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A proper role for a charter review commission?

January 9, 2013

Legislator Rouis’s recent request for a six-month Sullivan County Charter Review Commission, reportedly to “recommend guidelines for moving to a county executive form of government,” is a task without relevance and doesn’t comport with the purpose for the commission.

It lacks relevance, because the move hasn’t been agreed to; it requires consent of the legislature.

It doesn’t comport, because, although exploring the county executive option is a reasonable prerogative under appropriate circumstances, convening the commission now for his stated purpose isn’t one of them. The task of the commission isn’t to pursue a predetermined narrow agenda, even when it appeals to the politics of the moment; its purpose is deliberative, to review the entire county charter and propose revisions if required.

The question isn’t whether legislators are authorized to pursue charter changes without convening the commission; they are, through resolution and local law. The question is whether convening the commission now and for the stated purpose is relevant and in the best interest of our county. It isn’t.

The prior charter review commission convened about seven years ago. The law doesn’t require it to convene more frequently than once every 10 years. So there’s cause for concern that granting Mr. Rouis’s request will carry consequences that haven’t been thought through. Will a comprehensive review be delayed for many more years?

Negotiations for the 2013 budget and divisions within this legislature over support for our county manager have been interpreted by some as dysfunction. But members are grappling with the difficult issues necessary to move our county forward, and the policies they’re pursuing require time to bear fruit, even if that’s threatening to business as usual.

Whether a county executive form would be better on balance than our current structure is debatable. No commission will change that. But believing either is an elixir for our entrenched problems is guaranteed to disappoint, so long as people and politics are involved.

Dave Colavito
Rock Hill, NY