Dutchess Democrats Protest Lack of Meetings

Chair says county executive has legal authority to act

A group of Democratic county legislators in Dutchess on Tuesday (April 14) asked the body’s Republican chairman to hold its April meeting by videoconference after he suspended the legislature through at least May 11.

The legislators included Nick Page and Frits Zernike, whose districts each cover parts of Beacon. They said Chairman Gregg Pulver did not have the authority to cancel the meeting because the County Charter requires the legislature to meet “at least once each calendar month.”

“Neither Pulver nor any of his fellow Republican legislators have responded to multiple appeals to reconsider,” the legislators said in a statement. “Five COVID-related resolutions, put forward for the April meeting, have not been acknowledged.”

Legislator Rebecca Edwards (D-Poughkeepsie) said that the legislative bodies of every county outside New York City, except Dutchess, are meeting remotely.

In a memo dated April 6, Pulver said the Legislature could not meet because County Executive Marc Molinaro had banned gatherings of more than 20 people (there are 30 legislators). But Pulver said he might allow legislative meetings in May to be held by conference call.

But before the Legislature meets again, however, Pulver wrote, “it is necessary and appropriate for the county to have a better understanding of our fiscal status to develop a strategy for which expenses and projects should be pursued, continued or discontinued.”

He said that, after consulting with Molinaro, who is also a Republican, “it has been determined that the administration does not need further legal authority, at this time, to expend funds or take action in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis.” He said he appreciated Molinaro’s efforts to “keep the Legislature fully informed.”

In the Democrats’ statement, Zernike said: “The argument that the legislature can’t meet because it’s a health risk or because there are technical difficulties our IT [information technology] whizzes cannot overcome has it exactly backward. It is more important than ever that the legislature continue its duties and meet now, in the midst of crisis. Otherwise, we call into question the reason for our meeting at all, ever. If we do not meet now, when local leadership is needed more than ever, what does that say about the need for us to meet when things return to normal?”

“We are the ‘appropriating and policy determining body of the county,’ according to the County Charter,” added Page. “We’re in the middle of an immense human and financial crisis. I’m astounded that we were told just to come back in May.”

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