“Eternal Optimist” and “Schoolyard Bully”

optimistThe Rockland County Legislature met on Monday, June 02, 2014 and hardly had the salute to the flag and the opening invocation been completed when Democratic Chairman Alden Wolfe launched into a nearly ten minute harangue of his colleagues about his misfortune to have been the object of a “blog”  and a later discussion of the blog on a Facebook post.

At one point his simmering anger became so unhinged that he interrupted himself to address a person by the name of “Steve” saying: “Steve, you don’t have to worry, you don’t have to write notes, I will give you a copy of my comments if you want!

In the article in Rockland Voice to which Chairman Wolfe took umbrage it was written: The Democratic Chairman of the County Legislature Alden Wolfe appears to be playing political games over an $11 million premium that the County earned of its deficit financing bond.

Under Wolfe’s leadership the legislature has spent weeks blabbering about what to do with it.  Yet the funds are still unassigned and while the money is frozen by this inaction Wolfe and the rest of the legislators are hurting the County’s cash flow causing an added need for short term borrowing that will cost taxpayers an unnecessary $250,000.

Alden needs to understand that the electorate elected Day to fix the County’s fiscal disaster and Day has made a recommendation as to how this $11 million should be utilized.  Despite receiving assurances from the legislative leadership that there would be a vote at the last Budget & Finance Committee meeting to deal with this matter we have learned that Wolfe took it upon himself to announce there would be no vote!

No vote means a $250K hit to the taxpayers of Rockland County brought upon them by Wolfe’s political meandering.

The article became the focus of an extensive discussion on the Facebook page ‘Clarkstown: What They Don’t Want You To Know’ in which one of Wolfe’s own Democratic colleagues, Legislator Kantrowitz, participated as did a candidate for the legislature in the coming November elections, Lon Hofstein.

Chairman Wolfe’s declaration of ‘We shall not be bullied’ and his declaration that ‘We shall not vote’ had all the hallmarks of another eternal optimist, France’s ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV who famously declared “l’état, c’est moi”. In Chairman Wolfe’s world it appears that his mantra is “the legislature, it is I”. 

Here are Wolfe’s complete comments and the response of his colleague, Legislator Joseph Meyers.

Tonight I am going to address an issue which has been evolving over the past few months, specifically our relationship with the County Executive. At the beginning of this year he and I both began our new roles in County government.  He as County Executive and me as Chairman of the Legislature.

Ed and I have a relationship that goes back to 2006 and I had the highest of hopes of working collaboratively with him.  Of course the beginning of the year brought with it many questions from the media about our relationship and at the time I answered those questions with optimism.

Now as we approach the half way mark of the year I am compelled to address what has emerged as a disappointing pattern.

Along with beautiful weather this past week it brought with it a targeted campaign by the County Executive through social media and his own email list to pressure us into putting aside our independent judgment on an important fiscal issue and bow to his will.

This is not the first time he has resorted to these tactics.  He did it a month or so ago when we questioned, as is our right, why he would support an Orange County housing development hooking up to our sewer system.  Just last week he went public on charter reform as we sat here patiently waiting for promised feedback from him on our proposal.  As of right now it has been 34 days since our meeting and still counting.

What bothers me the most, though, is the fact that on Thursday evening I saw him in the parking lot and I extended an olive branch to him and suggested that we start over. At that point I thought he had agreed. 

It seems that when we question his position on an issue he tries to intimidate us through the press, social media, and his own email list, spinning the public up with half truths and outright misinformation.

Just this past weekend his friend wrote and distributed a blog entry on the issue of whether to apply the premium on our recent financing to the deficit.  The so-called facts that were referenced in this blog entry were not only so distant from the truth but the entry also resorted to personal attacks against me.

Instead of repudiating the tone of the blog the County Executive actually offered additional misstatements of fact which were then posted on Facebook. Even further, later comments posted on Facebook from others, third parties whom I have never met before, about conversations had in private meetings between certain legislators and the County Executive. They also referenced the specific fact that during that week I was out of town in Europe and that is information that could only have come from one source and that is Ed Day.

