The Ulster County Charter has served the people of our community well since it was created in 2006. It has allowed us to usher in an era of government efficiency and responsiveness previously unseen in Ulster County. By design, it made one individual ultimately accountable to the 183,000 citizens of Ulster County and has allowed the continued provision of essential services all while protecting taxpayers.
This has been done during one of the most challenging economic periods in our history. Collectively, we owe a debt of gratitude to the authors of the Charter and previous Legislators who realized the need for change, and embraced it, within a remarkable and functional document. They also wisely recognized something else; the Charter needed to be a living document, subject to review and revision, not only by the Legislature or the Executive, but by the people it serves. The Charter requires that an independent Charter Revision Commission review, and when appropriate, change the Charter. The makeup of this bipartisan commission is 6 members appointed by the Legislature, and 5 appointed by the Executive.
Currently, we are in the midst of the first Charter review; the Commission has met weekly for nine months, reading, analyzing, hearing testimony from government officials, providing everyone an opportunity to be heard and drafting changes. It has held four public hearings during which the members have invited the public's input, listened, and then made revisions as necessary. These eleven highly respected citizens have demonstrated unparalleled commitment and have put forth a tremendous amount of work.
As County Executive, I have, and will always side with the people of Ulster County over the politicians. This is why I feel so strongly about what I see as attempts to corrupt the revision process and undermine the work of the Commission, as well as attempts to undermine the fundamentals of the Charter itself. It has become evident that a small group of Legislators have decided to attempt to nullify the nine months of work of the Commission and draft their own Charter revisions, which they plan to advance instead of the Commission's proposals. These revisions are the end result of a closed door meeting held in violation of the New York State Open Meetings Law, and in stark contrast to the transparency of this Commission. This Commission posted its minutes as well as all proposed changes on the County's website weekly and all of the Commission's meetings were open to the public. This attempt to subvert the process by a small group of Legislators can be interpreted in only one way; as a simple power grab by individuals who long for the bygone times of Legislative control of operations, inefficiency and an era that saw a grossly mismanaged jail project and accountability was non-existent.
Furthermore, as an Ulster County citizen, I am personally appalled that these proposed Legislative Charter revisions, a product of a closed door meeting, were orchestrated by an Orange County attorney in an attempt to undermine the Ulster County Charter.
Undermining the Charter will have dire consequences for future generations. This is why I am committed to signing into law the revisions advanced by this independent, bipartisan Charter Revision Commission in their entirety, and unchanged by anyone. I will always side with the will of the people over the politicians, which is why I simply will not sit idly by and allow the work of this Commission to be nullified, and ultimately, the will of the people to be subverted.
An example of this attempt to dismantle the Charter is their proposal regarding reapportionment. Simply stated, the proposed change will eliminate the "independent" from "independent redistricting." There is no more glaring example of putting self preservation ahead of the collective good of the people of Ulster County than this indefensible disenfranchising of the voters. No matter what you call it, it allows for gerrymandering.
Another example is the proposed change removing this Commission's recommendation regarding subpoena power. The Legislative change nullifies the balance of power within County government and ignores the work of this Commission which has discussed this topic at length.
We should be clear, the make-up of this Commission contains more Legislative appointments than Executive; and much of what the Executive branch brought forward was not accepted. But it is important to understand that this process is not about Legislature or the Executive — it is about 183,000 people and their best interests.
And so I want to reiterate, as County Executive I am committed to signing into law the final recommendations of the Charter Commission in its entirety, without any Legislative changes. It is important to always remember that this government was created by the citizens of Ulster County by adopting the Charter, and it would be misguided for anyone to ignore the work done by eleven independent, bipartisan citizens whom this government serves.