It is unfortunate – unbelievable, actually – that another post on the state of relations between the Legislature and County Executive is necessary.
Despite pending litigation regarding the Legislative Attorney position, I have been feeling really good about what is happening within county government. We certainly have a lot of very serious issues, but proactive steps to begin addressing them are being discussed. Indeed, I felt optimistic at our Standing Committee meetings last Monday night as it seemed we were finally focusing all of our time and energy on things that actually matter to the community.
That feeling did not last long, as we have since learned County Executive Moss is attempting to diminish or perhaps even outright eliminate the role of the Deputy Clerk of the Legislature.
The feverish pace of business for Chemung County government that started in January has not shown signs of letting up yet – something that is good for everyone who lives in or cares about our community.
The Opioid Crisis
As most of us know by now, the opioid crisis does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter where you live, what you do for work, how long you went to school or whether you or your family has ever been in trouble with the law. I was reminded of this yet again last week. Watching friends — who are outstanding parents — come to grips with the death of their son was a poignant reminder that this issue must be the headliner of every single issue list. Little else matters if we cannot find ways to better protect our community’s children.
Of course, the big question is what to do about it. I posed this question last week in a Facebook post, and received a myriad of interesting and diverse responses, including these very insightful thoughts from Kathy Reagan, someone I have known for a long time and greatly respect:
Publicize again via tv, newspapers and social media the numbers of opioid deaths in our county and contiguous counties for the past 10 years. Compare to other causes of death.
The drug trade and violence go hand in hand, so both should be addressed together. Ask government leaders, other community stakeholders, and members of the community at large to literally stand unified together and declare “Chemung County drug dealers have no home here”. Like the Elmira shamrock. Make signs available for residents to place outside their homes. Make consequences for drug dealing in our community greater than risk and profit.
Gun buy back.
More police face time in drug infested neighborhoods to establish trust and discourage drug deals. More street cameras focusing on criminals with weapons. Continue to publicize 271-halt for tips.
Explore county/city eligibility for more grants to fight the epidemic due to drugs, violence and poverty in Elmira and Chemung County.
Establish or re-establish a time-limited Chemung County opioid/drug addiction task force. One initial meeting to introduce members and explain goals of the task force, but then main communication with substantive input can take place via email or text within disciplines. Each discipline should agree on best practice recommendations to establish realistic short term and long term goals for our community, and report them to the legislature.
Continue to hold medical professionals and pharmacies legally and criminally accountable for prescription abuse.
Consider overlooking cannabis positive drug tests for more workforce development low risk jobs and apprenticeships.
Continue Drug court as an alternative to jail and highlight those who recover. Addicts do recover every day.
Refer to Star gazette editorial of April 7th re: need for medication assisted recovery for opioids.
Locally, refer to chemungcountyhealth.org for information. There is currently a drug free coalition through the health department that is closed, but with the possibility of opening meetings to the public. Continue to advertise medication drop box locations.
Locally, make AA and NA area schedules more available for the community at large. Trinity, New Dawn or STARS likely have the most recent schedules. Look for open meetings where visitors can attend. For someone reluctant to go alone, a fried or family member can attend with him or her. Establish Alateen again in our community for kids affected by a family members addiction. Publicize area Alanon meetings for friends and family of those addicted.
Brand park pool restoration via Historic Elmira.
Enlist community volunteers for any task.
Additionally, volunteers from the local iMatter chapter reached out to ask me to spread the word that they are working very hard on this issue and would love to have new volunteers get involved.
As a new member of the Legislature, I am still at the very early stages of the learning curve in terms of finding ways to use policy and local legislation to influence matters like this. Please keep the suggestions coming, and I will explore ways the Legislature and county government in general can help out.
Tonight the Chemung County Legislature held its monthly Standing Committee meetings.
Unfortunately, the WiFi connection for the livestream I provide during the meetings was lost just minutes after they began – something I did not realize until the meetings ended.
