The once and future chair

Robert Doherty re-elected as chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 1/4/22

MONTICELLO, NY — The Sullivan County Legislature re-elected Robert Doherty as its chairman in an reorganizational meeting adorned with the usual legislative trappings: complaints about proces, …

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The once and future chair

Robert Doherty re-elected as chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — The Sullivan County Legislature re-elected Robert Doherty as its chairman in an reorganizational meeting adorned with the usual legislative trappings: complaints about process, internal strife, and biting public comment. 

The legislature's reorganizational meeting was scheduled to follow a recessed meeting of the public works committee, to discuss an agreement between the county and Hatzolah Air to lease land at the Sullivan County Airport for the construction of a hanger. But Doherty motioned to recess that meeting until after the reorganizational meeting, delaying discussion—and the opportunity for public comment—until after the legislature had made its choice for chair. The motion was carried, with legislator Joe Perello dissenting and legislator Ira Steingart temporarily absent. 

"This is the technique that our legislators pull all the time," said Perello, himself the chair of the public works committee. "This is foul play, and you all should be ashamed of yourself."

During the reorganizational meeting, legislator Michael Brooks nominated Doherty as chair without comment. Legislator Nadia Rajsz followed with a nomination for Perello, "For the reasons of moving this county forward for the next two years and moving away from chaos," she said. 

Perello would unite the whole legislature, regardless of party affiliation, Rajsz added. "That's what we need; we need unity, we need respect, we need civility, and we need to work together for the people of this county."

A roll call vote followed the nominations. Perello, Rajsz, Steingart and Luis Alvarez voted for Perello as chair. Doherty, Brooks, George Conklin, Nicholas Salamone and Alan Sorensen voted for Doherty. 

"I would like to thank my colleagues for reaffirming their confidence in my leadership and my vision for the county," said Doherty, regaining his seat as chair. "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."

Agreements and contracts

The conversation turned thereafter to the community's agreement with Hatzolah Air, during the resumed public works committee meeting. 

Perello restated his position from the committee meeting of Wednesday, December 29, 2021 that the agreement should have come back to the committee for review before it was signed.

"This is a major lease agreement and one of our anchors for the airport," said Perello. The agreement could have been a model for other companies looking to build hangers at the airport, he added, but the proper people within the county's government hadn't been involved in its creation. 

Several of the legislators who had voted to reinstate Doherty questioned why Perello hadn't been aware of the contract's status prior to it being signed. 

Being the chair of the public works committee brought a certain responsibility with it, said Brooks; Perello should have talked with the county attorney's office and found out what state the lease was in. 

"You're reversing this, Mike, and putting the blame on Joe?" asked Rajsz. "The attorney is writing up the contract, and his responsibility is to contact us and present to us the contract before it gets signed… and none of that was done."

"Can you name another contract that you asked to see and the county attorney did not show it to you?" asked Doherty. 

Several legislators did agree that, going forward, contracts of this magnitude ought to come back to the legislature for review before they were signed. The discussion did not lead to a reevaluation of the contract under discussion. 

A legislature divided

The members of the public in attendance had made their voices heard prior to and during both meetings. 

A group had assembled in the government center parking lot prior to the reorganizational meeting, taping anti-Doherty signs to their car windows and driving a caravan of around 14 cars around the government center, circling and honking. The hearing room was crowded during the meetings, and filled at times with interjections and complaints. 

Members of the public took the opportunity to discuss the legislature during the public comment period of the public works committee meeting. 

Former legislator and former Sullivan County Republican Party chairman Greg Goldstein said that he was disappointed in the legislature: "I just don't know why you can't get it together."

Goldstein said that the current legislators would lose the legislature for the Republicans, in his opinion. In his time in politics, he and his colleagues were able to talk through their disagreements, he said, and while Doherty was bright, he needed to bring everybody into the fold.

Liberty resident Martha Scoppa spoke as well about the legislature's lack of discussion. 

"Taking positions on issues is normal, but there often doesn't appear to be any effort to work together," said Scoppa. "Communication is poor, often contentious, and there's a lack of openness."

The vote at the organizational meeting had been an opportunity to make the county's leadership better, she said. 

"Nothing changes if nothing changes," said frequent commentator Lou Setren, reading a motto on the front of the hearing room's podium. 

"Unfortunately, despite the promises and sometimes protestations of the once and future chair and his minions that we're going to get along better, we're going to do things properly—when someone shows you who he is and what he believes in, believe them," Setren added.

The meeting concluded with minority leader Steingart saying that he would not give up on fighting for the next two years of the legislature, and he hoped the public would keep coming and putting up the fight that it did.

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