The County Executive’s Corner: Charter Reform: Hopes Dashed

Ed DayBy Rockland County Executive Ed Day

This week, I vetoed legislation I had hoped would make this organization more responsive to our residents. The plan was to reform Rockland County’s 30-year-old charter.

The current County charter, which acts as a blueprint for Rockland’s system of government, was adopted in 1984 and was originally designed to diffuse power among the County Executive and the Legislature. There is broad agreement that the 25-page charter needs to be updated, streamlined, made simpler and more flexible, allowing changes to reflect our changing county. Unfortunately, agreement on those specific changes has been elusive.

As passed by the Legislature, the resolution to revise the charter is a bad bill for the people of Rockland County. Substantive changes were promised by Legislative Leadership, but the final product remains weak on ethical standards and comprehensive oversight. As I made clear, I would not approve this local law without term limits, an enhanced “two hat” rule or special elections for legislative vacancies.

Additionally, the process to revise the charter was significantly flawed, with separate versions of the bill being considered on a rushed timetable. While constructive dialogue produced agreement on Legislative-submitted proposals, a similar collaboration did not extend to the key issues raised for consideration by my Executive Staff.

While the measure does include some meaningful reform to the budget process and a provision for the appointment of a Deputy County Executive, the compelling issues facing government were fully ignored by the Legislative Leadership. If we are to open the charter for improvements, we must include essential changes sought by the people. Our residents deserve no less.

When the Legislature announced intentions this spring to bring reform to the Rockland County Charter, I envisioned an improved document that would empower our residents to make changes in the way they are governed. Sadly, nearly all of the meaningful reforms I recommended were shot down in discussions and stripped from consideration. Term limits, for example, are all about good government. The notion of a permanent, indispensable governing body is bad for our residents! The people want good government. The question is, “What do our legislators support?”

As County Executive, I stand with all the people of Rockland County. I stand for what is right and what is best and what works to make Rockland better, not a revised county charter with critical changes reduced to little more than weakened gestures. I stand for what will strengthen our communities for years to come, not what serves the short-term political interests of a few.

My Administration is working every day to make county government more efficient and responsive to the public. Unfortunately, the high hopes of those who favored sweeping county reform have been dashed.