Even throughout the day today I have got reports that he is still sending out email blasts with the same misinformation asking people to call our office and tell us to vote his way.  These types of tactics by the County Executive are a failure of leadership and have absolutely no place in ANY government.

Steve, you don’t have to worry, you don’t have to write notes, I will give you a copy of my comments if you want!

Trying to force us to make decisions through distortion and intimidation may have worked for him in the school yard but it certainly doesn’t work for us here in Rockland County government.  It’s unbecoming and the County Executive should know better particularly given his experience on this board where 17 legislators from all corners of the County, chosen by our neighbors to make independent decisions in their best interest.

Put simply WE WILL NOT be bullied. 

As we sit here right now under the law – that is the law on the bond resolution that we passed earlier this year that was given to us by County Executive Ed Day – the premium must be applied toward the payment of interest.  That is the law right now. The money isn’t “unassigned or frozen”, his words.  There is no inaction or “vacillation”, again his words. Tonight is not our “last chance” to vote on the issue, again his words.

Not voting tonight will not cost the taxpayers an “additional $250,000”, his words, because what he conveniently omits from his public statements on the issue is that even if we do apply the premium to the deficit he is still going to be short of cash this year and he will still have to borrow money through short-term borrowing.

Now if he had been at our committee meeting last week he would have heard our commissioner of finance say just that and in fact the letter from him that we got after-hours on Friday, had a cash flow projection that shows just that. 

He has invented a crisis that simply does not exist solely to put pressure on us to do what he wants us to do. This is reliance on political theater as opposed to anything with meaningful substance. 

This particular item is not on tonight’s agenda because we have not received the clear and concise plan from the County Executive as to how the interest payments would be made next year.  We will not be debating it tonight.  Despite what the County Executive has publicly said we have not received “reams” of documentation, his words.  In fact his plan consists of exactly ONE sentence received late in the day on Friday as an attachment to this letter. It’s right here.  One sentence! I’m going to read it.

His plan: “The County Executive will include in the proposed County budget the necessary actions which may involve cuts to services, raising revenues, or a combination of both to pay the debt service in 2015 in the amount of $6.9 million and $4.1 million in 2016.”

That’s the plan.  What this overly simplistic response to a relevant and critically important question tells me is that the County Executive has NO PLAN AT ALL.

It doesn’t matter how many names he attaches to a letter supporting his position, I trust the advice of Nick DeSantos of O’Connor Davies.  They are our independent auditor – they are the consultant for the legislature.  He and his team have advised us to be cautious and insist on a plan before deciding whether to apply the premium to the deficit and that is exactly what we are doing.

Now I am an eternal optimist – likely an unusual quality for someone in elected office – I remain as committed to working collaboratively with the County Executive today as I was on January 1st.  But it takes ‘two to tango’.

Someone needs to tell him that last year’s election is over.   HE WON!  CONGRATULATIONS!  But now it is time for him to stop campaigning and start leading.

Democratic Legislator Joseph Meyers responded to his Democratic colleague saying that what he read did not strike him as “bullying” but rather as a welcome change that finally meant there was some “aspect of a vibrant democracy in the County of Rockland” and that he personally was “excited when he read it”.  He went on to explain to Chairman Wolfe that actually his own behavior had some aspects of which he was complaining were coming from Ed Day saying that he was an independent legislator and referring obliquely to Chairman Wolfe’s own arrogance stated he would like not to have others decide for me what I need before I can vote on something”.

I listened to the comments of Chairman Wolfe with some interest.  I actually saw Ed Day’s email.  I didn’t view it as bullying, I viewed it as finally some aspect of vibrant democracy in the County of Rockland.

It is not uncommon for an Executive, whether it be a President or a Governor, to make their position known and to urge people to contact their congressmen, their assemblymen, their legislators to get passage of something that it is the Executive would like.

I would hardly call that “bullying”.  I won’t get into the aspects of whether in the ‘give and take’ of politics some things are slanted from one side to the other and I’m sure that that exists on both sides. 

