Lawmakers All Serve For Same Reason

The duty of a County Legislator is to adopt policies and keep the county running smoothly. But, what happens if a legislator is no longer able to fulfill those duties?

According to the Chautauqua County Charter, of which each legislator is given a copy, the legislature has eight powers and duties, aside from those given by New York state law.

Legislators must adopt resolutions for all necessary rules and regulations for the legislature’s conduct and procedures; make appropriates, incur indebtedness, adopt the budget and levy taxes; adopt general policy for county government; fix the compensation for all officers and employees paid from county funds; carry out studies, audits and investigations in the best interests of the county; establish compensation for all County Legislators; approve all labor contracts; and appoint a public defender and four coroners to serve.

Each legislator also receives a set of rules and regulations. The packet contains rules for the legislature, committees, administrative services, duties and responsibilities and for expenses and other unspecified procedures.

LEGISLATIVE RESPONSIBILITIES

Although the county has laid out the responsibilities of the legislators, most go above and beyond the call of duty.

According to the Chautauqua County Charter, “The terms of office of County Legislators shall be two years and shall begin on the first day of January following their election. Each member of the County Legislator shall, at the time of the legislator’s nomination and election and throughout the legislator’s term of office, be and remain a qualified elector of the district from which the legislator is elected.”

Aside from what is legally required for legislators to do, many agree it is important to go beyond that. According to legislative chairman Jay Gould, R-Ashville, his responsibility is to the people whom he represents.

“(It’s my responsibility to) serve the people,” he said. “I feel that I have been sent to Mayville to watch their money, that’s very important. I try to help people with any problems they have. And, I try to be very open with them.”

Gould also said he feels it is important that his constituents are able to contact him easily, for any issue.

Legislators also each sit on various committees. According to the legislative rules and regulations, the committees are to aid and assist the legislature in transacting its business.

Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, said that the committees are another important part of being a legislator.

“Or responsibility is to oversee the operation of the government. Every one of us sits on a different committee,” he said. “We focus on different aspects of the government, depending on what committee we sit on.”

Each of the legislature’s six committees has specific responsibilities and specific areas of government which they oversee.

Barmore is a member of the Administrative Services committee, which oversees all matters involving county tax sales, tax liens, county tax deeds and makes recommendations to the legislature concerning the sale of county-owned tax properties. Barmore said that, as a member of this committee, he has spent his own time looking at properties throughout the county.

“We do a lot of work as far as property foreclosures,” he said. “We get properties back onto the tax rolls, get them sold at auction, things like that. Over the last five years, I think I’ve driven to every corner of this county, looking at a dilapidated building, trying to get it back onto the tax rolls, or get it sold.”

Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown, said that she looks for the best thing for her constituents when working on policy.

“The official role of a County Legislator is as a policy-making body in county government,” she said. “Of course, our primary goal, I think, should be to represent the people who have elected us to serve and provide, overall, a better future for Chautauqua County.”

BECOMING A LEGISLATOR

Growing up, most children don’t aspire to be a County Legislator. But even those who wish to be princesses or firemen occasionally grow up to fill the position of legislator.

Gould and Barmore each stepped into their respective legislative positions as someone else was leaving them.

“The guy that was a legislator in District 19 was going to quit,” Gould said. “I was asked by the Republican party to run in District 19. I was on the town board in Harmony at the time, and they came and asked me.”

Barmore’s story is similar. Nearly 10 years ago, he began attending legislature committee meetings. He noticed he was the only person from the public who was attending the meetings, which he said “really aggravated” him.

“We had this large budget, we were doing all this stuff and it didn’t seem like anybody in the county really cared what was going on or was watching what the legislature was doing,” he said.

Over the course of several years, Barmore continued attending meetings, until one day it was suggested that he run.

“One day, one of the legislators came over to me and said, ‘You know, Lance Spicer is retiring. You’re here every month anyway, why don’t you run for his seat?’ So, that’s how I ended up where I am,” Barmore said.

Cornell said she has always had a passion for public service, which is why she ran for legislator.

“I’ve been involved now for nearly 15 years in a professional capacity, from Washington, D.C. to Albany and here,” she said. “When the opportunity arose three years ago to run for County Legislator, I welcomed the chance. I’m just grateful to all of my constituents for the opportunity.”

In November, residents of Chautauqua County will once again vote legislators into a two-year term. However, beginning in 2014, the legislature will be reduced from 25 members to 19. While some districts could see multiple incumbents fighting for coverage, other districts currently have no incumbent.

District 15, representing the southern portion of Ellicott including the villages of Falconer and Celoron currently has no incumbent. Likewise, District 4, which represents the eastern portion of the village of Fredonia, currently has no incumbent.

On the other hand, some of the new districts cover areas previously split by two incumbents. For example, District 3 represents parts of the village of Fredonia and the town of Pomfret. Its incumbents would be William Coughlin, D-Fredonia, who represented the previous District 25, and Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia, who represented the previous District 24, if they each choose to run again.

VACANCIES

Recently, Gould had to be reappointed to the legislature, as he stepped down from the position Dec. 28 when he retired from the Chautauqua County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Because his legislative position and the position with the Soil and Water Conservation District are both county jobs, he was required to step down from the legislature when he retired. However, just days later, he was reappointed to his position.

Sometimes, though, legislators step down from their position permanently. In this case, the legislature must find someone to fill the vacancy.

“If someone resigns in the middle of their term, then the County Legislature, within 30 days, fills their position with a member of the same party, and they have to be nominated by the district committee of said party,” said Steve Abdella, county attorney. “It’s designed to keep things status quo until the next election as far as the political representation.”

At the end of 2012, Bob Duff, R-Sheridan, missed several legislative meetings due to a medical condition. However, he recently rejoined the legislature to resume his duties.

Abdella said in a medical instance such as Duff’s, it is up to the discretion of the legislator as to whether they are able to continue their duties.

“If someone got really ill and at some point realized they couldn’t (fulfill the duties of a legislator) they might just (resign) themselves,” Abdella said.

However, if an extreme instance were to come up, Abdella said there probably would have to be a court proceeding, in order to remove someone from their position.

“A court would have to declare that the person was unable to continue in their office,” Abdella said. “No one would seek an action like that until it was clear that the person just wasn’t going to recover. I don’t think a court would grant it unless a court was convinced that person was just not going to recover within a reasonable time. I have not heard of that happening anywhere, and it has not happened here, to my knowledge. Hopefully we’ll never address that.”