by Jeremy Moule
This post has been updated to better differentiate between Democratic Legislators John Lightfoot and Willie Joe Lightfoot.
We have complained for years about the bickering, partisanship, and posturing that takes place regularly in the Monroe County Legislature. But last night surprised even us — a new, embarrassing low. Picture a kindergarten class with mostly mean kids.
Even explaining what happened during the rancorous parts of the Legislature meeting is not a simple task. Barbs were traded, one Democratic legislator was stripped of his membership on two boards, and a piece of pending Democratic legislation was suddenly brought up and passed, and then hijacked by the Republican majority.
There is no single point where the meeting turned. The acrimony unfolded incrementally and drew in several issues that have churned in the Legislature, some for years.
But heading into the meeting, conflict of some sort was inevitable. It was the first time the Legislature had met since County Executive Maggie Brooks fired Todd Spring from his job as executive health director at Monroe Community Hospital. A state report said Spring had mistreated a patient.
Legislators were set to confirm appointments to a newly reconstituted oversight board for the hospital. As far as anyone can tell, the board hasn't functioned since the administration of former County Executive Jack Doyle, even though it's supposed to meet bimonthly and is supposed to do some very important things, like recommend an annual budget to the county executive.
Ultimately, the Legislature unanimously passed the appointments and legislators on both sides of the aisle said they were glad to support the reinstatement of the board. But Democratic legislators pointed out that they've asked for the board to be reactivated for years, and Legislator Justin Wilcox asked the body's Republican president, Jeff Adair, why he didn't reactivate the board sooner.
Adair said that he was acting at the request of the county executive, who sent him a letter on May 10.
"I believe now is a timely time to do it, and I'm not going to dwell," he said.
Right after that vote, Assistant Majority Leader Dan Quatro called for a vote on pre-existing Democratic legislation. The legislation, which passed, creates a committee to review the county charter, a set of laws laying out how county government runs. The legislation gives the Legislature president, Adair, the power to appoint the members of the charter review commission. And that's just what Adair did.
He appointed himself, Republican Legislator Debbie Drawe, and Democratic Legislator John Lightfoot to the commission. He also appointed Gates Town Attorney John DiCaro, Pittsford Town Board member Jared Lusk, and Frederick Holbrook of Spencerport. Democrats decried the last three appointees because they are active Republicans.
John Lightfoot was never asked whether he wanted to serve, however, and the Democratic leadership never submitted names for the committee. John Lightfoot tried to withdraw his name in protest, but Adair said he wouldn't fill the vacancy that move would create. To resign, John Lightfoot would have to submit a letter, Adair said.
Also during the meeting, Republicans passed resolutions that effectively removed Democratic Legislator Willie Joe Lightfoot from two boards. In the case of the county fire board, Willie Joe Lightfoot's term had expired in 2009, so Adair appointed Republican Legislator Fred Ancello to the seat; Republican legislators confirmed the appointment. (It's not unusual for the county to keep people on boards after their terms expire).
And earlier in the meeting, Republicans voted against legislation that would have confirmed Willie Joe Lightfoot's reappointment to the airport authority board. Willie Joe Lightfoot had spoken out against two other airport authority appointments, saying that they were too close to the county administration: one appointee, Henry Stuart, serves on several local development corporations. Willie Joe Lightfoot also said that the board is not independent, and that he had shared that opinion on a survey given to board members.
"This is all just retaliation," Willie Joe Lightfoot told me after the meeting.