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Legislators shut down meeting after criticism from Montgomery
The Putnam County Legislature adjourned in chaos on Tuesday (June 1) after Legislator Nancy Montgomery accused her colleagues of partisanship and undermining democracy, and they blasted her for “grandstanding.”
Montgomery, who represents Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley, is the Legislature’s only Democrat; the other eight members are Republicans.
The acrimony capped the Legislature’s formal monthly meeting, held by audio connection under ongoing pandemic restrictions.
Though not the only source of friction, a resolution granting special subpoena powers to the Legislature’s three-man Rules Committee sparked the meltdown.
The Rules Committee had passed the measure 11 days earlier and sent it to the full Legislature for action. It extends the Rules Committee’s authority to any matter under the Legislature’s jurisdiction — which means nearly anything in county government — and allows the committee, or any of its members, to launch investigations and issue subpoenas to county officials and others to obtain information.
The Legislature and its committees have those powers already under the county charter and state law, but Robert Firriolo, the Legislature’s counsel, said in May that the resolution would consolidate responsibility in the Rules Committee, which he called the “catch-all” panel for legislative business.
During the committee discussion on May 20, Montgomery had questioned the need to expand Rules Committee authority. She expressed doubts again on Tuesday.
“Why should the Rules Committee, or any member of the Rules Committee, have any more power?” she asked. “It appears that we’re providing the Rules Committee with subpoena power that could be used politically.”
She also said subpoenas might be directed at citizens, leaving “their privacy completely unprotected.” She called the push “a waste of time” and repeated the assertion the change was politically motivated.
“To say something is politically motivated is very insulting,” countered Legislator Carl Albano of Carmel, a Rules Committee member. Legislators “have to learn facts” and a subpoena “may be a necessary tool we use to get the facts.” Likewise, he asserted, it “is inaccurate” to say “we’re jeopardizing people’s rights.”
When Montgomery attempted to speak again, Legislator Neal Sullivan of Carmel-Mahopac, who chairs the committee, and others urged an immediate vote on the measure, which passed, 8 to 1, with Montgomery in dissent.
Before the subpoena vote, legislators clashed with Montgomery on the appointment of three members of the Board of Health. She sought to postpone action, saying she had only received the candidates’ resumes two hours earlier. She also contended that she had been cut off when attempting to ask questions at a May committee meeting, the usual forum for discussion of pending agenda items.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic” but are rushing through appointments to a board that sets policy on public health, she said. “We need to take a look at how we establish these boards.”
Her colleagues rebuffed her and approved the appointments.
The arguments resumed later, during the period reserved for remarks by legislators.
“Tonight Montgomery once again took over the Legislature with her out-of-order comments, snide remarks and unprofessional demeanor toward the Legislature,” Legislator Amy Sayegh of Mahopac complained. “The only political motivation I see during these meetings is the grandstanding and skewing of the narrative of issues by the minority [party] legislator. I take offense that we’re accused of organizing in a partisan manner for doing the business of Putnam County.”
Referring to herself as “open” and “respectful,” Sayegh said that “time and time again my voice is overshadowed by the grandstanding of one legislator. This is not fair to the people of Putnam County, not fair to the other legislators, not fair to the process.”
Montgomery observed that “I made no comments about anyone personally. I made comments about procedure.”
An unidentified female voice tried to silence her.
Other legislators joined in. Cries of “out of order” competed with “you’re out of line” and “you don’t have the floor,” aimed at Montgomery, and pleas to Legislator Toni Addonizio of Kent, who chairs the Legislature, to “end the meeting.”
“Time and time again the Republican Legislature does not allow the Democratic minority leader to speak,” Montgomery persisted. “And there goes democracy down the drain in the Putnam County Legislature.”
Sullivan shot back that “this has nothing to do with democracy. It has to do with common sense and respect for the body we’re part of.”
“That means allowing legislators to have the floor when they request it,” Montgomery told him.
“You don’t have to prolong the meeting,” an unidentified legislator loudly informed Addonizio.
The cacophony continued until Addonizio announced a vote to adjourn, which passed.
The meeting shut down.
The sound feed did not.
Still on-air, legislators cited their frustrations over Montgomery. “How do we even get a censure?” a male legislator wondered. “We’ve got to do something to have these meetings in control.”
Montgomery overheard. “Allow me to speak,” she advised.