Toward accountability

It sometimes happens that a post-event press conference elicits more relevant news than the carefully- staged event itself.

Case in point. Pat Ryan’s “1,000 jobs in 1,000 days” delivered at this first state of the county address before about 500 high school students in Kingston last week was one of those pithy, catchy bumper sticker slogans that sticks in the mind like an earworm.  But what does it mean?

Or more precisely, why did the county executive offer a timeline, asked a reporter at the press conference following his presentation.

“Because,” Ryan replied, “we want to be held accountable.”

Huzzah!

To be held accountable is to set standards, goals, and most of all, deadlines. These elements have been sorely lacking in the county’s exceedingly expensive but mostly failed economic development efforts since IBM left a generation ago. To establish deadlines, to report progress and problems is to be held responsible.

If there’s a fly in this welcome approach it’s that 1,000 days is a long, long way to a bottom line. Rather, the administration should, at the least, report progress (or lack thereof) on an annual basis, say at the next state of the county address in January.

Numbers, please – Ryan only mentioned it in passing, but his opening remarks that county government was now “approaching” $350 million” caught the ear of more than one reporter in the Wendell Scherer Theater last week. Newshounds, eyebrows arching, remembered the county legislature had approved a $342 million budget submitted by Ryan only in December.

“I sort of rounded it up,” Ryan said when reminded at his press conference. “Eight million dollars is a pretty big round up,” a reporter observed.

Ryan quickly retreated. “I shouldn’t have done that,” he said. “I think it’s around three hundred and forty-two.”

Context: There is the perception, however tested, in some more conservative quarters that the new “progressive” Ryan administration is a bit loose with the county checkbook. The Hein administration was known to be tighter than a duck’s butt on money matters, but Ryan increased spending from the last Hein budget by some $12 million, with 350 almost in sight.

Ryan, since he took office in June after a special election for county exec, has repeatedly expressed concern about Ulster’s affordable housing issues, what some call a crisis. But sprouting hoary stats and anecdotes is no substitute for an action plan.

Asked (again), for instance, whether he would support the establishment of a county housing authority to finance and build affordable housing, Ryan responded, “not right now.” Nobody asked, if not now, when, if not here, where?

“This is a kind of option on the town table right now,” he said of an issue frequently raised during his many town meetings.  “We will support the towns.” This from administration that “likes to change things up.”.

A thousand units in a thousand days has a nice ring to it.

Bail reform, reform -Pressure is mounting for the legislature to revisit its hastily drawn-up bail reform legislation (effective Jan. 1) that while well-intended, has many state legislators worried. I know of at least one legislator run out of his favorite gas station by irate grease monkeys.

At issue is not that the former bail system victimized the poor, and sometimes the innocent, but that judges should have discretion on determining who might be a threat to public safety and who might be safely released.

There may be something more fundamental between the judiciary and the legislative branches of government in play here. For generations, judges have been accused of “making laws,” which is the sole responsibility of the legislature. In this case, the legislature crafted the bail reform laws so carefully as to render the judiciary little more than robots in robes.

Legislators, even those in the safest seats, resist revisiting what they think they’ve fixed. But this is an election year for all 213 and they need to pay attention.