Finally, a public hearing with some action! The Moreland Commission convened Monday night and called on the New York State Board of Elections Co-Executive Directors to testify. It was sorta like the movie where you know something bad is going to happen, but you just don’t know what exactly. Moreland is comprised largely of Prosecutors and they performed like they were in court. Softening up the targets with what sounded like innocuous questions, but were in fact set-ups for a brutal cross examination that followed.
The tone was set early when Todd Valentine of the BOE was delivering his opening remarks and was interrupted halfway through his allotted ten minutes to be told that he only had five minutes left. With a lingering stare right back up at the Commission members, Valentine paused for several seconds before loudly thanking them. It was icy. And a sign that this was not going to be friendly.
Peter Zimroth,One of the Commission members, read aloud one of Valentine’s own emails which basically revealed that he doesn’t like including Democrats in decisions they are making ( Valentine is a Republican ). This helped establish that the structure of the BOE, with it’s equal number of Republicans and Democrats is not the necessarily the best structure for teamwork and getting things done. But the real fireworks came when Commission Co-Chair Kathleen Rice had her crack at them.
The BOE officials began by explaining how grossly understaffed they are. Co-Executive Director Robert Brehm told the Commission,
“We have had an 800% increase in the responsibilities since local filers were required to file at the state board of elections and a 30% reduction in staff.”
But under questioning from the commission members it was revealed that not only is there partisan gridlock at the Board of Elections, the Board failed to hire staff, even when it was budgeted to do so. For example from April 2007 to July 2008 the Board was authorized to hire for 21 positions, and it only hired 6. Rice said,
“Mr McCann ( BOE Attorney ) is laying out this impossible Herculean effort that the BOE makes and yet you had 21 positions to fill and you didn’t fill them. Why is that?”
“We worked diligently to fill them. No one anticipated the fiscal crisis we would be under.”
He was then interrupted by Rice who reminded him,
“This was before the fiscal crisis.”
The Commission was also able to demonstrate that complaints were not properly followed up, and employees begged for work from their superiors only to be turned away.
So what does this prove? Well, it proves that it’s not hard for a room full of career Prosecutors to beat up on the poor shlubs who run the BOE. But it also goes to the larger point that reform is needed. Governor Cuomo had pushed for better protocols and enforcement mechanisms within the BOE, but his reform package died a painful death in the final days of the legislative session. Perhaps this will at least demonstrate that the one portion of Cuomo’s legislaltive package ( the BOE portion ) should be reconsidered, and he wasted no time time driving home the point this afternoon telling Reporters,
“It doesn’t effectively do enforcement, which has been my point all along. You have these bureaucratic mechanisms which are basically gridlocked by design.”
Now, who would ever make the accusation that Moreland is taking it’s cues from the Governor?? That would be ridiculous.
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