Highlights of the January 15, 2009 special meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Chair Koplinka-Loehr Says Vice Chair Revote Improper. Asks Legislature to Reach Clear Decision
At a special meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature, Chair Michael Koplinka-Loehr stated that his decision to call for a revote for the position of Vice Chair at the Legislature’s January 6 organizational meeting was in error, and he laid out options for correcting that decision.  The Chair issued a formal apology to his legislative colleagues, County staff, and the public, and said he takes full responsibility for the error and its consequences.

Legislators Martha Robertson (who was elected Vice Chair in the revote), Carol Chock and Will Burbank announced that they were attending the special meeting “in protest,” and Legislator Jim Dennis said he was “unhappy” about the need to attend.  They maintained that this matter did not amount to an emergency situation and objected to the session being called by the Chair when all members could not be present.

Addressing the Legislature, Mr. Koplinka-Loehr stated:

“Upon reviewing the tape of the January 6th legislature meeting and in consultation with Jonathan Wood, our county attorney and parliamentarian, it is quite clear that when I called for a revote on Vice Chair after a recess I did not have the authority to do so. Several legislators pointed that improper action out to all of us during the meeting of January 6th but we did not take corrective action due to the confusion my mistake caused for the remainder of the meeting. That constituted a breach of our rules, and Robert’s Rules of Order are the parliamentary rules which apply for elections in this instance. In a moment I will lay out options for definitively correcting that breach and the corresponding ruling which I made later in the meeting.

“Before I do so, you, my esteemed colleagues, our staff and the public deserve an apology and a more complete explanation of my actions. First and foremost, I offer my deepest possible apology for this human mistake, to you all, to the entire organization of county government, and to the entire community of fellow citizens that I have sworn an oath to serve. I erred and I ask for your consideration of understanding for that error, which I am committed to correcting commencing with this meeting.”

Explaining the decision, the chair said he had been “under a great deal of political pressure” to reverse his vote and improperly succumbed to that pressure, adding that he deeply regrets any loss of public confidence in the legislature’s decision-making process that it may have caused.

Based on advice from Attorney Wood, Mr. Koplinka-Loehr cited three possible options for the Legislature to achieve a definitive outcome at a future meeting:  to suspend the rules of the legislature and revote (the option the Chair favors); for a legislator to declare that a “continuing breach” had occurred and to ask the Chair to remedy the breach by vacating his violation, opening the door to appeal and revote; or for a legislator to move   to “rescind” the Chair’s decision, which could only be done in case of malfeasance.  According to the County Attorney, “any disagreement as to who is or should be the Vice Chair of the Legislature should be resolved by the County Legislature.”  Mr. Koplinka-Loehr suggests the matter be taken up at the next meeting where all 15 legislators are in attendance.

Legislator Dooley Kiefer disputed the Chair’s contention that his ruling was in error, maintaining it was clearly part of his parliamentary responsibility to manage voting and announce the impact of a vote.  Legislators Robertson and Burbank said they were disturbed by the circumstances surrounding the meeting, with Robertson expressing concern that it could damage the collegiality of the body.  Legislator Pam Mackesey read a statement from colleague Nathan Shinagawa expressing his objections.  Legislator Mike Hattery expressed appreciation to the Chair for taking the initiative to resolve the issue as expeditiously as possible, and Legislator Frank Proto recommended that the Legislature take a careful look at its rules, including clarification of what constitutes an emergency, which necessitates all 15 legislators to attend.

The Legislature’s next regular meeting is Tuesday, January 20.  

Contact:  Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair of the Legislature 274-5434 or 257-2329; Legislator Martha Robertson, 272-0584; Legislator Michael Hattery, 844-4361; Legislator Frank Proto, 277-4875.

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