Jordan gives the standard Hearst Corporation spin on slashing representation in the Albany County Legislature, giving the false impression that this is desirable and wanted by all:
Thinner Albany County Legislature on hold
By Jordan Carleo-Evangelist, Times Union
Updated 8:51 pm, Friday, August 29, 2014
A federal lawsuit has likely derailed Albany County voters' chance this year to chop down the size of their largest-in-the-state county legislature.
The legislature's Special Charter Review Committee voted this week to table a raft of proposed changes to the county charter — including a reduction from 39 to 25 lawmakers — citing a three-year-old voting rights suit against the county.
The vote, which came over the objections of the Republican minority, virtually assures the earliest the changes could end up on voters' ballots is next November, when most county officials are up for re-election.
An independent Charter Review Commission established by the lawmakers themselves urged slimming the body, citing the potential to save as much as $400,000 annually, increase efficiency, boost bipartisanship and make legislative elections more competitive.
At issue is a 2011 lawsuit alleging that the legislature ignored demographic and voting trends that called for the creation of an additional minority-majority voting district when it redrew its electoral lines after the 2010 census.
That case is headed toward trial in October, the month after the Board of Elections said it would need the final charter language for inclusion on November's ballot.
Earlier this month, one of the lawyers representing the county in that case wrote to legislative leaders asking them to defer a vote on the downsizing question until the case is resolved.
Rather than split the downsizing from the rest of the charter changes, the Special Charter Review Committee voted 6-1-1 to table the suite of reforms.
"I think the conclusion was there really wasn't any urgency to any of it, and we'd be better off doing it all at once," said Legislator Michael Mackey, chairman of the legislature's charter review committee and a New Scotland Democrat.
The downsizing, Mackey noted, wouldn't take effect until after the county's next redistricting under the 2020 Census.
Democratic Majority Leader Frank Commisso echoed that point.
"It wouldn't go into effect until 2023," Commisso said. "That being the case, it's got time. Nothing's going to change."
Others counter that's exactly why the issue is irrelevant — that the lawsuit deals with how the county drew its lines in 2011, not how it may redraw them after 2020.
"It's just an excuse; it's just another excuse to stonewall the effort," said Legislator Chris Higgins, an Albany Democrat who favors downsizing to 21 members.
In June, the Special Charter Review Committee narrowly fended off an amendment, 5-4, to keep the legislature at 39 members, and it is far from clear that the majority Democrats could muster enough votes to pass the reduction on the floor.
The decision to stall the changes headed off another looming political battle.
Both Democratic County Executive Dan McCoy and the legislature's GOP minority blasted changes made by the legislature's committee to the original charter commission's work.
McCoy said the legislature's changes — including reducing the number of votes needed to override an executive's budget veto and removing his power to appoint the health commissioner — would have gutted the authority of his office.
"They've basically turned the (commission's) report upside down," McCoy said, joining Republicans in calling for a vote on the independent commission's original proposal.
Other changes made by lawmakers included overriding the commission's recommendation to replace the county's four part-time elected coroners with a full-time medical examiner. They also struck language that would have protected the 10-member Republican/Conservative minority's staff budget from threats by the ruling Democrats and required a vacancy on the legislature to be filled by someone of the same political party affiliation as the person who left the seat.
Minority Leader Lee Carman of Guilderland, who favored cutting the legislature to 19, said he understood why the Democrats did not want to separate downsizing from the rest of the changes.
"The downsizing will overshadow everything they're doing to be greedy, powerful people," he said.
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