What seemed like a simple resolution and vote for the Oswego County Legislature turned into a major kerfuffle at the legislature’s July 11 meeting.
The legislature was supposed to vote on setting a public hearing for 7 p.m. July 25 to discuss whether the legislator terms should be increased from two years to four years. If OKed by the legislature, the matter then would go to county voters in November.
If the matter is approved by voters in November, the measure would take effect Jan. 1, 2020. So this means all people running for legislator in November (all 25 district seats are up for election) would be running for four-year seats.
But the Democrats on the legislature did not like the timing of the proposal.
Legislator Daniel Farfaglia, D-Fulton, introduced amendments to the proposed law which would change the time when the new law would take effect. Instead of voting on the proposal in November 2019, he wanted the public vote to be in November 2020. Then the next time legislators are up for election (November 2021), they would run for four-year terms.
Legislator and Majority Leader Terry Wilbur, R-Hannibal, called a point of order and said the measure to be voted on then by legislators was to set the public hearing date and time -- not to debate the issue.
Farfaglia yelled back at Wilbur that he had the floor. Wilbur again called for a point of order, stating making these amendments to the proposed local law should not be made at this time.
Legislator and Minority Leader Frank Castiglia, D-Fulton, said the amendments needed to be made now because people need to know what they would be commenting on at the July 25 public hearing.
“I have to disagree with Legislator Wilbur,” Castiglia said. “If we don’t change it now, we can’t change it later.”
County Attorney Richard Mitchell said if amendments are made to the local law at the public hearing July 25, then another public hearing would have to be held on the newly amended law.
The Democrats have long been for increasing the terms from two years to four, but also want other changes to the legislature. In the past, they have proposed term limits and reducing the number of legislators from the 25 there are now.
In fact, Legislator Marie Schadt, D-Oswego Town, said the county could save hundreds of thousands of dollars by reducing the number of legislators.
Castiglia also said changing the length of term to four years “would have changed a lot of minds” for people considering running for the legislature this year. Some Republicans balked at this. “That’s pure speculation,” said Legislator Nathan Emmons, R-Oswego.
Farfaglia’s proposal for the amendments failed in a legislature vote. The vote to conduct the public hearing at 7 p.m. July 25 passed.
The hearing will be in the legislature chambers in the Legislative Office Building in Oswego.
Republicans brought forth the current proposal, stating it would make things easier during election years. Wilbur said with the recent change in the state election calendar, petitions to run for election have to be circulated in February and March, which leaves legislators with only 13 months between being elected and then having to start working for re-election.
With a four-year term, Wilbur said legislators would have time to settle into their jobs, learn about the county operations and visit all the county departments long before they have to start running for re-election.
Republicans also believe changing the terms to four years will save money because there would be fewer elections. Democrats said this is ludicrous because there still are elections every two years for House of Representatives, state Assembly and Senate and a number of town and city seats.
Wilbur said money will be saved during primaries because many legislative districts consist of numerous towns and voting districts.