After Much Debate, County Sets Reapportionment Public Hearing

OSWEGO, NY – Discussion on setting the time and place for a public hearing relative to a proposed local law on a reapportionment plan for Oswego County quickly segued into a debate about the tentative proposal.

The debate rambled on for more than an hour before Republican Jim Oldenburg called the question; the motion was seconded, but was voted down and discussion continued.

Democrat Doug Malone chastised (the majority) for always trying to cut off discussion and ram things through. Oldenburg took offense to the remark, which he felt was directed at him specifically.

This was the first time that he’d ever attempted to call the question on something, Oldenburg said. He admitted later he should have said “point of order” explaining that his intent wasn’t to stop the debate – it was to point out the motion on the floor was whether to set the public hearing and not debate the proposal itself.

Discussion also detoured to whether to reduce the number of legislators. Some members of the majority said that was a thinly veiled attempt by the Democrats to seize control of the legislature. By reducing the number of legislators, they said, it would eliminate many members of the majority thereby giving the minority an upper hand.

Minority Leader Mike Kunzwiler debunked that theory saying it wasn’t political, it was financial. The reduction would help save the county several thousand dollars, he said.

“It’s not about power. It’s about people,” Malone added.

The proposed new lines in the county’s tentative reapportioning plan will weaken Oswego and Fulton representation in the county legislature, according to Legislator Dan Farfaglia. The towns don’t fare much better, the Democrat added.

He had, during a recent meeting of the Reapportionment Committee, proposed an alternate plan he had created. The motion failed due to lack of a second.

At Thursday’s meeting, he called into question the legality of the plan the county is putting up for a public hearing.

“The proposed plan largely ignores the Municipal Home Rule Law about splitting towns less than 5,372,” he said. “Clearly, the intent of the law is to ensure that community interests are represented in the legislature but the proposed plan doesn’t do that. It breaks up towns and communities into pieces and attaches them to unrelated communities, towns and cities.”

Other counties have followed that section of the Municipal Home Rule Law, he added.

County Attorney Richard Mitchell pointed out that all counties are different. What one county does, doesn’t necessarily apply to another, he pointed out.

Kunzwiler asked the attorney if the county’s plan is legal and would hold up to a challenge.

It is defensible, he replied.

“So I take that as a ‘no,’” Kunzwiler said.

“You’re entitled to your opinion,” Mitchell said.

Legislator Dan Chalifoux (R) asked the county attorney if it was his opinion that the county should go forward with the committee’s proposal.

“It is my opinion that it is defensible and passes constitutional muster,” Mitchell said.

“So, if we get 25 – 50 people in here next month and they say they aren’t in favor of this, ‘we don’t want our towns split up,’ we’re still going forward?” Kunzwiler asked.

That’s the purpose of the public hearing, to get input from the community, he continued, adding most people he’s heard from are against the plan including former legislator Barb Brown who spoke at the public session prior to the meeting.

He urged his fellow legislators to take another look at the plan and incorporate some of the ideas that were just brought up.

Legislator John Martino (R) pointed out members of the legislature were county legislators who should represent all residents, not just those in any given district.

Chalifoux added that the committee put forth the best possible proposal and if after the public hearing the legislators can vote it down if they are dissatisfied.

“My way of thinking on it is that it is legal, it is right and it works. If the other side of the aisle doesn’t like it, that’s their prerogative,” he said.

Legislator Louella LeClair (R) didn’t understand why people would be upset about having more than one person represent them.

They should be happy they have four different people working on their behalf, she said of one district.

“Change comes hard to everyone. Change is change,” she said. “Our districts are going to be different. We made sure no one had to run against each other. We came within the smallest amount of disproportioning as possible for each legislative district, within the confines of what we were given by the state. We did it in openness. There were no back door deals.”

“We are county legislators, county legislators,” she continued. “What we’re groaning and moaning about is ridiculous. Do you want to represent the people of Oswego County? That’s the bottom line.”

She added that she’d help out anyone, no matter which district they were from.

Legislator Jacob Mulcahey (D) said his concern (with the plan) was legal issues.

“The planning department and the committee worked really hard and put a lot of time into this. Legislator Farfaglia seems to have some pretty legitimate concerns. Unfortunately, according to (the county attorney) there is no simple solution. I’d like for somebody to look at our proposal and say, ‘yes, this is perfectly within the parameters of the law.’ But, apparently that’s not going to happen,” he said.

“We need to take a look at the question that is in front of us,” Legislator Jack Proud (R) told his peers. “That is to set the date for the public hearing, where such a discussion can take place.”

Legislators then approved setting the public hearing for Dec. 13 prior to that day’s meeting.