June 8, 2023

“Let me let you know, you’re not going to cease me from bringing folks collectively in a room.”
— Ulster County comptroller
March Gallagher, laughing

Tracey Bartels

Tracey Bartels appeared earlier than the Constitution Revision Fee on Might 4. The chair of the county legislature had introduced together with her 35 solutions masking an assortment of matters for the commissioners to think about.

Gathered across the assembly desk, the fee listened to Bartels happening her record. They requested her questions.

Bartels stated she wished to tidy up redundancies and trim again any wild development within the well-ordered legislative backyard that will have sprung up over the eleven years because the final county constitution revision fee. Departmental overreach, referred to in navy circles as mission creep, describes the unchecked growth of a sphere of affect by one municipal workplace over one other. 

Bartels echoed the emphasis famously elucidated by the Frenchman philosophe baron Montesquieu, whose trias politica mannequin of presidency sought to make sure that no single department of presidency would change into too highly effective to regulate. 

An apt native illustration of departmental scope improperly elevated, based on Bartels, was county comptroller March Gallagher’s Residents’ Fee for Digital Inclusion (CCDI). 

“It’s so humorous,” stated Bartels. “Of all of the issues I proposed to the constitution revision, it looks as if this one’s hitting a nerve.”

The CCDI was a hit, however …

Might 4 marked the one-year anniversary of the CCDI’s distribution of a map of present cable-fiber broadband protection within the county. Its goal was to encourage public remark and to assist the fee establish areas of the county missing entry to broadband cable and mobile service.

Working underneath a swiftly approaching deadline and with billions of {dollars} in state and federal assist obtainable to broaden broadband entry to underserved communities, the CCDI had filed a bulk problem with the FCC on the county’s behalf. It had additionally assisted residents to file their very own challenges, earlier than the January 13, 2023 deadline. 

By each metric the comptroller’s fee has been a hit. And this Bartels concedes. 

“However let’s break down what the comptroller’s workplace is definitely charged with doing,” stated Bartels. “Getting ready an annual audit and danger evaluation. Procuring from the depositories the funds and cash coming into the possession of the regulation a minimum of month-to-month, auditing data of appropriations and encumbrances, basic accounting strategies, certifying availability of funds, prescribing the type of data of appropriation. I’m doing this as an train, simply to point out you ways excessive that is.”

Bartels learn down the dry record of duties charged to the comptroller, ending with the quarterly report on the monetary situation of the county. 

“There’s nothing in there that I consider you would want a citizen fee, committee, or board to cope with,” argued Bartels. “As a result of what does broadband need to do with any of these issues? I believe it’s exterior the scope of what she’s truly charged with doing. Now, I didn’t simply spring it on the comptroller. I did name her and speak to her about it. We’re each professionals. It’s not private. Nevertheless it’s secure to say we completely disagree.”

The subpoena energy

March Gallagher

Certainly, comptroller March Gallagher does disagree. 

“We’ve a service fee underneath that provision,” she stated. “It’s straight aligned with our duty as a result of it has been gathering and sharing info that’s broadband protection info, which is a vital a part of the economic system of Ulster County. And now we’re set as much as hopefully be ready to have the ability to draw down extra funds for broadband when it comes out later this 12 months.” 

The ability for each the county government and county comptroller to create citizen commissions was vested in these places of work by the suggestions of the Constitution Revision Fee go-round eleven years in the past.

Bartels was there as a legislator.

“I recall sitting within the assembly the place the chief workplace and the comptroller’s workplace pushed for similar language [in the charter] because the legislature,” stated Bartels. “Mike Hein desperately wished subpoena energy. Elliot Auerbach, wished the identical language. We pushed again on the chief’s request.”

Historically, the legislature is the appropriating physique and policymaking physique, the chief department is the place the comptroller matches into, is the executive physique. Within the constitution, the facility of subpoena and the facility to convene commissions to check a topic had been vested within the legislature

The fee went together with the chief’s suggestion. Bartels recalled that the facility to convene commissions together with the facility of subpoena appeared nearly like an afterthought. “The argument I’m listening to, together with from one other legislator,” acknowledged Bartels, “is that no person noticed any hurt in it on the time, together with me. Everybody noticed the worth of the subpoenas, as a result of it’s so straight associated and it was only a few phrases in a bigger paragraph.”

Residents’ commissions can manifest themselves as benignly as commemorating the 250th anniversary of the Revolutionary Conflict or memorializing those that handed away through the Covid pandemic. However they will additionally create confusion, as when former county government Pat Ryan convened the Ulster County Justice and Reform Fee in March 2022 alongside the legislature’s pre-existing Felony Justice Reform Job Drive.

Whereas Ryan’s fee involved itself with ending mass incarceration and scrutinizing police oversight, accountability and group relationships, the legislature’s fee had been assigned the duty of inspecting the long-term impacts of current state bail and discovery reform. In competing for public consideration, the 2 commissions blended collectively to such a level within the public consciousness that even the legislators had hassle recalling which was which or which fee they served on.

That they interact county residents and produce consideration to a trigger is the laudable characteristic of commissions. This Bartels acknowledges. However she notes that very same populist skill to seize and channel public enthusiasm also can serve extra off-color motivations.

“A residents’ fee can change into extremely politicized,” defined Bartels. “If somebody didn’t like a coverage that the legislature’s already handed, they might put collectively a fee to research it in an effort to overturn it.”

Learn how to make adjustments

Fawn Tantillo, member of the Constitution Revision Fee, longtime public servant and an ex-legislator, is acquainted with either side of the argument.

“March is doing an amazing job,” stated Tantillo. “The legislature proper now could be doing an amazing job. They’re all good folks doing good issues. However now we have to understand that we could not all the time have these good folks with good intentions in these positions. The constitution must be written in a method which can’t solely give them the instruments they should do the most effective job they will. However we additionally want to concentrate on how these instruments may be misused and be sure that we don’t set them up for use inappropriately.”

Gallagher stays nonplussed with what she sees as a curtailment of a central pillar of the comptroller’s workplace.

“It’s not simply my workplace,” stated Gallagher. “She’s attempting to curtail the chief’s, too. My understanding of her place is that she simply needs it to be a legislative perform. Properly okay, you had the facility to make use of it and also you didn’t even use it. You recognize, it’s unlucky that the chairwoman hasn’t convened any commissions throughout her time as chairwoman of the legislature as a result of I can consider a lot of issues that may be helped by citizen enter. It will have been good to have a comptroller who had that authority through the Ulster County Jail overrun. Which is the entire cause now we have a constitution type of authorities.”

Bartels sought to depersonalize the problem.

“You recognize, I really feel like when somebody’s speaking concerning the constitution,” stated Bartels, “it may’t be about me because the chair and Jen Metzger as the chief and March Gallagher because the comptroller. When you think about adjustments, you’re not speaking about particular person officeholders. It needs to be concerning the places of work..We’ll see the way it shakes out. I simply hope that individuals can take away the emotion from the narrative.”

The put up Ulster County Legislature chair Tracey Bartels recommends curbing comptroller’s energy to convene commissions  first appeared on Hudson Valley One.