Much of the February agenda is uncontroversial and deals with paperwork such as acquiring the right to build on tiny pieces of property around road projects in Wappinger and Pleasant Valley and the rail trail in the Town of North East and reappointing people to the Traffic Safety Board.
But one item some colleagues and I would like to tweak are the Rules of the Legislature.
If a legislator were to leave the legislative chambers and a vote is called while they’re gone, most people would figure they’d be marked as absent or non-voting or as having abstained. And if someone misses a vote because they’re not there, well, that’s life. I’d hope that their fellow legislators would wait a couple of minutes for them to return but if not, so be it. And the missing legislator can explain their absence to their voters if need be.
But – believe it or not – there is a section of the Rules of the Legislature that says that the missing legislator’s vote will automatically tallied with the winning side. Legislators can vote even when they’re not there and don’t get a choice of which side to support!
Look, I know this situation isn’t going to happen often. Most of our meetings don’t last long enough that people need to use the restrooms and emergency phone calls from our families are rare. But it happened last year to one of my colleagues during a five hour budget meeting. She stepped out for the restroom and during the few minutes she was gone, a vote was called – perhaps intentionally – and her vote was stolen away and tallied against her wishes.
Again, it is rare but the idea that the legislature would put in its rules the ability to have someone forced to cast a vote they disagree with under any circumstances – well – it is undemocratic. In fact, the whole idea of a legislator voting without even being in the room is absurd.
We’re trying to change that rule so the only person casting votes on behalf of the people of Red Hook and Tivoli (and all the other towns and cities) are the people they elected.
What do you think? I welcome your input. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.