KINGSTON – Only two elected officials commented on Tuesday evening, July 24, during a public hearing on the Ulster County Revision Commission's proposed changes to the County Charter, despite lingering questions regarding contrasting changes proposed by a legislative committee, and whether, as some legislators charged, the commission was even still empaneled to act.
A notice of the public hearing, listed on the county's website under Legislative Calendar and written on the white board outside the legislative chambers, stated that the hearing was "listed for administrative purposes," but, "in no way serves as recognition or confirmation that said Commission exists or does not exist."
At issue was Legislative Chair Terry Bernardo's determination that the Commission had issued its final report and was no longer a legitimate entity. Commission members contend that the report they issued was only preliminary and that they are still, in fact, empaneled to complete their charge.
On Monday, July 23, Ulster County Attorney Bea Havranek prepared an opinion defending the legitimacy of the commission, saying that it "had not yet rendered its report to the Legislature and County Executive and has until September 8, 2012 to do so."
During Tuesday's public hearing, Ulster County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach urged the Commission to revisit two issues pertaining to his office, and asked that his office be granted a voting seat on the proposed Audit Committee, and that the Commission allow for a line of succession similar to that provided for the county executive.
The second speaker, Legislator Jeanette Provenzano, D-Kingston, asked the Commission to amend the charter to require the chair of the Legislature to notify fellow lawmakers when reclassifying legislative employees. The request follows a string of controversial staffing changes made by Bernardo since she assumed office in January.
The public hearing was held in anticipation of a vote by the Commission on whether to put their proposed changes to the charter on the November ballot. An Aug. 16 meeting to vote on the proposed changes to Article II, which details the powers and duties of the Legislature, and Article III, which delineates the powers and duties of the executive, was scheduled following the hearing.
The legislative committee proposed 17 changes to the County Charter, some standing in stark contrast to those recommended by the 11-member Charter Revision Commission, while others look to change the original charter language.
Among the changes proposed by the committee are to drop a provision that would give the county executive subpoena power; reinstate a requirement that an acting county executive must be approved by the Legislature; allow any three members of the Intermunicipal Collaboration Council to call a meeting, rather than just the county executive; delete original Charter language providing that members of the Board of Ethics serve at the pleasure of the executive and replace it with appointees named by the executive and confirmed by the legislature; and, perhaps most significantly, empower the legislature to have final approval of the decennial redistricting plan.
Charter Revision Commission Chair Cynthia Lowe said "it would be criminal" to take the authority to adopt a redistricting plan away from a Charter-mandated independent redistricting commission.
Lowe also served as a member of the redistricting commission that created the current map of legislative districts — a commission that she said served as "a poster child" for non-partisan redistricting throughout the state.