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ON THE TABLE: Reduction of Size of County Legislature
Posted March 5th, 2013

Day runs with Fried’s idea while Schoenberger says they both have it wrong

Democratic county executive candidate David Fried announced yesterday a plan to reduce Rockland County’s legislature from 17 to 11 members. He’s now received support from an unexpected source: fellow county executive candidate Republican Ed Day, a sitting legislator.

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Fried announces his plan Monday at the County Office Building

Day said he is going to introduce the proposal for review in the next session of the legislature.

Fried’s camp did not mind that Day ran with his idea. ”I thank Legislator Day for supporting my plan,” said Fried, a former legislator and recently resigned Spring Valley village justice. “I have sent Mr. Day an e-mail to meet so that I can explain the steps that need to be taken on this important topic and develop a bi-partisan strategy together to approve this measure now. Bi-partisan cooperation will be a constant endeavor of my administration.”

Said Day, “My thinking is if there is a good idea, politics aside, why wait to move it? David can’t…I can. In the long run, the people win.”

Fried’s position is that as a geographically small county with a population of 300,000, Rockland does not need the same number of legislators as much larger and more populous counties. His position is the same as one former Rockland County Legislator Frank Fornario (R-Orangetown) has advocated in the Rockland County Times.

Legislator Day said, “Wherever the source, no matter the party, if I come across a good idea to help the taxpayer, then I will always act on it and pursue it if it is at all feasible, and I will continue to do so. Kudos to Mr. Fried for his independent thinking on this issue.”

Fellow county executive candidate, Legislator Ilan Schoenberger, contends that any such changes cannot be made until 2020 and that there are a few issues the public and the government must consider before reducing the size of the County Legislature. Schoenberger stated, “The reapportionment or restructuring of the Legislature, by law, can only be done once every ten years, co-incidental with the release of the Census. Unfortunately, by law, we are not able to reduce the size of the Legislature until after the 2020 census. While a 30 second sound bite might sound good, there are issues the public should be aware of if the county were to entertain reducing of the size of the Legislature.”

Schoenberger said such a change might threaten minority representation in the body, and could also potentially tilt the balance of power in the county further toward the Town of Ramapo, either of which would be unconstitutional. Schoenberger noted that in census year 2000 he presented plans to reduce the legislature to 15 and it was rejected by his fellow legislators.

Schoenberger also noted that he was around when the legislature was reduced from 21 to 17 representatives and he voted for the reduction then, thus making him the only candidate in the race to vote to reduce the size of the legislature.

Fried denied that the public needs to wait until 2020 and said a referendum can be done now and lines redrawn using 2010 census data. He said that Schoenbgerger does not want to see districting change because he has largely controlled the process, a claim which Schoenberger has denied in the past. Said Fried, “Ilan is afraid of putting this in the hands of the public while I think the public should be allowed to choose their form of representation. Schoenberger is…very involved in the drawing of district lines. That’s what I’m trying to stop. I don’t think a politically motivated candidate who wants to make sure he and others get reelected has any credibility to draw what those lines look like. An independent professional should be drawing those lines.”

Fried noted that as county executive he would veto any plan that threatened minorities or favored any one town. He said in the worst case scenario Rockland could pursue “home rule” legislation to make the change regarding the size of the legislature.

Schoenberger retorted, “For someone who is both a lawyer and a former judge I am shocked by his lack of knowledge for the law. You cannot redistrict only once every 10 years coincidentally to the census. His statement that it can be done now is absolutely incorrect, and common-sense should tell you that, because if it could be changed then havoc could be created. Every time new people were elected they could change it. It shows a complete lack of knowledge of the process.”

He added, “All of his motivation now is clearly political, playing with government for his own political gain.” He also noted that Fried was “nowhere to be found” when redistricting was being done in 2011.

Legislator Day said he looked forward to reviewing the matter and finding out which of his fellow candidates is correct about the law.

(Note–the Rockland County Times will confirm which candidate is correct through its own independent research)

In Rockland each legislator represents approximately 18,335 people. Fried analyzed other county legislative bodies in New York State prompting his decision to see Rockland’s legislature reduced in size. Like Rockland, Westchester County has a 17 member legislature but each Westchester County Legislator represents 37,500 more residents than Rockland Legislators. Nassau County Legislators represent 52,000 more residents than Rockland Legislators and Suffolk County Legislators represent 64,600 more residents than Rockland Legislators.

Fried said if he wins the county exec post he will immediately introduce legislation to eliminate six seats in the Rockland County Legislature. If approved by the Legislature, the measure would be a ballot item in the November 2014 election. If the Legislature doesn’t approve the measure, Fried said he will personally lead an effort as county executive to gather petitions from Rocklanders to bypass the legislature and get this item on the ballot so that the people could decide.

Fried noted upon redistricting, “I will veto any partisan redistricting plan that is presented to me. This is not about Democrats or Republicans; my goal is to protect residents, families, and taxpayers from inefficiency and unnecessary expenditures.”

With a total of 39 legislative districts, Albany County has the largest legislature in New York State.

Cristobal Slobodzian, county executive candidate Dagan Lacorte’s campaign manager, said of Fried’s idea, “A smaller Legislature is a great idea to save $250,000, but Dagan’s plan to reduce the county’s 60 departments, boards, and commissions by 25 percent, is the only way to get Rockland out of the $100 million hole that all of his opponents helped dig.”

[Note - this article was edited to include the information of the David Fried vs. Ilan Schoenberger disagreement on whether it is legal to alter the size of the county legislature between redistricting periods]