The Ulster County legislature returned to live action last week after 17 months of Zoom, but with something of a surprise. County executive Pat Ryan welcomed back legislators, in person, with news that his office would be taking $24 million for its own programs of the $34.5 million the federal government has approved for county Covid-19 relief. That’s quite a bite, just about 70 cents on the dollar.
Recall that about six weeks ago Ryan appointed something called “The Ulster County Recovery and Resilience Working Group” to solicit public opinion on priorities for the Covid funding and to report their findings.
Apparently, the only “working group” that matters at all in this government is the gaggle of sixth floor insiders who regularly advise the executive. Or, the hard-charging Ryan just couldn’t wait for the survey group he named to carry out the duties he assigned.
At the other end of the funnel, local officials still have no clear idea from the feds on exactly how much funding will be available, when they can get their hands on it and how they can spend it.
Ryan, in his grab bag of self-defined priorities, suggested $6 million each for local “small business” recovery, $6 million for infrastructure, $5 million for mental health, $4 million for affordable housing and $3 million for not-for-profits.
Legislature Chairman Dave Donaldson, choking back a WTF, and careful not to offend the executive, advised Ryan’s agenda wasn’t “written in concrete” (he probably meant stone) and that it represented only “general ideas.” Perhaps, but Ryan did manage to hit most of the predictable hot buttons.
Republican Minority Leader Ken Ronk, a former chairman, made the most noise among stunned legislators. Ronk, an appointee to the working group, said even he didn’t see the Ryan Express rolling over the legislature.
What to make of this. Ryan, as noted, is a man in a hurry, but to where? And why the rush? A working group appointed by Ryan would almost certainly have recommended most of the areas for funding he laid out in advance.
Having gotten their marching orders from the executive, the legislature has two choices: roll over and beg for more crumbs or at least some meaningful input, or develop some spine and push back. I would not bet on the latter.
FRIENDS OF FELONS – I’ll confess I didn’t notice when former executive Mike Hein issued an executive order back in 2014 that prohibited county officials from asking about criminal records of persons who applied for county jobs.
Ex-O’s, all the rage these days, carry the full force of law unless rescinded by a successive executive or codified into law by the legislature. Ryan apparently didn’t notice it either, even after more than two years in office. It was left to the legislature which, without comment and by unanimous vote, adopted the policy. Given that nobody voted against it, the assumption is the executive will sign off.
Ulster County has some experience in this area. Back around the time Hein may have been considering his executive order, it was discovered that a county employee named Rick Fischler had been convicted of bank robbery in Sullivan County before being hired by the county to manage a multi-million southern Ulster environmental management program.
Former legislature chairman Rich Gerentine defended the appointment. “He paid his debt to society,” said the now retired Gerentine.
I get that. People who have been convicted of non-violent crimes and who have returned to society as law-abiding citizens, should be afforded a second chance. I’m less enthused about their working on the county dime, however.
There’s another twist to this tale. According to published reports, while county officials can’t ask questions of applicants during the initial interview, they can check his or her record if they are being considered for jobs. In terms of procedure, this represents an obvious waste of time for both applicants and interviewers.
So, what is it? Are we a second chance county? Call it a blind-eye policy, or when we find out the applicant had actually served hard time, we pull the plug?
I’d like to see county legislators explain that one when they go door to door asking for votes next fall.
PRIMARY APATHY – Given that about 85 percent of their own party members probably won’t vote in Tuesday’s primary, we’ll keep this brief.
There are five Democratic primaries for local offices around the county and a pair of Working Families contests in hot-bed Saugerties.
The contest for county legislature in Saugerties features more losers than winners Chris Allen and John Schoonmaker both lost in 2017, while Joe Maloney got out before the hounds caught up with him. One thing is certain: whoever loses will be back in two years for another try.
Donaldson hasn’t had a real challenge of any kind during his 14 elections but is running like a scalded cat against nothing more than an idle threat in newcomer Phillip Erner. Other legislators watch these “district” elections more closely than some might appreciate. If the chairman of the legislature is being challenged, they surmise, might he have feet of clay? And if so, might they have second thoughts about reelecting him chairman again in December, even if he wins the primary? Look what happened to Churchill after the war.
In Marbletown, Democrats will choose between two-term supervisor Rich Parete – or is it three terms? Times goes by so fast. – against Jake Sherman. Parete has a talent for wiggling out of tight spots. In a solidly Democratic town, he can lose that party’s vote, but still prevail in the general with the handful of Democrats who support him, and the Republican nomination.
I was a bit surprised to see Rochester supervisor Mike Baden challenged by anybody after almost four productive years in the front office. But, there’s lots of new people moving into southern Ulster, and Baden, a good ‘ol country conservative, might not light up newly-arrived liberals from points south. With only a few hundred votes in play, an upset could be possible.
Should he lose (narrowly), Baden might just do a Parete, which is to say plight his troth with receptive Republicans and soldier on to November.
AND FINALLY, I don’t often challenge Ulster Town Supervisor Jim Quigley in debate, though I try to question him carefully. The big fellow is a lot smarter than your average scribe and usually has reams of stats to back up any position.
But I think I got under his skin last week on of all things, a traffic item.
It seems in its Wild West suburban sprawl days, the town of Ulster would embrace any developer, any time, anywhere and damn the traffic consequences.
Two weeks ago, it was reported in the papers that state DOT had agreed to consider an Ulster study of a high impact intersection (at the carwash at the end of Albany Avenue) after almost 70 accidents in a couple of years’ times.
“Seventy (actually, officially, 68)?” I asked the supervisor, unique among most of his peers for having his finger firmly on the town’s pulse. “What’s the threshold, 40 in a year, 50, 70 in two years?”
“It takes statistics to appeal to the state,” he said with just a hint of you dumb SOB in his voice. “It takes time to compile and analyze statistics. You have to have the data.”
We ended on a more friendly note, agreeing it was fortunate nobody was seriously hurt. But, oh, the property damage, the road rage, the traffic jams at one of the busier intersections in the county.
Given the glacial pace of state DOT, we can probably expect plenty more fists and fingers in the air before this one gets fixed.