Invoking Rule #12

By LAURIE STUART
Posted 1/12/22

If you have ever watched the TV series “NCIS,” you will recall that Gibbs, the team leader, had a set of rules. These rules, referred to by number, come up when the naval crime …

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Invoking Rule #12

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If you have ever watched the TV series “NCIS,” you will recall that Gibbs, the team leader, had a set of rules. These rules, referred to by number, come up when the naval crime investigators are considering a particular sticky problem or a complicated situation that requires behavioral restraint. These rules give the members a framework to function within. These rules are a lighted path to lead the way through a seemingly difficult situation.

Gibbs’ rules come to mind in pondering the Sullivan County Legislature’s reappointment of Robert Doherty, District 1 legislator, as chair, following two tumultuous years, where meetings have been marked with yelling and screaming, bullying, calls for censure and downright uncivil discourse.

In noting the 5-4 vote that preserved his chairmanship, Doherty said, “Progress is a nice word, but change is a motivator, and I’m a catalyst for change. Change has its enemies; judge me by my enemies.”

Does anyone know what he meant by that? Which enemies? His legislative colleagues? The frequent commenters? Enemies?

Perhaps the quote has historical roots.

“Judge me by my enemies” is a line that was delivered by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 when campaigning for the presidency. Roosevelt was speaking about electrical power, and asserting that the government would not part with its sovereignty or with its control over its power resources if he became president.

Here’s the whole quote: “To the people of this country I have but one answer on this subject. Judge me by the enemies I have made. Judge me by the selfish purposes of these utility leaders who have talked of radicalism while they were selling watered stock to the people and using our schools to deceive the coming generation.”

Those were tough and clear words. Roosevelt was emphatic, making a point and drawing a solid line in the sand. If elected president, he would regulate the energy company.

The same cannot be said for Doherty’s use of the quote. The listener doesn’t know what it means. How are words that are difficult to understand without context helpful to a split body that just voted five to four to retain its chairman? And how does one describe bad form and dysfunctional government in terms of sovereignty, or as effective and principled use of governmental power?

Was that the message that Doherty intended to put forth? Was he casting aspersions on his enemies in the same manner as Roosevelt? Tainting their motives and elevating his own perception of what’s going on or what he is accomplishing? (If you want to do some sleuthing on that, check out the latest edition of “From the Chairman.” It’s a monthly newsletter, curated online, that describes legislative activities from Doherty’s point of view. It’s spicy reading, and instructive. You’ll find it on the county’s website, in the sidebar on the county legislature tab.)

In any case, what we did not see at Tuesday’s reorganizational meeting was leadership. In considering his acceptance speech, it seems like a foregone conclusion that no lessons have been learned from the turmoil of the last two years and it will be as Yogi Berra once said, “Déjà vu all over again.”

We did not see a leader who understands that civil and civic dialogue in the public sphere is a foundation to our democracy. We did not see someone who understands that a good leader has to lead the body as a whole. We did not see humility. We did not see basic decorum.

We did not see good basic governance.

And that’s where the mention of Gibbs’ rules comes in: tenets to guide behavior and basic functioning.

The Sullivan County Legislature as a whole, and specifically its chairman, would do well to study the 60 rules that guide the work of that governmental body. Created in 1998, and most recently revised in January 2021, the rules lay out the structure of the legislature. Underneath the simple delineation of roles, voting structures and general duties and responsibilities is a foundation of order. This is blueprint for the functioning of a cohesive whole.

Something that has been lacking for the two years that Doherty has led the body.

My suggestion: Go back to the rules. (They’re on that same sidebar called Rules of the Legislature.)

Rule #12 is particularly apropos to the current disarray in that body. Here’s an excerpt: “The Chair shall preside at all meetings of the Legislature at which the Chair is present, preserve order and decorum and confine discussion to the matter at issue...”

Rules matter. They are the foundations that encourage behavioral restraint, legislative introspection and good governance.

For better or for worse, the Sullivan County Legislature voted as a body to support Doherty as chairman. Given our experience over the past two years, we need to hold him accountable to his leadership role.

With all that’s going on in the county, the legislature and all those in attendance need to get their act together.

We cannot afford another two years in disarray.

Rule #12 needs to be respectfully invoked at every turn. Following the other 59 would be good form as well.

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