January 16, 2013 —
The Sullivan County Legislature voted four to one in committee to revise the county charter to change the provision that requires a supermajority—or six of the nine legislators—to appoint a person to or remove him or her from the position of county manager.
In introducing it, 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 supermajority provision.
Legislator Jonathan Rouis, who opposed the resolution, noted that the supermajority 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 such as the current one would come up, where the lack of a supermajority 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 you 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.
Legislator Cindy Gieger 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.”
Gieger 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 on the matter for February.