MALONE - Franklin County legislators derided the idea of switching to a board of supervisors at a meeting last week.
Several people, including Enterprise Managing Editor Peter Crowley and Dan Jenkins, of the Upper Saranac Lake area, discussed the idea at a hearing in Saranac Lake last month, noting that it would do away with the need for redistricting. Instead of having legislators, the supervisor of each of the county's 19 towns would represent that town in county government with a voting system weighted by each town's population, like in Essex County.
County Attorney Jonathan Miller said that in 1968, a judge ruled that the board of supervisors format the county was using at the time wasn't representing each town fairly, so he ordered the establishment of a seven-legislator board.
This is the proposed plan for Franklin County’s new legislative districts. The only change from the previous plan is that one section of Malone from legislative district number 2, represented now by David 'Billy' Jones, would move into legislative district 4, represented now by Marc 'Tim' Lashomb.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
Legislator David "Billy" Jones, D-Chateaugay, wanted clarification as to whether the board could go against that decision.
"I don't think that we can just change that based upon the request of a few individuals," Miller said. "I think that there would have to be some application to the court or some special proceeding to change that."
"We can't just change a court ruling, with a snap of our fingers or with a vote, can we? Because if we can, I've got a few other court rulings that have been made that I'm sure this board would like to act on," Jones said. "They were talking like we could just do it."
Legislator Tim Burpoe, D-Saranac Lake, argued that small towns like Duane wouldn't have much power when compared with towns with larger populations like Harrietstown because the vote would be weighted so heavily in favor of the larger towns.
"Would they really be able to get their voices heard?" Burpoe said.
Several other legislators laughed at the idea, asking why "poor Duane" would even bother to show up.
"I've heard the Adirondack Daily Enterprise go on ad nauseum about how they believe the board of supervisors is the better way of going," Burpoe said.
But looking at other counties that have board of supervisors, he said it's more expensive to have that many people making decisions.
"Why we'd ever even consider going backwards is beyond me," Burpoe said. "And why this is continually being brought up by, you know, supposedly thoughtful individuals is beyond me as well. And if they come to these meetings, not only should we have an open mind, but they should have an open mind as well. And to be honest with you, I haven't seen that from anybody who has been expressing those points of view."
Board Chairman Gordon Crossman said that every single vote would need to be weighted, including, as Burpoe said, votes to close a meeting.
Jenkins was part of a group of people who successfully sued the county during its last reapportionment effort a decade ago, forcing the county to abbreviate its legislators' terms and rework its districts.
Jenkins asked many questions at the Saranac Lake hearing, then reiterated them and asked others in a letter.
Last week in Malone, legislators, Miller, who headed up the redistricting committee, and other members of the committee addressed Jenkins' issues.
In his letter, Jenkins wrote that he is concerned the law doesn't deduct the prison population of the town of Tupper Lake, which he says was identified by the federal census.
He is referring to people who are residents at Tupper Lake's Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Services Office. Some of those people have been sent there because they are legally unfit to stand trial, but Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, said they are not prisoners and are eligible to vote.
That same day, in fact, a team from the county Board of Elections was at Sunmount taking early votes from residents there.
Jenkins also wrote that he's concerned that the town of Bombay is split between two legislative districts. The Municipal Home Rule Law bars towns from being split into multiple districts unless that town's population is 110 percent of the average town population in the county, which isn't the case for Bombay.
Miller said that when Jenkins and others sued the county last time over redistricting, the plan they came up with, which was agreed to by all the parties involved, included this split.
"We aren't changing anything that hasn't already been court approved," Miller said.
Miller and Burpoe argued last week that the two portions of districts in Bombay are separated by physical and governmental boundaries, since the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation is one of the sections.
Burpoe also questioned Jenkins' motivation for inserting himself into the discussion over redistricting. He also questioned why, after stating most of these concerns at the Saranac Lake public hearing, Jenkins bothered to reiterate the concerns in a letter.
Earlier this year, Jenkins requested to be put on the committee that formulated the redistricting plan. Legislators decided not to appoint him to it, saying they wanted to keep it small.