Four ADAs, a massive backlog of cases

Revisiting the county’s health, and more

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 9/21/21

MONTICELLO, NY — Short stories, but important ones.

Crisis in the DA’s office

Sometimes you can feel the transparency. Discussions seem to start and finish in the public eye.

And …

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Four ADAs, a massive backlog of cases

Revisiting the county’s health, and more

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — Short stories, but important ones.

Crisis in the DA’s office

Sometimes you can feel the transparency. Discussions seem to start and finish in the public eye.

And sometimes an argument pops up, out of nowhere, and suddenly debate previously held in private is exposed to the light of day.

At the executive committee meeting, a simmering situation around ADA salaries came to the boil.

It started when county attorney Mike McGuire described what needed to be done in executive session. Things involving particular individuals in particular situations. “Policy,” he said, “must be discussed in a public forum.”

DA Meagan Galligan took the podium to demand that legislators address the low salaries for assistant district attorneys in her office.

She has four ADAs to handle thousands of cases that have built up over the pandemic. A fifth left for higher pay in a nearby county.

And the workload has grown, she said, because of bail reform, reviewing footage from bodycams, and more.

Starting salaries for her staff? $53,000, she said. An ADA in Sullivan with 13 years of experience makes $87,000.

They, like other county departments, took a reduction because of anticipated fiscal shortfalls in the pandemic and the ADA salaries were never reinstated, legislator Nadia Rajsz pointed out.

Galligan ticked through salaries from DA’s offices in nearby counties, and then counties with similar populations like Orleans. All make more than Sullivan ADAs, even to start. Even more telling were the percentages of those offices’ allocations relative to their overall county budgets.

Other counties, she said, fund their DA’s office between 1.3 and 1.7 percent of the total budget. In Sullivan, it is .58 of a percent.

“I was elected by the entirety of this county to do the right thing for public safety,” she said at the start of her speech. “I’m responsible for making the decisions every day that affect the safety, lives and liberty of the people of Sullivan County.”

And she finished with, “I’m asking you to do the right thing for these people and pay them a living wage.”

The legislators decided to meet in caucus within the next week to resolve the situation.

Number crunching

At the executive committee meeting, Rajsz asked about redistricting. The subject’s been all over the national press, due to its effect on representation in the House, but it applies at the state and local levels too.

“The numbers won’t be here till the end of September,” replied chairman Rob Doherty.

Data release was slowed this year due to the pandemic.

Some numbers have come out already. The county gained 1,077 people since 2010, but lawmakers doesn’t know yet where in Sullivan those people are living.

Not everyone has forgotten the health rankings

Lise Kennedy worked in public health for the county for years. She retired a while back, but has returned to county legislative meetings.

The health rankings, she reminded legislators, were all-important not that long ago. And now “the only people who are talking about those rankings is the public.”

She went over statistics from the Mid-Hudson Region Community Health Assessment, which monitors changes in health; the data are the most recent available. Sullivan, she said, has the lowest per-capita household income in the region, the least number of people with a degree, the lowest rate of lead screening, the highest rate of adult disability, the highest unemployment rate, the highest rate of people living in poverty.

The highest rates of food insecurity for adults [and children]. Housing insecurity. The highest rate of inactive voters.

[Sullivan County also had the highest percentage of households that fell below the ALICE threshold. That’s Asset Limited, Income Constrained, but Employed. They earn more than the poverty level but less than the basic cost of living.]

Kennedy went on. The highest rate of emergency department visits. The highest rate of people who think their quality of life is poor.

Why has the legislature stopped talking about the health rankings?

“Especially in these times,” she finished, “when we have to help our struggling communities, I hope that you will consider a change in leadership.”

The legislative chairmanship is up for re-election by legislators at the end of the year.

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