Tuesday night football
Kicking the football past election day, the Ulster County Legislature won’t act – if it acts at all – on censuring New Paltz legislator Hector Rodriguez until after the Nov. 5 elections.
Rodriguez, a 13-term Democrat, was credibly accused last February of inappropriate conduct against four or five women – the number varies – and abuse of office and was immediately stripped of his committee chairmanship by chairwoman Tracey Bartels of Gardiner. Following a special investigation by the personnel office that elaborated on those charges this month, Bartels removed him from two other committees.
And yet, not a legislator spoke to the subject at this Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting, the last scheduled before the election. Not even after Melissa Servant, a Wallkill High School math teacher and a self-described victim of sexual abuse, spoke out during the public comment period against the legislature’s silence. Two other people also expressed similar concerns.
Rodriguez, who has not denied the charges, did not attend Tuesday’s session.
Critics were not entirely accurate in accusing the legislature of doing nothing. It’s more like they haven’t done anything of substance. Or as Servant told me, “How do we assure our children they will be safe if these kinds of things are not addressed?”
The question is, why did it take eight months after charges were brought, only to be delayed once again?
Former chairman Ken Ronk, R-Wallkill, and Heidi Haines, C-Accord, who caucuses with Republicans, both called for an investigation immediately after charges were levied against Rodriguez last winter. Bartels acted promptly in turning the investigation over to the personnel department, as required by charter. Personnel commissioned the investigation, a summary of which was released by the executive department to the public – without notifying the legislature or Rodriguez – earlier this month. Following procedure, Bartels last week assigned the matter to the Laws and Rules Committee, headed by Dave Donaldson, D-Kingston, for review. The committee is tasked with recommending rules to reprimand or formally censure a member. Currently, there are none.
Laws and Rules typically meets the day before the legislature’s third Tuesday of the month regular session. Bartels has asked Donaldson to move up his committee meeting in order to be able to offer legislation at the Nov. 19 regularly scheduled meeting of the full body. Check that date.
Bartels, who spoke to reporters after Tuesday’s meeting, said a number of legislators had expressed reservations about voting on a report (on Rodriguez) that none of them had read. All, of course, had read the investigation’s summary report, the one released by the executive almost two weeks ago.
“Wasn’t the summary damning enough?” I asked her. “I would say so,” she said, “but that’s how some legislators feel.”
It takes only two legislators to move a resolution to the floor – one to offer a motion, another to second it. But no one did. No one even mentioned it.
Safely elected after Nov. 5 – only a few of 23 seats will be in play – legislators can shake their fists at the sky and damn those who abuse others.
It has been a most shameful experience on every level.
NOTES – I erred in reporting that Democratic county chairman Frank Cardinale had removed Rodriguez from his posts as a county and state committeeman. Those are elected positions. Cardinale called on him to resign, as did majority leader Jonathan Heppner, D-Woodstock. Ronk said he is withholding judgment until he reviews the investigation’s full report.