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Legislative steering committee called illegal; Sorensen to stop attending

By Fritz Mayer
February 1, 2012

County legislator Alan Sorensen is asking his colleagues to consider some major changes. In an email sent in the wake of a vote by the legislature to change the way tourism dollars are awarded in the county, Sorensen posted on his blog, www.legislatorsorensen.com, a suggestion that the county do away with the legislative steering committee, which is made up of the county chair, the vice chair, and the leaders of the majority and minority parties, who meet weekly with the county manager.

He wrote, “This ‘steering committee’ has evolved to be an impediment to good government by limiting the flow of important information to four instead of nine legislators and placing important policy decisions in the hands of just a few.”
Further, on the radio program Making Waves, on WJFF on January 30, Sorensen told interviewer Barbara Gref that he intends to no longer attend the meetings “from this point forward.”

A bit later in the program, Robert Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government, which is a part of the NYS Department of State, said that the steering meetings, as now being conducted are in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

He said because of an amendment to the law that was adopted in 1979, the law covers not only the legislature but also “any committee, subcommittees or similar body.” Therefore, when the three members of the committee, which represents a quorum, get together the public should be invited to the meetings, which is not now the case.

Sorensen’s post also listed a couple of other changes. He wrote that he would like his colleagues to consider changes to the way the committee system is structured. There are 12 legislative committees, which cover such areas as public safety, health, economic development and so on. Sorensen wrote, “Right now, a chair of a committee holds more power in that area than the other eight members. In the past, some legislators have used their position as chair of these committees to unfairly control and drive their own personal agendas, and to serve special interests instead of the taxpayers.