Does size matter?

Does size matter?

Apparently, it matters in the Ulster County Legislature, now apparently committed to reducing its membership from 23 to 21.

A working majority of fifteen legislators turned out for a public hearing on Tuesday night where two representatives from the League of Women Voters urged caution. League reps weren’t against downsizing, necessarily, they just wondered at the rush. The legislature is expected to vote to place this proposed charter revision on the ballot next year. 

Most understand that what appears to be self-sacrifice on the part of the legislature is really about limiting executive authority. They only met Pat Ryan six months ago and already they’re tugging at his cape?


Here’s how the numbers work. It takes a two-thirds vote by the legislature to override an executive veto. With 23, that comes to 16 votes, a tall order in a legislature almost evenly divided between the majority and minority.  With 21, the magic number would drop to 14.

The history of this veto business bears examination. When a bi-partisan charter commission addressed this subject in 2006, there were 33 legislators running in multi-member districts. The commission quickly settled on single-member districts, but how many? Dutchess County had down-sized from 35 to 25 a few years previous, so something in the mid-20s seemed reasonable.

The rule of thirds then came into play as it was thought that the number of legislators should be evenly divided (by three) to achieve a two-thirds majority. So, they settled on 23.

Why? For one thing, ten represented a round number for voters who would decide the fate of the charter at referendum, to more easily grasp. But the real reason had to do and still does with executive authority. Three, as my granddaughter likes to remind me, does not go evenly into 23, but 23, the closest odd number, requires two more votes to override.

Under the all-powerful former executive Mike Hein, the legislature would not have dared to attempt to limit his authority. But the new guy has yet to be tested.

This is a test. But let us not be deluded into believing it is about self-sacrifice or concern for the taxpayer on the legislature’s part.

As an afterthought, might the legislature offer the public options on legislative size, say choices between 21 (a token 10 percent reduction), 17 or 15? I’d vote for the latter and so would a lot of others.

Through the chair– I’ll get into more detail on this as the plot thickens, but it appears that first-term legislature chairwoman Tracey Bartels of Gardiner will be challenged for reelection when legislators get together to choose leaders for 2020 over the holidays.

It’s not that Bartels has done a lousy job; given the circumstances, working under two different executives’ chaos in Democratic ranks, she’s risen in stature. It’s just what politicians do in tight situations, they politic.

The legislature is again almost evenly divided with Democrats clinging to a 12-11 majority. But that 12th vote to secure the majority could be very much in play. It is an ill wind that blows from Boiceville, which is to ask, will John Parete vote with Democrats who ostracized him or with Republicans who gave him his 21-vote margin over Kathy Nolan?

And it’s not like Parete hasn’t sided with Republicans before – for which he is roundly loathed in Democratic circles. Six years ago, he teamed with GOP members to secure the chairmanship for himself.

Does he hear the trumpets calling again?

“I’m for Dave Donaldson,” he said. “But if Dave doesn’t want it, I’d certainly be interested.”

Parete, who wears an apron at his bar with “Republican Party, Democratic Party and Pizza Party” (the “people’s party,” he says), deplores the current state of politics. To wit: “I know that bipartisanship isn’t popular these days and that’s too bad. But I haven’t changed and I won’t. We’ll see how things work out.”

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