Recall, late last month county executive Mike Hein surprised everyone outside the executive suite with a plan to balance the 2012 budget by selling the Golden Hill health care facility for (at least) $8 million. A few days later, Hein issued a press release asking the legislature to hold a special meeting so he could explain the details.
The legislative leaders — chairman Fred Wadnola, majority leader Paul Hansut and minority leader Jeanette Provenzano — dug in their heels. They would not allow the executive to lead them around by the nose and worse, lecture them after the fact.
“It [the special session] can wait until December,” Wadnola huffed.
Two days later, Wadnola announced the legislature would meet in special session on October 25 to hear the executive’s plan. What happened? I asked the chairman.
“I did a poll and the majority wanted it, so I acquiesced,” he said.
More likely, Hein did his poll first.
And didn’t the legislature leadership look, well, a little stupid? I asked.
“Oh, well,” said the chairman. “I’m the servant of the legislature.”
And that’s what passes for legislative leadership these days.
Hein’s plan to sell the infirmary, one of eight options suggested — but not recommended! — by a special legislative study committee last summer will pass. So will Hein’s eight-million-dollar deficit budget, the first of its kind in Ulster County history. What Hein sells next year to balance that budget is anybody’s guess. A really bad precedent has already been set.
It’s all about the votes. Hein has ‘em, leadership doesn’t. Neither side in the legislature can summon the minimum 17 to do anything about Golden Hill. Estimates on Hein’s cache vary, but by most accounts, the executive has at least 19 willing bipartisan volunteers. Legislative leaders can only wish for that kind of clout.
Under Ulster’s strong executive system, the fact is that nothing moves without Hein’s approval. Jobs, contracts with vendors, all the nuts and bolts of a $363-million operation. The legislature has been reduced to making “policy” (a word few can adequately define) and waiting for the executive to act.
Ironically, Golden Hill was one of the few policy issues presented to the legislature — by Hein, naturally. The legislature failed to act so the executive took it upon himself.
The good news is that at least 14 of the current crew of 33 will be gone come January 1. The bad news is that at least 15, perhaps 18, will comprise the new 23-member legislature in 2012.
Suggesting legislative lassitude of a different kind, it took almost two full years to mount the official photograph of former chairman Dave Donaldson in legislative chambers in the county office building. Donaldson (2006-‘09) was only the second Democrat to serve as chairman, Lou Klein (1978-’79) being the other. To the contrary, Republicans jumped the gun, mounting sitting chairman Fred Wadnola — which sounds awkward — next to Donaldson’s mug shot some two months before he leaves office on December 31. Obviously, there are no rules.
Signs of the times
Best political sign I’ve seen so far comes from Alfie Higley, candidate for town board in Shandaken. Alfie, son of former legislator and market owner Al Higley, calls himself “locally grown.”
County exec Hein doesn’t have an opponent, but has authorized billboards strategically located on major roadways around the county. Why? some might ask. Three years ago, riding the coattails of Barack Obama, Hein pulled 45,480 votes. He won’t get there in an off year, especially with no opponent, but 35,000 (a normal turnout in an off-year) would be sweet.
If signs mean anything — and some people think they don’t — newcomer Seth Allen should trounce warhorse Tom Hoffay in the race for alderman in the city’s Second Ward. Allen may be everywhere, but Hoffay enjoys a huge enrollment advantage.
Speaking of the Stockade District, sidewalk superintendents were perplexed this week by trucks from Ossining carrying trees from “Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Tree Planting Program” for Pike-Plan planters. Might Hizzoner be donating trees to boondocks burgs?
Ulster County DA Holley Carnright has been endorsed for reelection by just about every police agency in the county. No surprise there; cops have been endorsing DAs since the days of Wyatt Earp. But what happens when the DA has to prosecute a cop? I offer two names in evidence: Tim and Matthews.
House of cards
I can sympathize with candidates for town office in Saugerties as they wrestle with the many issues surrounding a proposed affordable housing project in Glasco.
Dickinson’s Keep, as it’s called, occupied a goodly portion of the hour or so allowed to incumbent Greg Helsmoortel, non-enrolled but endorsed by Democrats, and Republican challenger Kelly Myers to discuss their platforms at a meet-the-candidates forum on the 17th.
Myers had to impress the sparse gathering at the Greco senior center with her sincerity and concern for the town in which she and her husband are raising two children. Helsmoortel showed a cool, diffident and easy familiarity with the issues that spoke to his experience.
Both lost points, I think, on the volatile Dickenson’s project, currently before the town planning board.
Myers, after repeatedly declaring her commitment to homework on public affairs, nonetheless asserted time and again that building the proposed 42-unit housing project would produce (at least) 28 new students for the Saugerties school system and a $500,000 annual burden on taxpayers. Unfortunately for Myers, this canard, first advanced by an assistant school superintendent, has been thoroughly debunked by the superintendent, and more importantly by common sense. Simply multiplying the number of new students by the average cost of a student ($18,000 each) ignores the rule of incremental costs.
Myers continues to advance a simplistic, misleading argument. Her record on the village board suggests she’s better than that.
Helsmoortel, a pro-development type, took a moment to correct his village-trustee opponent (to no avail). He came down solidly on the side of going forward with the project. While his tenacity may be admirable, he can pretty much write off Glasco.++
Hugh Reynolds’ column appears weekly.