Saturday, April 6, 2013

Resolving to do . . . SOMETHING

Hector Rodriguez must really be pining for the days when being minority whip of the Ulster County Legislature meant something.  He remembers when the legislative branch ran the show, before that pesky county charter gave a lot of that power to the newly-minted executive branch.  But rather than returning to grade-school social studies lessons to learn what representative are supposed to do (craft legislation, provide a check against the power of the executive), he's spending his time on "memorializing resolutions" designed to create headlines in an election year.

To be fair, most of what the legislature does these days is in the form of resolutions, and a good deal of them are of no legal consequence.  The best-publicized of these was February's anti-SAFE Act resolution, which drew a huge crowd and no small amount of criticism for spending taxpayer money on holding the hearing at UPAC, when Ulster County has no official role in gun-control policy.  That dog-and-pony show came fast on the heels of a Democrat-backed one supporting the new state law, which died a quick death.

Despite the fact that the gun-control resolution was the most expensive, not to mention most visible, in recent memory, there was some justification given for it.  The SAFE Act was passed, like so many state laws, in the dead of night and without any time for public input or meaningful debate.  Legislative Terry Bernardo claimed she wanted to give people a voice in that process, and a number of other counties in the state have done the same.  The people who showed up for that event largely derided anyone who supported stronger laws, even a woman whose son had been shot in the street, but they had their say.

But Mr. Rodriguez has taken politics to a new level of pointless, by crafting a resolution which calls for something which had already happened.  If his measure had passed committee and the full legislature, it would have resulted, I'm assuming, in a strongly-worded letter to the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency telling them to cut off tax breaks to Skate Time 209, owned by Chairman Bernardo and her husband, Len.

The IDA, I'm guessing, would have sent a letter back saying, "Do you read the papers?"

Background on the Bernardo/IDA kerfuffle

The IDA, the same body considering a payment in lieu of taxes for the Park Point project, granted tax breaks to Skate Time 209 back in 2004.  When Len Bernardo ran for county executive in 2007, Mike Hein ran him over the coals about not living up to the jobs promises made for the rink.  It was purely political, targeting just that one business, and it worked; Hein won the election.

Since then, for a variety of reasons including having a lot of free time during the recession and pressure from the state, the IDA has performed a review of every single active application to see if it's living up to expectations.  The Bernardos' business was one of those caught in the net.  IDA members say the rink promised 26 jobs, and the Bernardos say they "projected that many.  They also missed their filing deadline this year, so they aren't providing proper documentation.  TLB Enterprises, the actual corporation, was asked to voluntarily give back future savings of about $8,000 or have all of its remaining tax breaks cancelled.  The Bernardos rejected the offer and their tax breaks were yanked.

Litigation is almost certain, and the betting money is saying that the Bernardos will win in court, but lose in the court of public opinion.

So why this resolution?

Memorializing resolutions, as I've said, are always symbolic.  Our county legislature can't change state gun laws, or keep a mosque from being built somewhere in New York City, or even tell the IDA what to do.  If you agree with one, you say it's about sending a message.  If you disagree, you call it politics and say it's a waste of time.

In this particular case, the resolution is beyond pointless.  The IDA has already taken the action that Mr. Rodriguez is calling for.  What message are you trying to send, when it's a fait accompli?

It's simple:  no one on the streets of District 20 has a clue what Hector Rodriguez is doing to pull his paycheck, and he needs to bolster name recognition in advance of November.  Instead of studying the charter of learning what role a legislature is supposed to perform, he is opting for political masturbation.  There's nothing wrong with masturbation, but I'd prefer he not do it with taxpayer money.

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