OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego County Legislature’s majority voted to support the passage of state bills that would correct a problem caused by five of its members not signing their oath of office cards in time.
The legislature Thursday afternoon approved a home rule request in support of NYS Senate Bill S.7009 (Ritchie) and NYS Assembly Bill A.9613 (Barclay) regarding oaths of office for the current term of the county legislature.
Five legislators didn’t timely file a written oath of office card with the Oswego County Clerk, resulting in a vacancy by operation of law in the elective office of Oswego County legislator for each of the following respective legislative districts: 1, 2, 3, 10, and 22.
At its February meeting, the legislature appointed the five to their seats.
The two state bills would permit the execution of new oaths of office and avoid having to run a special election.
Legislator Tim Stahl ( R ) noted that because of the legislators involved “this has become much more about the division between the political parties and much less about the will of the people who chose those representatives.”
“This should not be a vote by partisan lines. And this should not be a vote to further any political agenda,” he said. “This should be a vote to honor the will of the voters, who spoke loudly and overwhelmingly.”
However, the Minority Leader Legislator Dan Farfaglia didn’t agree.
He asked Chairman Kevin Gardner whether the legislators involved should abstain from the vote.
“They can do as they see fit,” the chairman replied.
“I am completely embarrassed that once again we are dealing with this mess. As most of us in this room are aware, whenever elected officials take office they have to submit an oath card in a timely manner; in addition to actually taking the oath of office,” Farfaglia pointed out.
That responsibility lies with each individual legislator and no one else, he added.
Failure to follow the law means the legislator’s seat is vacated and a special election is required, he said.
There is no excuse for what happened, they knew they had to do this, he said.
Senator Patty Ritchie and Assemblyman Will Barclay, both Republicans, are working at the state level to correct the matter and avoid the need for a special election.
“This is a very, very bad idea,” Farfaglia said. “When people make mistakes, there are consequences for their actions. This is an epic political favor. This is why the general public has a very cynical view of politicians and why our voter turnout is always so pathetically low.”
There wouldn’t be an additional cost to hold the election because the presidential election will be held this fall, he pointed out.
There was a legislator in another county in the same situation who wasn’t reappointed (as were the five Oswego County legislators).
“What makes these five so special? Again, this is an epic political favor and it is wrong,” he said.
Farfaglia noted that he is in favor of changing the law so that no one has to deal with this type of situation in the future.
“I’m in favor of doing that for everybody, not just a select few,” he said.
“This is not a partisan debate. This is a legal debate,” Minority Whip Jake Mulcahey said. “Mistakes were made, no matter who it is. They have to suffer the consequences. If there is any partisan behavior going on it’s from the other side of the aisle. Using political influence and political connections to manipulate state law for the benefit of five individuals in one county in the state of New York – it’s crazy.”
Do what the law says, or change the law so it benefits every elected official, regardless of party, he suggested.
Legislator Tom Drumm (D) noted that at the state level the bill was tagged “priority.”
“That’s outrageous,” he said. “The (FitzPatrick) nuclear power plant – that’s a local priority. Our crumbling roads, our crumbling bridges – that’s a local priority.”
Legislator Heather DelConte (D) made a motion to amend the resolution, removing the five legislators, and re-wording it so it “represents the larger principle.”
“Then, I think we can all get behind it,” she explained. “I’d like to amend the resolution so that it would not be specifically for five people … So it reflects that larger principle that we feel that elections should not be overturned just on technicalities.”
That motion, however, failed along party lines. By the same margin, the original resolution was passed.