Does a Day Make a Difference?

Montgomery objects to changing appointment to Dec. 31

The Putnam County Legislature last week voted 8 to 1 to move the appointment date for its clerk from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 (or earlier), a change that could give lame-duck legislators a role in choosing a key employee.

Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown in the Legislature, cast the lone “no” vote.

Legislative terms begin Jan. 1, so advancing the clerk’s appointment by a day or more means that legislators approving the selection could include those defeated in the November general election.

Although the term is three years, the Legislature also adopted language stating that the clerk “shall serve at the pleasure of the county Legislature,” instead of “until his or her successor is appointed,” as the previous wording specified. The current clerk is Diane Schonfeld, first appointed in May 2012 to fill a vacancy.

The county’s little-known Charter Revision Commission recommended the changes, which become effective on Dec. 31, 2022.

Legislators favoring the move said it ensures that a clerk will be available on Jan. 1, when the new session begins. “This makes sense to me,” said Legislator Paul Jonke of Southeast.

Montgomery said that while her colleagues considered it a minor thing, “I see it as a big change. You’re disenfranchising a new legislator coming in. You’re disenfranchising entire districts.”

She pointed out that another agenda item, a measure listing professional qualifications for a county auditor, retained the Jan. 1 appointment date. She also faulted the Charter Commission for shutting out the public, unlike neighboring counties. “It’s a very unfair process,” she said.

Legislator Neal Sullivan of Carmel-Mahopac, who chairs the Rules Committee, which backed the changes, said the Charter Commission sought input from county department heads and elected officials and that its work continues. He suggested residents interested in its work can comment at Rules Committee meetings.

According to the County Charter, a commission appointed by the Legislature must review the charter every 10 years, although legislators, the county executive, or town or village governments can propose changes at any time.

Before launching into the meeting agenda, Toni Addonizio of Kent, who chairs the Legislature, defended the eight Republican members’ practice of gathering in private before legislative meetings — effectively, conducting a secret meeting-before-the-meeting because Montgomery is the only Democrat on the nine-member panel.

“Caucus meetings are permitted by law and are not open to the public,” Addonizio said, although it was not clear what prompted her defense of the practice. She noted that legislators could address “any topic” at a caucus, “including county business. Questions about whether caucus meetings have been held or about what may have been discussed are therefore totally improper and irrelevant.”

Montgomery remarked that while discussing public business at a caucus may be allowed by state law, “so is smoking marijuana. Is that a good idea? I don’t think so.”

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