Legislators Look To Change Supermajority Vote Law

MAYVILLE – A second vote on whether to sell the Chautauqua County Nursing Home to Altitude Health Services could be on the table this month.

An email to the legislature from Steve Abdella, county attorney, says that at the request of Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, the prefile for the Feb. 27 full legislature meeting should contain a notice that Barmore intends to bring back a resolution authorizing contract for the sale of the County Home to Altitude Health Services.

“By giving prior notice of an intent to bring a motion to renew, the motion to renew will require a majority vote to bring the resolution back on the floor for debate and action,” Abdella wrote.

Although the resolution requires only 13 votes to be brought back in front of the legislature, in order to sell the home to Altitude Health Services – and its owner, William (Avi) Rothner – the legislature would still need to find 17 votes, due to a local law dating back to 1975 requiring a supermajority vote in order to sell real property owned by the county.

In January, 16 legislators voted in favor of selling the home to Rothner, while nine opposed the sale. Voting to keep the home in county hands were Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk; Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown; William Coughlin, D-Fredonia; Thomas DeJoe, D-Brocton; Robert Duff, R-Sheridan; Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk; Timothy Hoyer, D-Jamestown; Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia; and Robert Whitney, D-Jamestown.

Although legislators chose not to sell the County Home to Rothner in January, a second vote was taken to determine whether legislators would be interested in selling the home to a different purchaser. In this vote, Ahlstrom, Coughlin, DeJoe, Heenan, Hoyer and Scudder said they would not be interested in selling the home at all. Duff did not vote, as he left the January meeting following the failed resolution to sell to Altitude Health Services.

In addition to bringing the subject back to the table, 13 legislators are working on introducing Local Law Introductory No. 1-13 to the legislature this month. Chairman Jay Gould, R-Ashville; George Borrello, R-Irving; John Runkle, R-Stockton; Robert Stewart, R-Ellington; Tom Erlandson, D-Frewsburg; Barmore; Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott; Paula DeJoy, D-Jamestown; Vince Horrigan, R-Bemus Point; Paul Wendel, R-Lakewood; Fred Croscut, R-Sherman; David Himelein, R-Findley Lake; and John Hemmer, R-Westfield are looking to amend the local law from 1975 that requires a supermajority vote.

“Local Law Introductory No. 1-13 will itself require a simple majority for passage, and if passed will become effective 60 days after its final enactment,” Abdella wrote.

The local law can be changed with a simple majority vote of 13. However, there are two ways possible following the vote that the law could not go into effect.

If, within 60 days after final enactment, a petition with sufficient signatures is filed, then voter approval would be necessary to sell the home during the next general election, which would be in November. Additionally, within 30 days of the vote to change the local law, the legislature itself could choose to allow the sale of the County Home to be submitted for voter approval at the next general election.

Although they know the vote could be reopened later this month, legislators Cornell and Whitney are standing their ground in their firm votes to not sell the home to Rothner.

“I will not be bullied, nor will I allow the intelligence of my constituents to be questioned,” Whitney said. “This idea that Jamestown residents want the County Home sold to Avi Rothner is hogwash.”

Whitney said he would spend the next several weeks working harder in an effort to get information out to the citizens of Chautauqua County regarding Rothner.

“I’m not opposed to selling the County Home,” he said. “But I am opposed to selling it to Avi Rothner. My constituents – and all of Chautauqua County residents – deserve to know the facts. And the fact of the matter is, the Rothner family is well-known throughout the Midwest as a less-than-stellar nursing home conglomerate.”

Cornell backed Whitney, stating that anyone she speaks with about the Rothner family is concerned.

“The residents I represent wonder why our county executive would endorse such an unreputable buyer,” she said. “If we are going to sell the County Home, we need to sell it to an upstanding business person, not an absentee landlord with little demonstrated commitment to some of those most vulnerable in our community.”

Prefiles for committee meetings taking place next week have not yet been released, so it is unclear whether discussions will take place in committee meetings. Likewise, the prefile for the Feb. 27 legislative meeting will not be released until Feb. 22. Despite this, legislators are still discussing the matter with their constituents and one another.