The Putnam Examiner

County Lawmakers Make Revision to Longtime Policy

We are part of The Trust Project

A longstanding rule in the Putnam County Legislature was altered last Tuesday that would make it easier to allow additional materials or items to be added to an agenda for a committee meeting or full meeting of the lawmaking body.

In a 7-1 vote, lawmakers (Barbara Scuccimarra was absent) approved a rule change that would only require a supermajority of legislators to agree to add another item to the agenda the same day rather than a unanimous vote, which has been the policy for decades. Proponents of the law change claim it would make governing more efficient while critics think it’ll damage transparency.

While the scenario rarely comes up, when an item is requested to be included after the agenda for that meeting is already established, it requires all nine legislators in agreement to allow it on the docket, but this rule will only call for six lawmakers to accept the additional material or item.

Legislator Dini LoBue, the sole no vote, was against the revision because “it flies in the face of open and transparent government.” She said it would allow the legislature to put items and information on meeting agendas without any vetting or input from the public. (Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra was absent.)

But the other lawmakers rebuffed that notion. Legislator Carl Albano said the rule would allow for more efficient government and most of the items brought forward last minute need to be approved imminently regardless of discussion.

“We wouldn’t bring anything forward unless there was good reason for it,” Albano said. “I’ve never seen when a period of time made a difference. It held up progress and it held up things getting done in a timely matter.”

LoBue asked for an example of an urgent matter that needed to be put on the agenda during a meeting. Legislature Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino said there was one instance when the legislature had to schedule a special meeting because the issue couldn’t be addressed at a past meeting as a result of one vote stopping the item from being discussed.

“I don’t think the intent is to be evasive or not be transparent,” Nacerino said.

LoBue said an aspect of the Butterfield lease for the senior center was one instance where the legislature tried to rush an item through without public input.

Legislator Paul Jonke said the new policy would still allow for transparency because six lawmakers would need to vote for the last minute item to be placed on the meeting docket.

“This is democracy,” Jonke said of the supermajority clause. “I don’t see why one vote should hold up process and progress.”

The rule change comes at a time when the only lawmaker that would likely stop an item from being added the same day, LoBue, is leaving office after she lost her reelection bid to Republican challenger Amy Sayegh.

Some residents on hand questioned the adjusted law. Carmel resident Armanda Famiglietti said she hopes the new policy doesn’t sacrifice transparency for efficiency and the public should be able to comment on new information before it is voted on.

Southeast Councilwoman Lynne Eckardt, representing herself, said she strongly disagreed with the approval to add new items only through a supermajority instead of unanimously. She called the new policy “unfair to the public.”

Also coming up at the meeting was the controversial pay adjustments most legislators approved for themselves during the budget process starting next year. Lawmakers, in a part-time position, currently make close to $36,000, but starting next year will make close to $41,000.

Famiglietti said hasn’t heard any reasonable criteria as to why lawmakers voted to give themselves a raise “other than ‘it’s been a long time since we had a raise.’” She said a committee should be established to occasionally review the salaries of the elected officials.

Eckardt listed the hours each legislator reported they worked in an official capacity on a weekly basis filed in 2017. Two lawmakers reported they worked between 20 and 30 hours, five lawmakers said they worked between 10 and 15 hours and two lawmakers filed they worked less than ten hours per week.

She said the pay hikes were “ill-advised and the public made it known loud and clear.”

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.