No Democrats, dissenters allowed at annual Republican coronation

It’s that special, warm and fuzzy time of year again. Time for the new 2017 chairman of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors to be selected in private: this time Wednesday at the Raindancer Restaurant in Perth.

Reporters, members of the public, and especially Democrats, needn’t attend.

County Republican Chairwoman Sue McNeil will be present to oversee this year’s coronation soiree. Seventeen Republicans on the 20-member board are invited to cloister in a closed-door Republican “caucus.” Only supervisors from McNeil’s political party will partake in finger food and holiday drinks to pick next year’s leader of county government.

This is the way it’s been done for eons in Fulton County.

Every year, a couple of weeks before Christmas, the Republican contingent of the Board of Supervisors selects the next board chairman at a private function. Sometimes the event is a brunch, sometimes a dinner. The county seat of Johnstown’s finer restaurants used to host them, but they’ve branched out across the county. Republican supervisors make it a holiday gathering.

Committee leadership assignments (no Democrats need apply) will also be lobbied for and finalized.

I don’t  really know the finer details of these GOP kingmaking sessions. I’ve never been invited to one. But sources say only a few of the longtime supervisors usually firm up the final chairman choice. Everyone else falls in line.

“I don’t know how they [expletive] get away with it,” says one board member, who requested anonymity.

In addition to 17 Republican supervisors, the board includes Gloversville 1st Ward Supervisor Marie Born and Gloversville 2nd Ward Supervisor Frank Lauria Jr., both Democrats. Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Gregory Young is an independent member.

But Born, Lauria and Young won’t be board chairman and never will be. All indications are current Republican board Vice Chairman Mike Kinowski will be named 2017 chairman, with Republican Broadalbin Supervisor Thomas Christopher appointed vice chairman.

After Kinowski and Christopher are selected Wednesday, the board will make it official next month.

The board will open its organizational meeting at 10 a.m. Jan. 3 at the County Office Building. Republicans will caucus again in the closed office of county Administrative Officer Jon Stead. Minutes later, the GOP members will emerge in the chambers to formally nominate and confirm — with escorts — what they did Dec. 15 at the Raindancer.

It’s all grand, anti-climactic theater.

The state Committee on Open Government allows caucuses, but the county GOP doesn’t have to hold them.

“In general, either the majority or minority party members of a legislative body may conduct closed political caucuses, either during or separate from meetings of the public body,” a state opinion says. “Many local legislative bodies, recognizing the potential effects … have taken action to reject their authority to hold closed caucuses and to continue to conduct their business open to the public …”

I hope someday Fulton County gets out of a dark restaurant during the holidays to pick its leadership in the daylight.

—  The city of Johnstown is choosing to maintain the same 9 percent tax-rate hike that was proposed in interim Mayor Cindy Lakata’s tentative budget that she released in early October. That’s two months of wrangling over minor line items to cut hundreds or a few thousands of dollars to no avail. Nobody wants people to lose their jobs, but when are governments or school boards going to realize that layoffs may be the only answer for an inflated tax rate like 9 percent. No one wants to see those either.

—  Members of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors just voted themselves pay raises for 2017. The chairman will earn $10,665 and the other 19 members will get $8,102. Most regular members attend three meetings a month –two committee sessions and one full board session. Add in a couple of meetings at budget time, and if they have perfect attendance, they’re at about 40 meetings a year.

With an $8,102 salary, they’re earning about $200 per meeting. If a typical meeting goes two hours, they’re earning about $100 per hour.

Of course, they say they put in a lot more time.

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