But the characterization of it as “bullying” mystifies me.  I was excited when I read it.  Finally for the first time in the six years that I have been here a County Executive was actually urging something and making some attempt to have the residents of the County know about some legislation that he would like this body to pass.  I never experienced that in the past 6 years and being in the legislature I was excited by that!

I hope we have MORE of that and as long as it is kept respectful I personally am one of the independent legislators and I would like to vote on this as one of the 17 legislators.

I didn’t ask for a plan!  Maybe the leadership asked for a plan but I as one of the 17 legislators didn’t ask for a plan and I would like to have my say on this by voting on it.  I would like not to have others decide for me what I need before I can vote on something.

Furthermore on the premium, we weren’t necessarily anticipating any premium at all and we would have had the problem of how to pay the interest in 2015 and 2016. That was something that was cited by a number of legislators including me.  How were we going to pay that premium?  What is the plan for paying that interest in 2015.  I know that the original plan was a sales tax revenue.  That did not go anywhere at the State level.  We never really came up with another plan.  What we did pass, I believe, was a law sponsored by Legislator Schoenberger saying that we had to pay down the debt paying a certain amount of money aside each year to pay down the deficit.

There was no plan associated with that!  We said “that sounds good we are going to allocate money to pay down the deficit”.  Where is that money coming from to pay down the deficit each year?  There was an echo chamber – there was no answer –  there was no plan that originated from here.  Now suddenly we need a plan?  We do need a plan and the plan is called the 2015 budget.  To ask the gentleman down the hall (Ed Day) to come up with basically the budget now, which is essentially what you are asking for, how is he going to pay the interest? 

Well we always wondered how we were going to pay the interest!  We are asking him to come up with his budget now as to how he is going to pay the interest.

So when we talk about distorting on both sides it is a little distorting to say that we asked for a plan and he hasn’t given it.  What you have asked for is the 2015 budget NOW.  Of course, he cannot give you that right now.  He said he will ‘bite the bullet’ and reduce expenses. 

I would like to have a year, meaning 2014 when we can end the year without having increased our deficit.  That would send a tremendous signal to the rating agencies and others that we have turned the corner.  It looks so terrible to have borrowed $90 million plus as a deficit financing measure only to have the outside world looking in and saying “Oh, its business as usual; they increased the deficit yet again even after getting the money”.

There are costs associated with this maybe its not $250,000 its $125,000 at the balance of the year.  That is a cost the taxpayers are going to have to be burdened with.  Even if we take this money and use it to pay down the interest next year, that is not a plan either!  Because at some point in the next 15 to 20 years we are going to have to pay that millions of dollars every single year and we have NEVER had a plan to do that.

He is willing to come up with one.  The burden will be on him to come up with one.  The burden has always been on the County Executive.  LET HIM DO IT!

It’s not exactly the case that this body has been a model of fiscal prudence of the past several years and now we are coming in on our ‘white horse’ saying that we are the guarantors for fiscal prudence for this county? NONSENSE

The leadership of this body didn’t do anything when the problems were coming to the fore with our budgets in the past.  That has led us to the position we are in.  He was elected popularly and he has said he will do something about it starting with the 2015 budget.  Let him try!  We were perfectly happy to let the previous County Executive run us into the ground with the cooperation of this body.  Let’s let the man try to reverse it.  That is my opinion.

I would like to vote on this issue (whether to use the $11 million to pay down the deficit or not) as one of the 17 independently elected legislators as you mentioned.

Legislator Meyer did not get a chance to discuss what to do with the $11 million given Day’s desire to pay down the deficit with it immediately.  The motion proposed by Legislator Carey failed on party lines to get the required minimum of ‘ayes’ to pass. All of the Republicans voted for Carey’s motion except for the one outstanding Democrat – Legislator Joseph Meyers – who had welcomed the first appearance in the social media of some aspect of a vibrant democracy in the County of Rocklandwhich he had never experienced before.

It appears that Chairman Wolfe is now determined to lead Rockland County into stasis with a public spat in the social media between him and County Executive Day.

Maybe he should leave the Legislative ‘schoolyard’ and go back to playing with his crayons?

About Michael N. Hull

Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.

About the Author
Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.