To that end, please let me know if there is anyone out there interested in assisting in this effort by using my phone to livestream meetings of the Legislature and/or CCIDA as it is not possible for me to pay attention to the livestream after the meetings begin. Ideally this type of help will insure things like a dropped WiFi signal or a sideways view don’t go unnoticed until such time that Chemung County begins providing livestream services itself.
Below is my best recollection of what stood out tonight.
Clerk of the Legislature
Tonight’s meeting started with sad – and frankly startling news – that Linda Palmer, the Legislature’s Clerk for the past 30 years – is retiring due to health problems. Linda began her remarks by stating that she began considering retirement last year in order to spend more time with her family, and the recent onset of medical conditions made it clear to her that retirement is the right choice for now. In just the few short months I have served on the Legislature, it has become obvious how much Linda contributes to county government. She will be greatly missed by everyone.
A lot of great things are afoot in Chemung County right now despite the unfortunate dispute between the County Executive and Legislature. The new building on Water Street, featured above, is nearing completion, construction is well under way on Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine’s campus, and community spirit was outright feverish on St. Patrick’s day when Elmira snagged the Guinness World record for the largest human shamrock from Dublin, Ireland.
I published a blog post two days ago about the Legislative Attorney position, found here, that concluded by stating, “[h]opefully this is the last post I will have to make on this issue, and we can all get back to doing the important and tough work we were elected to do.”
Unfortunately that is not the reality, at least for now.
What I didn’t know when I wrote the post – or when I attended a Legislature meeting on Monday night where the overall sentiment was that we could find ways to work with the Executive branch without wasting time or money on litigation – was that a lawsuit had already been filed back on March 7th and an Order had been signed by a judge on March 8th. To the best of my knowledge none of the legislators knew about the filing or Order until yesterday.
Anyone following Chemung County government over the past few weeks is aware that an unfortunate impasse arose between the Legislative and Executive branches concerning the Legislature’s power to appoint an attorney to handle matters such as researching and drafting resolutions, local laws and other related documents.
The purpose of this post is to succinctly (I did my best!) and clearly set forth the history of the County Charter and legislation surrounding this issue, and update the public on where things stand now.
Chemung County was governed by a Board of Supervisors until 1973 when, through a public referendum, a County Charter was passed creating a Legislature and County Executive as well as several other governmental departments.
One of those departments was called the “Department of Law.” Under the original County Charter, there was just one law department headed by the County Attorney who oversaw all legal functions throughout the county.
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.
Last Thursday the Chemung County Legislature approved a Resolution by a vote of 13-1 authorizing it to bring an action in New York Supreme Court to affirm its right to appoint a Legislative Attorney. The Resolution included the authority to hire outside counsel if necessary.
A copy of the Minutes where this matter was decided is found here, a video of the Committee Meeting where it was thoroughly discussed is found here, and a blog post outlining my thoughts on the legal issues is found here.
The Legislature passed a second Resolution Thursday by a vote of 14-0 affirming its power to appoint an attorney, and, among other things, ordering all Chemung County employees and departments to refrain from engaging in any acts that would interfere with our current attorney’s ability to carry out his duties.
A copy of the Resolution is found here and is embedded below:
At the onset it is important to note that I, and I believe many other members of the Legislature, have no interest in engaging in a dispute like this. Chemung County is facing many serious problems that demand our attention. We cannot afford these types of senseless distractions.
However, the Chemung County Executive is attempting to fire our attorney, a person we unanimously selected to serve as the Legislature’s legal advisor and counsel, and who serves as an employee of our Administrative Department. We offered the County Executive ways to work together to find a way through this but were not given any options. Hopefully we are able to move past this quickly and get back to the important work we were elected to do.
As Chemung County government continues to move ahead with many changes at a rapid pace, it is bound to encounter some bumps. The hope is that these bumps are mild and ultimately push us in an even better direction with the kind of positive momentum everyone wants to see.
An undertaking that seems to be working particularly well so far is the new City-County Committee. The group was formed upon the recommendation of County Executive Chris Moss earlier this month and is co-chaired by County Legislator John Burin and City Councilperson Jim Waters.