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Stop thief! Monroe County Republicans are trying to steal the election

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Still smarting from a beat down of historic proportions at the ballot box a week ago, ego-bruised Republicans in the Monroe County Legislature are trying to claw back the election. 

There's really no other way to describe the intent of the legislation the majority introduced Tuesday at their monthly meeting - the second-to-last before their grip on power dwindles to a single seat and a Democrat takes over as county executive.

They called it the CABLE Act of 2019, which stood for "Checks and Balances for Legislative Equality," and branded it as an amendment to the County Charter to "enhance the legislature's oversight of county operations."

That sounded reasonable enough considering the legislature has been little more than a rubber stamp for the county executive since Republicans gained control of both branches of government 27 years ago.

But what the measure would do if adopted, among other things, is severely curtail the authority and independence of the county executive by giving the legislature the power to approve the executive's choices for the directors of every county department.

Department heads are appointed by the county executive, and the charter currently grants the legislature the power to approve a handful of them.

The amendment would require the legislature to approve all of them, and would expand the list of positions that need legislative approval to include deputy county executives, records management officers, and the county lawyer.

In practical terms, the legislature could hand-pick the cabinet of County Executive-elect Adam Bello, a Democrat who defeated the Republican incumbent, Cheryl Dinolfo last week. Democrats also won two legislature seats to narrow the Republican majority to 15 to 14. 

The legislation smacked of desperation galling in its audacity to even the most cynical observer of Monroe County politics.

At its core, the measure is a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate and save the plum jobs of Republican party loyalists, who were appointed either department heads or middle managers over three decades of Republican rule in the county. 

"We knew they'd think of something to do to us if they lost," said Minority Leader Cynthia Kaleh, a Democrat from Rochester. "But this is unprecedented."

What wasn't unprecedented was the manner in which the Republicans introduced the legislation.

The measure was added to the agenda at the last minute as a so-called "matter of urgency," a term that sounds critically important but is mostly invoked by the majority to scuttle debate on controversial items by not giving the opposition time to prepare for them. 

Legislation introduced as a "matter of urgency" skips the normal committee process and, in this case, could be signed into law as early as December, while Dinolfo still holds power. 

"Proposing sweeping changes that would limit the power of the county executive before Adam Bello takes office is an insult to Monroe County voters," Democratic legislators said in a statement. "We will do everything in our power to ensure that this desperate attempt to subvert the results of the democratic process will not stand."

Dinolfo spent much of her term as county executive attempting to distance herself from her Republican predecessors and machine politics.

For instance, she dissolved the array of local development corporations that were created by previous administrations to outsource public services, mask budget deficits, and, as the public learned, rig county contracts for Republican party hacks.

But if this legislation reaches her desk and she signs it on her way out the door, she will reveal herself as the biggest party hack of her generation. Her legacy will be tarnished.

There is one provision of the CABLE Act of 2019 that makes sense, however. It would lower to $5,000 the threshold for legislative approval of county contracts.

The same legislators who want the amount lowered raised it to $20,000 from $5,000 five years ago, according to the memo introducing the legislation, with an understanding that just six contracts would fall between that amount.

Now, according to the memo, there are more than 60 such contracts a year being inked without oversight from lawmakers. The implication is that there's enough wiggle room in there for the county to be taken for a ride without legislators acting as watchdogs.

How ironic that the same people who want to steal an election are in the same breath yelling, "Stop thief!"

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.