Letter: County Legislature’s opacity upsets petition presenter

Dear Editor:

First off, I want to thank the almost 800 people who showed their support for the NY SAFE Act and signed the petition I delivered to the Putnam County Legislature. I was amazed by the outpouring of support for commonsense gun laws in our county. However, as a citizen of Putnam County, I must also state that I was dismayed by the actions of the Legislature in the events leading up to the petition presentation. I am concerned about what this means for my fellow citizens if they decide to speak out against any action this particular Legislature may take in the future.

First, some background. When trying to figure out where and how I would deliver the petition, I reached out to my district representative, Barbara Scuccimara, as well as the county clerk, Roger Gross, and Legislator Richard Oethmer to ask if I could present it during the full Legislature meeting in April. At the time, I was thinking since the vote to repeal was unanimous, all of our legislators should be aware that a large portion of their constituents did not agree with their resolution

Right off the bat, there was confusion as to where I should go with the petition since it wasn’t clear where there resolution originated. After talking with Roger Gross and Richard Oethmer, it became apparent that this resolution was not vetted through a committee. It was brought to the full Legislature directly at the urging of MaryEllen Odell, the county executive, and the NY State Association of Counties. Once I learned this, I asked if I could follow the same path and be added to the agenda of the full Legislature meeting. At that point, I was told that I needed to be vetted through a subset of the full Legislature, the Protective Services Committee. Being the stubborn person that I am and still firmly believing that the full Legislature was the correct forum to present the petition, I inquired if it was possible for me to present during the public comments section of that meeting. I was then told that only items that are on the meeting agenda are allowed to be discussed during the public comments section. (Since discussing this policy with other local folks more involved with the Legislature than I, this does seem to be a break from prior procedure.)

Regardless, though this certainly felt like a double standard, I relented and was told that I would be added to the agenda to present the petition at the Protective Services Committee meeting in May. However, when the agenda was posted online a couple of days prior to the meeting, I was shocked to find out that the petition presentation was not listed. What was listed was “Discussion/NY SAFE Act 2013.” Unbeknownst to me, arrangements had been made for various county officials to speak prior to the petition presentation, including Putnam County Undersheriff Peter H. Converey, the director of Putnam County Social Services and a deputy of the County Clerk’s office. All these high-ranking officials were allowed to make statements against the NY SAFE act and in support of the Legislature’s action in passing the resolution to repeal. Then and only then was I, just a mom, allowed to present the petition. And then comments were heard from both sides of the issue going on for close to three hours.

I must state emphatically that I am deeply disappointed by the Legislature’s actions in manufacturing this “circus.” It was obviously designed to negate a petition signed by 800 concerned citizens. My personal aim that night was never to debate the validity of the NY SAFE act. I only wanted our elected officials to know that they did not speak for me or others who had signed the petition. It was about them representing ALL of their constituents.

And so various questions come to mind — some procedural, some not. Why was I not on the agenda that night as promised? Why was it turned into a dog-and-pony show to justify the Legislature’s resolution to repeal the NY SAFE act? Why was this not communicated to me prior to my arrival that evening? (If I had known, I would have recruited my own “experts,” as the Legislature did, to talk about why the NY SAFE act was needed.) And last, but certainly not least, where are the documented steps that an item must go through before being added to a meeting agenda? Because I thought I had followed a process, but in the end, I was not on the agenda.

The Legislature talked about transparency that night and how they strive to achieve it. In my opinion, there didn’t seem to be any in this case. If anything, as a first timer in dealing with the Legislature, it seemed quite the opposite. I truly hope that this is not their modus operandi. I think we, as citizens, deserve better.

Alex Dubroff

One thought on “Letter: County Legislature’s opacity upsets petition presenter

  1. Alex is absolutely right. This is not the first time the county legislature has taken advantage of the fact that few in the county pay attention to their actions, in fact many are unaware that we have a county legislature. As a result, actions are taken by the legislature, and taxpayer money spent, without the openness and transparency that we should expect from our elected officials.

    This experience should encourage us all to pay more attention to the Putnam County legislature – and hopefully the result will be better representation for District 1 (Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley), as well as the rest of the County, in the future.

    For her efforts to raise our awareness alone, Alex deserves a debt of gratitude. And, of course, we all should thank her for giving a voice to those of us who favor gun safety and the health of our neighbors over some overheated interpretation of the Second Amendment.