Mouth That Roars

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the "MOUTH THAT ROARS" Column in the Sullivan County Post.

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January 29th, 2015

Edwards Explains Resolutions

Sullivan County Legislator Cora Edwards introduced a bunch of resolutions at the last legislative meeting of 2014. They were put off by Chairman Scott Samuelson at the urging of legislators Kathleen LaBuda and Jonathan Rouis. The resolutions are expected to come up again at the February meeting.

I asked Cora Edwards to explain why she proposed these resolutions and to discuss these resolutions.

Here is what Legislator Cora Edwards had to say:

Sometime in mid-December 2014, I started thinking about my New Year’s resolutions for 2015. What became clear to me, the more I thought about it, was that there were a lot of “unresolved” issues at my workplace: namely in the Sullivan County Legislature, issues that were on a merry-go-round of seemingly endless discussion without a resolution in sight.

So I decided to make a list of items that I thought were the most pressing and then formulate those issues into “resolutions” to submit before the rest of the Legislature for a vote. To be honest, the resolutions are not earth-shattering or particularly innovative. They are solid “good housekeeping” resolutions to increase the efficiency of government and to have a clearer picture of how tax dollars are spent.

Since every December is a “No late filing” month, meaning that anyone, including a member of the public can submit a resolution at the Full Board meetings, I looked into the procedure of submitting a “No late filing resolution” since I had not done so before. It seemed straightforward – at the time. I wrote up the resolutions and submitted them to the Legislative Clerk to be added to the Full Board agenda for Thursday December 18, 2014.”

Here are the resolutions and why I wrote them up

1. Create a “Long-term budget committee”

This resolution is based on the fact that both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s (S&P) bonding agencies, as well as Sullivan County’s outside auditing firm, Toski, had made repeated recommendations that the County implement a long-term budget strategy to fill the gap between the Annual Operating Budget which goes year-by-year and the Capital Plan which is in 5-year increments. This just makes good sense when we are looking at finite resources for projects that straddle more than one financial year. It is also good planning. Furthermore, in some Counties a long-term budget or “strategic plan” is in their County charter of Administrative Code which helps with a smoother transition between administrations.

2. Issue an RFP (Request for Proposal) for the hiring of an independent financial analyst or firm to advise the Legislature on matters regarding the Annual Operating Budget, Capital Spending Plan, proposed Long Term budget and Bond Repayment Plan:

This resolution follows from the first one. Having an independent financial analysis is something that Sullivan County has used from time to time; most recently (to my knowledge) when looking at the options for the Adult Care Center (ACC) in 2011/2012. Being able to use expert financial analysts to look at complex revenue trends and other issues (such as the projected tax burden of a projected $64 million dollar jail facility year-on-year, or the implications on tax payers of tax exemptions and abatements) requires an independent eye and objective findings that are not subject to political favoritism or philosophy. “Just the facts, ma’am,” as the detectives used to say on a 60’s tv show.

3. Resolution to set bond limits (between $5-7 million) for Raod and Maintenance improvements.

Each year that I have been a legislator, the bonding for roads and bridge repair has been unpredictable, even though revenues have remained relatively flat. In 2013 the bond was for $3.5 Million; in 2014 it was $9.5 million and $7.07 for 2015. This has not been helpful for the DPW that needs certain level of consistency in planning and purchasing materials at the best price.

This resolution is designed to address the fact that Sullivan County currently has an outstanding bond debt of $63 million in principal and with interest the bond debt totals $79 million. This is another case of a resolution that is more common sense than fancy footwork.

4. Resolution to appoint a Request for Proposal (RFP) committee to interview legal firms for independent legal counsel on specific contractual matters.

Many counties have legal counsel specifically for the Legislature. This helps to avoid any potential “conflict of interest” scenarios where it may be unclear whether the County’s “best interests” are being served, or whether the interests of certain individuals are served instead. Many times there have been changes to contracts after resolutions have been passed and the Legislature never gets to see how the changes in the contracts affect the intent of the resolution.

In the medical world, it considered commonplace to seek a second opinion to get clarity on the options available. With the high stakes of taxpayer money, and annual budgets in the $200 million dollar range, it is a small price to pay for a second legal opinion that ensures the County’s interests. The “deal” negotiated by the County Attorney for the Apollo property is a good case in point, and whether the County’s best interests were upheld in the deal? Time will tell.

5. Issue an RFP (Request for Proposals) for the Conflict Legal Aid contract:

This resolution comes out of a recommendation made by the Law Enforcement Review panel in 2012 to review how the Conflict Legal Aid firm invoices cases, since Sullivan County seems to be on the high end of the scale, given our population of 76,000 full time residents. I have brought up this request on numerous occasions, but the request has not gone further into an actual RFP. So I thought that if there is a majority vote to issue a n RFP, then it would go forward. If there is not a majority vote to issue an RFP, then we must ask the reason why?

6. Resolution to have members of the Legislature declare and abstain from voting in matters where there is a conflict of interest (potential, perceived or otherwise):

I submitted this resolution after finding out that over the last three years, Legislators have voted on issues where they have a financial gain, and have declared so after the vote was taken (not before). This resolution should serve as a reminder to where our duties are in regard to the oath we have taken as legislators: for the public good or for private gain?

7. Resolution not to sell the easement on Winterton Road to any private developer:

This resolution may have been overtaken by events in that at the last DPW committee meeting, one of the County Attorney’s stated that case law prohibits the selling of an easement to an party other than the property owner of the property rather than to a third party.

8. Stipend for Electrical Licensing Board recording Secretary:

It came to my attention that in previous years, the recording secretary for the Electrical Licensing Board had been re-numerated for the time in the evenings to take the minutes of the meetings, and this resolution was an effort to correct that over site since a new Electrical Licensing Board has been instated and is now meeting on a regular basis according to the Administrative Code and County Charter.

In closing, I would like to point out again that these resolutions are neither revolutionary nor visionary. They are resolutions to instill “best practices” for government to run more efficiently while still delivering services that tax payers expect for their tax dollar. When the resolutions were attached to the Full Board are resolutions in December, several legislators got very upset that the resolutions were submitted as “no late filings” even though each issue has come up many times before.

The attempt by several legislators to table the resolutions did not pass. Since some legislators wanted to take more time to review the resolutions, I said I was fine with them being brought back to the Full Board in January 2015.

When I noticed the resolutions were not on the Full Board agenda for January as I anticipated, I asked for them to be put on the Executive Committee agenda, but it was already too full. So I have agreed to have all the resolutions go through the county’s Legal Department “as to form” for February and processed in the way that all resolutions are process since December is the only “No Late Filing” month.

Sometimes when I get frustrated with the pace of government in our modern world, I think to myself: “Well. I’ve waited three years for some of these issues to be resolved – What is another month?”

At least it won’t take as long as it did for Sullivan County to get a casino, right?

Thank you legislator Cora Edwards – Keep up the Fight!

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself on National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the “MOUTH THAT ROARS” Column in THE SULLIVAN COUNTY POST.

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