According to the March 25th Times Union the court case concerning creating two additional minority majority districts for the Albany County Legislature has been settled in favor of the plaintiffs. This would freeze this year's legislative elections until a new plan is drafted. Senior U.S. Judge Lawrence Kahn ordered the county “ to submit an amended map of its 39 legislative districts within three weeks - a timetable aimed at minimizing disruption to an election calendar that beigns in June.”
Testimony on Proposed Local Law K for 2014
Monday, December 29, 2014
To members of the Albany County Legislature:
The Albany County League of Women Voters supports your proposal to reduce the size of the legislature to 29 members. This number would be closer to the number of legislators in other counties of comparable size in New York State and could be more efficient, as well as saving taxpayer money. In this age with multiple methods of communication, legislators should be able to serve their constituents with a larger number in their districts.
If this major step is taken, we urge you to follow the process of the Commission on Reapportionment spelled out in the proposed charter. This Commission should be non-partisan, independent, and inclusive, soliciting opinions from citizens in all parts of the county. This Commission would “be guided by the goal of equal and fair representation of all people in Albany County--.” The process would allow “--the maximum of public participation and comment--.” (pp. 13-14 of the County of Albany Charter Revision Commission.)
According to the Charter Revision Commission, downsizing cannot be carried out before the 2020 decennial census, as other NYS counties have not been allowed by the court to do a second redistricting within the same decade. (See p. 6, Charter Review Commission, Supplemental Report & Recommendations regarding the Municipal Home Rule Law and restructuring of a local legislative body.)
Our strong recommendation is to settle the current lawsuit by adding a majority-minority district. Then give Albany County citizens the opportunity to adopt the proposed charter this year, with the change to 29 legislators, and with the understanding that downsizing the legislature would be done after the 2020 census.
Lois Griffin, President
Albany County League of Women Voters
Albany County: Legislature, Charter, Redistricting, Court Case Update
There is currently a court case taking place before Federal Judge Lawrence Kahn to determine if there should be a fifth county legislative district with a majority of minority population, as a result of a federal voting rights lawsuit. Most parties seem to now accept there should be a fifth district. This court case was cited in stopping work on the proposed Albany County charter revision. They said they could not consider reducing the size of the legislature from 39 to 25 until this case was decided.
Apparently in trying to settle the court case the following has recently occurred: there was a proposed solution in which the legislature would agree to a fifth majority-minority district, with a one-year postponement of next year’s county legislative election. The county executive sued to stop them. The Legislature had a special meeting December 2nd where they could not muster enough votes to postpone the election. Though both the legislature and county executive apparently now agree to a fifth majority-minority district, the court case is set to resume on December 29th.
As of Dec. 4th the Democratic leadership announced that it will now push to reduce the size of the county legislature to 25. The League of Women Voters supports this, as long as the redistricting necessary would be done by an independent commission. The question then becomes what about the rest of the charter revisions, some of which the leagues supports and others they do not support. Being able to votes on the main provisions separately would be ideal.
The above summary is mainly condensed from The Times Union December 2nd editorial, the December 3rd article by Jordan Carleo-Evangelist entitled “Veto fear scuttles settlement vote”, and his December 5th article “Legislative downsizing is back on the table”.
The Albany County Redistricting trial that halted the new County Charter from moving forward to a vote in this past November’s election is currently playing out in front of Senior U.S. Judge Lawrence Kahn in the court house on Broadway in Albany. The proceeding are being well covered by Times Union reporter Jordan Carleo-Evangelist. The main question is whether the minority community in Albany should have a fifth representative in the Albany County Legislature or not.
The letter from Mr. Peter G. Barber concerning the lawsuit stemming from the last redistricting done by the legislature was discussed. The trial will begin Oct 21st before Judge Kahn. It could last three weeks with the writing up of the judge’s decision lasting several more weeks. This will run into the dates when any proposed charter revision would have to be submitted to be on the November ballot.
The chair, Mike Mackey suggested possible ways forward. One possibility is continuing with the current charter. Several officials who work with it plus its ten amendments have no problem continuing with it. Mr. Nichols said waiting for next year would be good. Peter Clouse said he saw no connection with the law suit and putting the new charter on the ballot and wished to move ahead. Sean Ward, Justin Corcoran, and the Mike Mackey gave argument showing the relationship between the court case and moving ahead with charter revision. The strength of feeling in the racial minority community that they were not currently fairly and proportionally represented brought on the lawsuit. The threat of downsizing the legislature they felt would hurt them because they experience frequent requests for assistants from their constituents and lack of funds for campaigning in larger districts. A convincing argument was put forth by Chairman Mackey that if the legislature put downsizing on the ballot in the midst of this court case, it might prejudice the case and cause the judge to feel the county was attempting to do an end run around his possible decision. The racial minority community would also feel the county was trying to thwart them in their attempt to gain what they see as fair representation. The committee expressed the wish to show concern for the minority community.
Thomas Cotrofeld moved to table the question before the committee until their next meeting. This was seconded by Sean Ward. All voted in favor. This action will probably postpone any action on the charter until the outcome of the pending trial.
During the Public Comment period before the meeting began Margaret Danes gave a spirited presentation backed up with statistics supporting many of the League positions on the charter. Though she did not identify herself as a League member, she was recognized as one. Following that many of the legislators spoke against the position of downsizing the legislature.
Once the meeting started there were two items on the agenda regarding the Albany County Charter revisions, they were both withdrawn. Following the meeting I asked Mike Mackie, the Chair of the Legislatures Charter Review Committee what had happened. He said that they had been advised by counsel that because of a law suit brought against the last redistricting of the legislature following the last census, they should wait to act on the new revisions until that case was decided. This is supposed to happen in October 2014.
Is everyone ready to vote on a new and improved county charter this November? It includes a downsized legislature from 39 to 25 members and updated information on departments. The legislature chose to retain the 4 elected coroners, though the League recommended an appointed medical examiner. Should the League support its passage in November? Make your voice heard at the August 26th public hearing.
This is a discussion blog on the Albany County Charter and its revision process sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Albany County.