Letter: Expanding Liquor-Store Hours

I wrote, sponsored and voted “yes” on this year’s version of the perennial resolution in the Dutchess County Legislature to expand the hours during which retailers can sell wine and liquor, which the county executive vetoed (How They Voted: Dutchess County, April 19). The current law, which is the most restrictive in the state, requires that wine stores close at 7 p.m. every night except Sunday, when they can stay open until 9 p.m. Interestingly, few if any people take advantage of the later Sunday closing time.

The proposed law would extend closing hours to 9 p.m. seven nights a week and on holidays. I included language in the resolution setting out the Legislature’s intent that this not be seen as some sort of mandate requiring liquor stores to stay open later, but merely give them the opportunity.

It is, after all, a business decision, not a political one, just like a hardware store can decide to open Saturday morning. For a small cabal of hardware-store owners to get together and exert their political will on a legislature and mandate closing on Saturday mornings would amount to a minority putting its foot on the necks of anybody who wants to do things differently. For me, the resolution represented an expansion of choice, and with it, democracy.

The county executive said he vetoed the measure because sufficient notice wasn’t given for everyone in the county who might be affected to weigh in. Nevertheless, he agrees that the change is one whose time has come and has “guaranteed” several owners and patrons of local wine shops that this will become law. You have to wonder, then, what purpose more hearings will serve.

It’s also curious that during all the years that similar legislation was put forward and failed, the county executive seemed unconcerned with notification. Indeed, for the weeks between this bill’s introduction and its passage — when he could have been using his bully pulpit to raise hue and cry — he sat mum. Did he expect it to fail again?

That would fit a pattern. The county executive bends the rules, and logic and language along with them, to bully the Legislature into submission to his autocratic impulses. When the Legislature threatens to act according to its mandate as a coequal branch of government, he undermines it. When it came time to bond for repairs to Dutchess Stadium, for instance, the county executive not only decided to forgo a public hearing, he rushed the decision through the Legislature, which agreed to suspend its usual timeframe for such decisions. Normally, such a resolution requires introduction in two legislative sessions before it is voted on.

In a representative democracy, we do not decide things by referendum. Instead, we elect people — legislators and executives — to make decisions on our behalf. It is up to those public servants to canvass their constituents and come to a decision. The remedy for a public dissatisfied with the decisions its representatives make lies at the polls. Come November, the public will have ample opportunity to make its voice heard.

Frits Zernike, Beacon

Zernike represents District 16 in the Dutchess County Legislature, which includes parts of Beacon and Fishkill.

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