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‘This is not a power grab,’ GOP says of bill

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Monroe County Legislature Republican Majority Leader Brian Marianetti and legislature President Joe Carbone said that they first saw - proposed legislation that would limit the powers of County Executive-elect Adam Bello during at meeting of party members Tuesday at GOP Headquarters. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Monroe County Legislature Republican Majority Leader Brian Marianetti and legislature President Joe Carbone said that they first saw proposed legislation that would limit the powers of County Executive-elect Adam Bello during at meeting of party members Tuesday at GOP Headquarters.

The first time Republican Monroe County legislators set eyes on a controversial bill that would, among other things, curtail the authority of the incoming county executive was at the headquarters of the Monroe County Republican Committee a few hours before the legislators introduced the measure.

It was a week after the election, and all 17 Republican legislators were present in the room, as was the chairperson of the party, William Napier, according to a timeline revealed Thursday by the legislature's president and majority leader in response to questions from reporters.

The president, Joseph Carbone, of Irondequoit, and the majority leader, Brian Marianetti, of Greece, said the outgoing Republican county executive, Cheryl Dinolfo, was not in attendance and had no hand in drafting the legislation.

Carbone and Marianetti had called a news conference to address what they called "misconceptions" about the legislation, known as the CABLE Act of 2019.

The bill, which is an acronym for "Checks and Balances for Legislative Equality," has been met with widespread public condemnation in light of last week's election, which saw a Democrat, Adam Bello, elected county executive for the first time in more than 30 years.

But in casting the bill as necessary for the Republican majority to keep a check on a Democratic administration, Carbone and Marianetti opened themselves up to questions about how effectively the majority has kept tabs on previous Republican county executives.

Their answers at times suggested the majority has been functioning as an extension of the executive branch and working in concert with the county Republican Party, rather than as an independent check on power.

Marianetti explained that the legislature "could improve" and that the results of the recent election forced the majority to revisit its authority.

"I think it goes back to the reality that there is a change coming that hasn't happened in a long time that causes you to look at this issue," Marianetti said. 

'THIS IS NOT A POWER GRAB'

Carbone downplayed the significance of the bill, saying it was "not that big of a deal" and that "it doesn't move the needle that much." He added that he might be willing to table it, or amend it, if it did not have bipartisan support, including the backing of Bello.

"This is not a power grab," Carbone said. "This is just one more level of transparency."

Carbone noted that while voters elected a Democratic county executive, they also returned Republicans to the majority. That majority was narrowed to a single seat, however, the balance of power being 15 to 14 in favor or Republicans.

"We were voted in as the majority. The people kept us in the majority," Carbone said. "We can't lose our teeth. We have to have some power to govern."

Following the press conference, Bello said he's "not going to engage in a negotiation that is happening behind closed doors, that’s outside of the normal process, that is part of some matter of urgency at the last hour at the last month at the moment to radically transform how county government operates, that’s not what I was elected to do.”

Dinolfo, whom her spokesperson has said favored the legislation, issued a prepared statement after the news conference reiterating her support.

"The recently submitted CABLE Act of 2019 is another opportunity for the majority and minority and the new administration to work together in the spirit of bipartisanship and create a working plan moving forward," the statement read in part. "I am pleased to hear the majority caucus has offered to work with their partners in government on the CABLE Act and I encourage all parties to continue to work together on behalf of the people of Monroe County."

FACT-CHECKING THE GOP'S 'CLARIFYING FACTS'

The majority distributed to media outlets what it billed as a "clarifying fact sheet" for the legislation. The sheet listed nine points, most of which had been covered by local media outlets, including CITY and its reporting partner WXXI News.

Some of the points were subjective in their assertions, such as one that stated "the legislature looks forward to working with the incoming county administration and this legislation will ensure that we will be true county partners."

One point stood out, however. It asserted that many of the provisions in the legislation "are past proposals from the Democrat minority."

County Executive-elect Adam Bello, a Democrat. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • County Executive-elect Adam Bello, a Democrat.

The legislation includes several proposals. The most controversial of them is one giving the legislature the power to approve the county executive's choices for the directors of every county department.

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

But the legislation would amend the charter to require the legislature to approve all of them, and would expend the list of positions that need legislative approval to include deputy county executives, records management officers, and the county lawyer.

That provision is the source of the public outrage, and has never been proposed by Democratic legislators.

Other provisions of the legislation, however, have been supported by Democrats.

They include a provision requiring the county executive to release before October 15 the proposed county budget for the upcoming fiscal year. That had been the date prior to 2006, when Republican legislators pushed it back to November 15.

The new date enabled the county executive at the time, Maggie Brooks, a Republican, to release her budget, and the potentially controversial elements tucked into it, after Election Day.

Democrats have long objected to the date change and have submitted legislation to change it. The legislation went nowhere.

Another provision that Democratic legislators could get behind is one requiring the executive branch to respond to correspondence from the legislative branch within 30 days.

Democratic legislators have never submitted legislation to that effect, but they have publicly complained for years that Republican administrations have been slow to respond to their communiques.

Lastly, the legislation calls for lowering to $5,000 the threshold for legislative approval of county contracts.

Republican legislators in 2014 raised the threshold to $20,000 from $5,000 with the support of Democrats. According to the memo introducing the CABLE Act of 2019, the threshold was raised with an understanding that just six contracts would fall between those amounts.

Now, according to the memo, there are more than 60 contracts annually that fall within the gap. Democrats have not proposed legislation to lower the threshold.

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

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