Tonight the Chemung County Budget Committee considered a measure to allow Ray Schlather, a very well respected litigator with vast municipal law experience, to represent the Legislature for free in a proceeding involving an attempt by County Executive Chris Moss to fire the Legislature’s Attorney.
Last Thursday the Personnel Committee voted unanimously to bring an Article 78 proceeding that would allow a judge to decide whether (1) the County Executive has the power to unilaterally veto a Resolution; and (2) the Legislature has the power to appoint its own lawyer.
At the meeting Chairperson David Manchester agreed the decision of which lawyer to hire lay with him in an exchange beginning at 28:35:
The Full Legislature voted last Thursday to go forward with litigation by a vote of 13-1.
The Minutes of the Personnel Committee reveal several members of the Legislature agree time is of the essence on this matter:
Similarly, Rodney Strange, the Legislature’s Majority Leader, commented to the Star Gazette that this issue needs immediate attention:
Moreover, despite a Resolution unanimously passed on Thursday to ordering all county officials and employees to refrain from interfering with our attorney’s ability to do his job, his email account was disconnected the next day.
However, ahead of tonight’s meeting the 12 Republican members of the Legislature held a caucus where I believe this matter was discussed. When the vote on whether to hire Attorney Schlather came up, Legislator Rodney Strange made a motion seconded by Legislator Mark Margeson to table the vote, a procedural move that barred any discussion on the record. Thankfully Legislator Bill McCarthy had the willingness to bring the issue up in Old Business where a very limited discussion ensued starting at 56:12.
This is a disappointing approach to a very serious matter. At a minimum, the reasons why the matter was being tabled should have been placed on the record so that the public – not to mention members of the Legislature who are not a part of the Republican caucus – could understand why a delay is being sought.
If the Committee feels it is able to negotiate a good result, or if it is dissatisfied with the selection of Attorney Schlather, it should simply communicate that information. However, voting to table with nothing more restricts both the public and members of the Legislature from understanding what is going on, something that flies in the face of transparency.
The bottom line is that the separation of powers within County Government and the authority of the Legislature to act has been impugned, and tonight the Legislature decided to simply stand by and watch what happens. As I have stated in other posts, this dispute is not one I or most other legislators want, but it unfortunately landed squarely in our laps. We are going to have find a way to deal with it.