ALBANY COUNTY — The Albany County Legislature won’t be downsized any time soon.
“Basically, I think [the idea] is dead,” said County Legislator Charles Dawson, Jr., D-Glenmont. “There is a chance for it to tie into a more comprehensive reform package.” However, he expressed doubt the subject would come to action again.
Last Monday, county lawmakers voted 21 to 18 against a proposal that would have allowed voters to decide whether to reduce the present legislature from 39 seats down to 29.
The notion of reducing the legislature was one brought on by a Charter Review Commission in January 2014. In that review, an independent, bi-partisan study suggested a reduction to 25 seats. Such a cut was said to improve the representation of county residents. A savings of nearly $400,000 was another stated benefit associated with the elimination of 14 seats. That savings, Dawson said, was an incomplete figure that did not include benefits or other expenditures, nor was it the crux of the matter.
“I don’t think it’s our decision to make,” said Dawson, who was first elected to the legislature in 1999. He expressed his belief that his constitutes voted him into office to tackle issues that impacted the community, but that this matter had to do more with the structure of government. “It’s for the people to decide,” he said.
Ultimately, committee members finalized a measure to reduce the number of seats to 29, instead of the previous proposal to drop it down to 25. Of the lawmakers who sponsored the potential law, Chairman Shawn Morse, D-Cohoes, Frank Commisso, D-Albany, Bryan Clenahan, D-Westmere, and Lucille McKnight, D-Albany, voted against the proposal.
The Spotlight left a message for Morse, which was not returned in time for publication.
For Tim Nichols, D-Colonie, there are more items that need to be addressed.
“My point was, let’s do it the right way,” said Nichols, who voted against the proposal. “The last time we rushed a local law… . We got sued and lost.”
That loss is in reference to a decision from the U.S. District Court that ruled county lawmakers violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act when they changed district lines in 2011. The Legislature was ordered to submit a remedial redistricting plan, and barred from holding elections until then.
“To rush through, we’re not going to do what really needs to be redone—redistricting, campaign financing reform,” said Nichols. “To only focus on one item was a mistake. I think my constituents want me to fight for real reform. I think there’s a real interest in the legislature on both sides of the aisle to put forth a comprehensive charter reform based on the recommendations of the commission.”
Nichols said he was in favor of the commission’s recommendation to downsize, but that there are more steps to take for reform.
“The issue, for me, is by far not dead,” said Nichols. “It’s very much alive [and} to be taken care of with all the other reforms that need to take place. … I feel very confident that we will have a charter reform proposal on the ballot for this November. It will include some type of downsizing. Downsizing will be addressed in that proposal.”