Charter Review Commission report is skimpy

To the Editor:

Both the Albany County Charter Review Commission and Albany County League of Women Voters have made a weak case in support of a commission proposal endorsed by the league to reduce the Albany County Legislature from 39 to 25 members.

ACCRC's report is very skimpy. Only one sentence is devoted to a discussion of how the smaller legislature might improve efficiency; another contains the entire discussion of how the 39-to-25 reduction might improve bi-partisanship, and a mere two sentences discuss how the elimination of more than one-third the legislature might promote competition in elections.

This is what ACCRC wrote: "A smaller County Legislature could make the body more efficient in its ability to debate and deliberate legislation by allowing members to have a better understanding of how issues are viewed differently in different areas. Reducing the size of the County Legislature could lead to more bi-partisanship amongst members and a better understanding of each and their respective constituents needs and interests. A reduction in the number of members would make elections, especially primaries, more competitive. With fewer seats, more candidates would likely vie to hold them."

I mean no disrespect to the commission but its rationale is far too short to be taken seriously. The legislature should reject it as unpersuasive. 

Imagine you are a college professor or adjunct and have assigned a group of students to research and write one report on the advantages of reducing the size of the legislature.  After several months, they hand in a report containing four sentences in total supporting three of the main ideas they present

How could you possibly find it persuasive? Would you not wonder where are the supporting details?  

The League of Women Voters explains its support with the following paragraph: "Reduce the size of the County Legislature by 14 members from 39 to 25. (This could not be done until after the 2020 census, taking effect in January 2024. Various sizes for the legislature could be chosen, but 25 balances the need for representation of various factions with a more manageable size. A smaller legislature would be more efficient and give each legislator more responsibility, thus enhancing accountability and influence, plus saving money. Within the last ten years, six other counties have reduced the size of their legislature. See the Commission's Supplemental Report on legislature size.)"

This is the league’s entire justification for drastically reducing the legislature's size.

The commission and league appear to value efficiency as an overriding priority that must be improved. My sense is the Albany County Legislature is too efficient now.

At its monthly meetings, the legislature often blasts through its agenda as fast as is humanly possible with little or no discussion of most issues. With fewer representatives, there would likely be even less debate

If efficiency is measured by how quickly meetings are conducted, the county legislature is certainly more efficient than the 15-member Albany Common Council and it appears to be more dominated by its leadership than the Albany city council.

My rejection of the commission’s legislature reduction recommendation should not be interpreted as a rejection of other proposals of the commission.  Surely there is a glaring need for the county to codify the many laws and resolutions enacted by the legislature in preceding years so as to make it possible for everyone to know exactly what has been enacted.

What I see are unstated but so-obviously-true-they-need-not-be-discussed assumptions in play on this matter that, in fact, may not be true and must be examined. Two of these are the legislature is way too large and consumes too much of the county budget.

The legislature costs about $3 million per year to operate — about one-half of 1 percent of the county budget. Such an expense is not unreasonable or excessive.

The legislature's work is far too important to be shortchanged. Albany county residents would benefit if the legislature met twice monthly and had a larger staff, answerable only to it; this would facilitate extended and better-informed debate on the important issues it deals with.

Tom Ellis

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