LAWMAKERS SAY “WE’RE HERE TO STAY:” Legislature approves changes to county charter, excludes term limits language

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

NEW CITY – The Rockland County Legislature held a public hearing and vote on the Rockland County Charter on July 2, approving a number of changes to improve the budget process, transparency, fiscal oversight, checks and balances and gender neutral language.

However, changes to allow term limits, which have seen support from the County Executive and others in the general public, were not included in the final draft.

The legislature voted almost unanimously in favor of the changes. The changes included moving the deadline for the county executive’s budget proposal to October 1, a new power for the county executive to appoint people to temporary positions for up to 75 days or more pending legislative approval and a decrease in the amount of time the county executive has to approve or veto a bill to 21 days.

Also included is the creation of a Deputy County Executive and Legislative Vice-Chairperson to serve in the event of a vacancy in either branch, alterations to clarify and streamline the appointment process, a requirement that all full-time department heads devote their “full working time” to their office and updates to include gender neutral language.

The budget is the product of two years of closed door meetings, open discussion in committees, and extensive collaboration between the Legislature and County Executive’s office. According to Legislative Chairman Alden Wolfe, the collaboration produced a “tremendous amount of operational perspective” which he said improved the prospect of effective change.

“What it includes are the areas of agreement between the two branches of government,” Wolfe said.

Some items, such as the adoption of a default budget in the event that a county executive’s budget is voted down, did not survive the negotiations. Initially, this change was a centerpiece of the Legislative effort, but given the county is paying down its deficit bond with the oversight of the NYS Comptroller’s Office, the Office advised against this change.

Also conspicuously absent were term limits, a measure supported by County Executive Ed Day and at least a few legislators. Wolfe explained that though the term limits were discussed during negotiations, they were eventually excluded from the draft resolution passed on Tuesday.

Supportive legislators suggested term limits would reflect favorably on the body. Legislator Joe Meyers voiced his support for term limits as a way to galvanize Rocklanders and boost their faith in a legislative body which has faced increased public scrutiny in recent years.

“Term limits, which I favor, would inspire the community,” Meyers stated. “It just reflects badly on the body that we couldn’t do anything bolder after all these internal deliberations over a long period of time.”

Legislator Frank Sparaco expressed a different perspective, arguing many legislators supported term limits because they mistakenly believed it would alter Rockland’s political landscape and give an edge to Republican candidates. According to him, he had the same mistaken idea when he took office, but realized later that changes in campaigning and policy messages were more effective.

“What I didn’t realize is term limits aren’t going to do anything,” Sparaco said. “You’re just going to replace one Democrat with another.”

Sparaco clarifiied that he would vote for term limits because he felt it was what his constituents wanted, but questioned whether they would have a real impact.

The few members of the public who spoke during the public hearing seemed divided on the matter. Lon Hofstein, a candidate for the District 5 legislative seat previously occupied by Ed Day and currently taken by Democratic Legislator Barry Kantrowitz, argued term limits were an effective way to prevent stagnant and even corrupt decision-making by introducing fresh perspectives into the legislature.

“There are some who seek to serve the people, yet they seek election to serve themselves,” Hofstein said. “I believe term limits will reduce the perception of politics as usual.”

On the other hand, Joseph Coe argued term limits were unnecessary and possibly constrictive, forcing voters to discount a desired choice and further reducing civic engagement as a consequence. Legislator Ilan Schoenberger went a step further, arguing that though term limits for legislators were unnecessary due to high turnover, term limits on the County Executive were reasonable and lauded Day for promising to limit his time in office.

Schoenberger added that the resolution was not final and negotiations could include last minute changes such as term limits. “It’s a give and take process and this is the final product,” Schoenberger said.

The sole vote against the resolution came from Legislator Douglas Jobson. Jobson argued the resolution addressed only minor items and could have been greatly improved by bigger changes. The resolution is now headed to the County Executive. If approved, it will be decided upon by voters in a November referendum.