that we will take action, not just take a pledge that we will take action.”
“We had been talking about what mechanisms we would use to address Legislator Rodriguez’s conduct and this was a way of doing something concrete last night,” she said.
County Executive Pat Ryan and Legislature Chair Tracey Bartels have issued press releases condemning Rodriguez’s actions. A county-commissioned report stated that an investigation by an Albany law firm found the longtime New Paltz legislator was likely guilty of sexually harassing women and other misconduct.
The Ulster County Democrats, the New Paltz Democratic Committee, the Village of New Paltz trustees and the town council of New Paltz have called for Rodriguez’s resignation; so far, Rodriguez, who isn’t running for re-election, has refused to step down. His term ends on Dec. 31.
Legislature Minority Leader Ken Ronk of Shawangunk called for the investigation soon after initial allegations were made in February of this year. He said in an interview on Wednesday, however, that many legislators wanted to see a copy of the full report before they made a decision to censure.
“I didn’t support moving forward with a spur of the moment censure on the floor last night. We have not been provided any documentation,” said Ronk. “The only documentation any of us have seen is what was posted on [a local newspaper’s] website, which I have no way to authenticate because it was not provided to me as a legislator.”
Bartels removed Rodriguez from his two committee assignments on the Laws and Rules and Ways and Means committees. She noted that Rodriguez’s censure would not be determined at the beginning of the body’s Oct. 15 meeting, but some public commenters at Tuesday’s meeting called for more immediate action.
“I’m here to ask this body how am I supposed to explain to them that this body will not speak up against sexual harassment,” said Melissa Servant, a Wallkill High School math teacher. “Those of us who are survivors, we have given up our live to deal with the shame that we have had to deal with. Again, I ask, why is this body not giving me something to hold onto when I go back and I look at my students in Wallkill and they ask me who’s protecting them, who is telling them that this behavior is not right. I ask you to please censure Hector Rodriguez.”
“We’ve become accustomed to sexual harassment,” said Tanya Garment of Kingston. “I’m the mother of a teen and … they are appalled when they hear our responses to sexual harassment in the workplace. Most of us grown-ups have become so accustomed to it, that we don’t realize that we have the opportunity to stop it now. We have a whole generation that [is ready to stop putting up with it]. This is not acceptable. We need to say it and only then can we really do it.”
Nolan said the legislature could come together in a “Committee of the Whole” to make a determination on the censure before its next meeting.
Rodriguez was not present at the Oct. 15 meeting.