How They Voted: Dutchess County

Legislators consider liquor store hours, ethics reform

By Jeff Simms

Since January, the 25-member Dutchess County Legislature, which includes Frits Zernike and Nick Page, who each represent parts of Beacon, has voted on dozens of resolutions.

Some address routine matters, such as appointments to boards and committees, but others have more impact. Below are a few recent legislative decisions that stood out, along with Zernike and Page’s votes on each when the tally was not unanimous.

Liquor-store hours

The Legislature voted 18-6 on April 8 to allow wine and liquor sales until 9 p.m. on weeknights, Saturdays and on holidays. State law allows the sale of wine and liquor in Dutchess County from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays, and for an hour — from 9 to 10 a.m. — on New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day and Thanksgiving. On Sundays, stores can sell wine and liquor from noon to 9 p.m.

Zernike

Zernike, who wrote the bill and was its primary sponsor, voted yes, as did Page, but County Executive Marc Molinaro this week vetoed it, saying the public wasn’t given enough time to weigh in. A two-thirds majority, or 17 legislators, can override the veto. If that happens, the state Liquor Authority must still approve the change.

Zernike said the law would not require liquor stores to change their hours. “They can close any time they want, just like a hardware store can decide to open Saturday morning,” he said. “But for a small cabal of hardware store owners to get together and exert their political will on a legislature and mandate that all hardware stores close on Saturday mornings would amount to a minority putting its foot on the necks of anybody who wants to do things differently.”

Ethics code

The Legislature voted 22-2 on April 8 to update its ethics code to require county-wide candidates and certain employees to complete financial disclosure forms; ban elected officials from requiring employees to do political work; compel elected officials to disclose outside income; give more power to the Board of Ethics; and to streamline the recusal process when a conflict of interest arises. The changes will go into effect in 2020. Zernike and Page both voted no.

Before the vote on April 8, each legislator explained why he opposed the measure, despite bipartisan revisions.

Page

“I don’t think that having this more granular financial disclosure form is likely to have an impact beyond possibly having a discouraging effect on civic participation,” Page said. “We have seen the county executive’s disregard for the current form, and the county attorney says they won’t be FOILable [under the Freedom of Information Law] except under extraordinary circumstances.

“It’s not clear the Board of Ethics is prepared to be an effective backstop for forms that contain significant omissions or misrepresentations no matter what form we are using,” he added. “I don’t think this is a sincere effort for ethics reform, but more of a PR [public relations] play.”

Zernike said he felt the proposal was too complicated in its “attempt to be exhaustive. I would prefer we adopt something simpler and more elegant,” such as “having a simple standard of avoiding the appearance of impropriety,” which would allow each individual to apply his or her own “smell test.”

Term limits

The Legislature voted unanimously to impose 12-year term limits on the county executive, legislators and the county comptroller. The county executive will be limited to three, 4-year terms while legislators will be limited to six, 2-year terms. After January 2022, the county comptroller will be allowed to serve three, 4-year terms. The change will apply to officials elected after Jan. 1, 2020.

Solar-energy growth

The Legislature voted unanimously to allow the Department of Planning and Development to create a reserve fund for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreements related to solar-energy systems. The funds, which will be managed by the county finance commissioner, will provide incentives for green business initiatives after consultation with the Climate Smart Communities Task Force.

Opioid treatment

The Legislature unanimously amended the county budget to add a $44,000 state grant to treat opioid users who enter the Dutchess County Justice and Transition Center with extended release injectable naltrexone, a once-monthly treatment used to prevent relapses. The program also will connect individuals with continuing medication and therapy upon release.

Job well done

The Legislature commended Piko, a K9 officer who retired from the Sheriff’s Department last year after a long career during which police said he was responsible for numerous finds and apprehensions and was routinely utilized by other law-enforcement agencies. Legislators wished him well in his future endeavors.