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December 05, 2016
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Sullivan legislature votes to change charter; majority seeks new county manager

The Sullivan County Legislature voted four to one in committee to revise the county charter to change the provision that requires a super majority—or six of the nine legislators—to appoint or remove a person to or from the position of county manager.

In introducing the resolution at a meeting on January 10, legislator Alan Sorensen said, “This resolution will restore the original intent of the Sullivan County Charter bringing it back to a simple majority.”

Five of the nine legislators have previously said they want to replace county manager David Fanslau, and they have not been able to do so because the charter was amended in 2007 with multiple changes including the super majority provision.
Legislator Jonathan Rouis, who opposed the resolution, noted that the super majority provision was added at the request of the charter commission and did not originate from the previous legislature.

Legislator Cora Edwards said it was not foreseen that a situation would come up such as the current one, where the lack of a super majority means that the county manager has not been appointed to a new term, but can’t be removed from office because of the charter.

She said, “The whole reason there are amendments, whether it’s to the U.S. Constitution or the Sullivan County Charter, is that as situations come up, you have the right to amend.”

Rouis said he did not disagree but, “the process is you have a charter commission that has public discussion and public debate, and they come up with rational changes in an organized fashion. You don’t change your charter to fit your circumstance.”

County attorney Sam Yasgur said that in the past many amendments had come from the charter commission, and some had been made by the legislature without a recommendation from the commission.

Sorensen added that some amendments recommended by the commission had not been adopted.

Geiger said, “These amendments today are going to enable the county legislature to be more responsible, more productive; there will be more control in the hands of the legislature where it should be. That’s been a concern of ours all throughout 2012. There have been situations where the legislature has not had information; we have not had the control, the power that’s required as part of our duties as legislators under the charter. There have been serious concerns about the power structure that has developed here.”

Geiger said, for instance, that she had been told she was not allowed to speak directly to the commissioners of the various departments and instead she should go through the “chain of command,” and communicate with the commissioners through the county manager’s office. She and some other legislators have in the past cited this as an impediment to gaining the knowledge they need to make informed decisions on such matters as the county budget.

Before the changes become law, the full board will vote on January 24 on scheduling a public hearing of the matter for February.