by Anthony J. Pucci
As many of you know, the Chemung County Executive initiated two lawsuits against the Legislature some time ago. Judge Eugene Faughnan, 6th Judicial District Judge from Binghamton, issued his much-anticipated ruling on September 30th.
Both lawsuits have been dismissed. The entire 19-page decision is available on Christina Sonsire’s blog, ChemungCountyMatters.com as well as at RodneyJStrange.com.
The crux of the first disagreement between Executive Moss and the Legislature rested in the question of which party has the right to appoint the Attorney for the Legislature. Judge Faughnan clearly stated in his decision that if the Executive had the authority to appoint the attorney for the Legislature, it would “undermine the separation of powers between the Legislative and Executive branches.”
The second disagreement stemmed from the first. Moss believed that when the Legislature passed Local Law #2 which amended the County Charter to clarify its right to appoint its own attorney, the Legislature should have sought a mandatory referendum (placing the issue on the ballot). Failing to do so, Moss claimed, diminished his power to make that appointment. Furthermore, Moss claimed that only the County’s Attorney had the right to draft resolutions to be brought before the Legislature.
Again, Judge Faughnan ruled decisively that a mandatory referendum “was not required.” In addition, he stated that that Attorney for the Legislature does have the right to draft resolutions and advise the Legislature on such matters, and that this does not diminish the role of the County Attorney or the County Executive. In fact, Judge Faughnan concluded that “the separation of powers [between the Executive and the Legislature] would actually be violated” if the County Attorney had the sole authority to draft resolutions.
So, who are the winners and losers? The Legislature? The Legislature did not gain any powers that it did not already have by virtue of the Charter. The Executive? The Executive did not lose any powers that he already possessed by virtue of the Charter. Chemung County taxpayers? We are the losers to the tune of approximately $100,000 in legal fees that must be paid to resolve a dispute that could have been resolved by third-party mediation … mediation that was offered by the Legislators and refused by the Executive.
This is a heavy price to pay to confirm the fact that the Legislature is the “policy-making body” of County government as specified in the Charter. There are still three years before the residents have a chance to vote again. Instead of casting blame, I suggest that all parties use this an opportunity to “reset.”
Now that the separation of powers has been definitively upheld by the court, we should expect the Executive and Legislative branches to look forward, not back. Let’s see some concrete action based on the recommendations of the City-County Committee formed and then disbanded by the Executive. Let’s see a resolution regarding term limits for the Executive and the members of the Legislature. Let’s see a resolution that eliminates health benefits for legislators, none of whom work the requisite hours per week to earn them. The list goes on.
Let’s see if our elected officials can finally begin to do the work they were elected to do in a spirit of compromise, collegiality, and professionalism.
Anthony J. Pucci is a resident of the Town of Veteran