The $34 million question

County government closed out the month of July with a procedural standoff on staff administration of some $34 million in federal Covid-19 relief funding.

Earlier in the month, county executive Pat Ryan submitted a proposal for legislative approval to allocate almost $263,000 in salaries for what’s being called the “recovery and resilience project.”

Deputy county executive Evelyn Wright, one of Ryan’s top aides, was tabbed by the executive – at an executive-level salary of $126,374 – to head the program. Two assistants would be paid a collective $137,000 (in round figures). There’s more. With Wright on TDA (Temporary Duty Assignment), Ryan would have to backfill her deputy executive position for the duration, probably in excess of $120,000.  Throw in generous benefits for all these new hires – nobody mentioned support staff, just directors – and as former Sen. Everette Dirksen used to say, pretty soon you’re talking real money.

The legislature’s Ways and Means Committee, in a rare display of spinel stiff, voted it down. Ryan quickly resubmitted his proposal, reducing his original ask by a dollar. Yes, one dollar. Apparently, a buck fifty was too much to bear.

Also clucked over was the need for a whole new team of administrators when the executive wing is already crawling with highly paid paper pushers. This is pure legisleeze: $34 million spread over half a dozen priority areas requires special attention.

Ryan, who seems to operate out of some kind of ivory tower on the sixth floor of the county office building, may not yet realize that rebellion is fomenting just one floor below in legislature country.

Fact is, Ryan has been at odds with the legislature ever since this federal gift horse was announced last spring. First, he appoints a committee, including legislators, to plum the public on how to spend the $34 million, then before they can even report, announces how he’s going to do it. He follows that stick-in-the-eye with last month’s staffing bomb. Legislators, 17 of whom will face the voters in November, felt left out, abused, stood up again. How, they ask each other, can they convince a suspicious public that they are in fact a co-equal branch of government when this executive does end runs around them?

There’s more. Under legislative rules long in place, a resolution defeated in committee cannot be brought to the full legislature for a vote without a “motion to discharge.” These types of motions are extremely rare as the work of the legislature is done in committee, like former chairman Dan Alfonso used to say, and committees’ pejoratives are jealously guarded.

As indicated by his resubmission, Ryan will plod forward. After more than two years in office, he should have at least a veto-proof legislature (16 votes) in his pocket. Half of that for discharge should be no challenge. If so, the exec is in more trouble than he may realize.

As the clock ticks on, Ryan’s timing couldn’t be worse. Deep in the bowels of the 2022 budget to be released to the public in late September, the status of the largest federal grant in county history, fully ten percent of this year’s budget, remains in limbo.

What must the feds think?

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HERE AND THERE – I found Kingston Mayor Steve Noble’s suggestion to add four more cops to the city police force in the face of rising mayhem, quite sensible. Not just shoot-ready-aim cops of yore, of course. Modern cops.

Noble will no doubt get pushback from his progressive base but that’s the price of leadership. Let’s see if Hizzoner has the guts to include extra staffing (and training) in his 2022 budget, due out in about ten weeks.

Call me Mr. Wonk, but I actually read the numerous self-serving press releases and newsletters politicians put out at public expense. Take Assemblyman Kevin Cahill. Please.

Cahill’s most recent newsletter had a modicum of photos of himself with lots of stats on programs funded (and previously announced) after state budget passage in April.

Of particular note, I thought, was the huge state investment in education in his district, just over $200 million for five school districts, including BOCES.

I appreciate that many people, if they read these tomes at all, consider all of them partisan propaganda. I have from time to time, especially when they’re mailed out too close to election day with too much effusive praise of the candidate.  

As a genre, too often abused, Cahill’s are a cut above. And as the assemblyman Indicated in this newsletter, the work is never done. He could be around for another 26 years.