Term’s Up

Term’s up

With the usual pomp and publicity, Dutchess County executive Marc Molinaro has signed term-limit legislation to go into effect in 2021.  

Given that Ulster came up with this idea at least two years ago, some might ask, what happened over here?

The answer is, lots of smoke, occasional heat, but no fire. The Big Fizzle got kicked back and forth between the legislature and the executive and now sits somewhere on a dusty shelf.

At the least, Dutchess showed Ulster how to do it right. Ignoring state statute, the Ulster legislature initially moved for a public referendum on term limits. Alas, county executive Mike Hein, who didn’t show much enthusiasm for the idea, was forced to veto. His lawyers, who apparently didn’t talk to the legislature’s lawyers, advised him that under state law only the legislature itself could modify terms of office. Dutchess knew this and ran the entire process through its legislature. Hein’s veto was overridden by the legislature, which is where things stand now.

They say we learn more from failure than success, so there may be a lesson here. In a state so dedicated to “home rule,” isn’t it strange that the people are denied the opportunity to vote on the terms of their elected representatives? Stranger yet is that this fundamental power would be solely vested in the hands of legislators.

There is a way forward, should they choose. Sixteen legislators voted to override Hein’s veto. Only a simple majority of 12 of 23 would be required for legislative passage.

Stay tuned.

Feeling better, not.

For almost a decade during the administration of the first county executive we were treated to annual press conferences on Ulster’s success toward to becoming “the healthiest county in the state.”

There was progress, all right. Ulster under the Hein administration, went from the middle of the pack (among 57 upstate counties) to the upper third. Two weeks ago, sans the usual fanfare, it was announced that the county had returned to mediocrity. Without a peep from the administration. Curious.

I rang up acting county executive Adele Reiter for an explanation. Reiter didn’t return the call but soon enough senior deputy executive Ken Crannell, known as the chief explainer in media circles, was on the line. I had expected as much: when bad news breaks out, Crannell breaks in.

The explanation, Crannell explained, was the 84 “premature deaths” last year from opioids and suicides. “Seventeen wasn’t that great, either,” he said. “We’re in a cycle.”

As a matter of fact, cycles are circular; what we’re in is a full-blown crisis. The 84 deaths are what officials know about and record. The actual number can only be estimated.

In defense of healthy Ulster, Crannell detailed a number of initiatives during the latter years of the Hein administration when the opioid crisis first hit home. Supplying first responders and police with Narcan kits undoubtedly saved lives. Working with the sheriff’s office to identity and treat addicts at the jail has been a positive as was increasing public awareness. A year-long action plan (three months into the year) will be released shortly, says Crannell.

All this is well and good, and yet, 2018 might have been a record. Put another way, who among us has not read the obituary of a young person and thought, “Oh, my God. Not another one?”

Another spike in opioid deaths certainly called for more of an official response.