MAYVILLE - Republicans made opposition all too easy.
That was Lori Cornell's comment midway through the County Legislature's reapportionment discussion Wednesday night.
The Jamestown Democrat thanked Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, for giving Democrats all the fodder they needed to criticize and condemn the redistricting proposal.
"We are, quite frankly, sitting here in awe that you have admitted, fully come out and admitted, that this was an illegitimate process," Cornell said.
Barmore's "admission" came during comments he made regarding how much work he put into the reapportionment process.
"I laid awake in bed thinking about this every night," Barmore said of the redistricting work. "I'd get up in the middle of the night and work on things on my computer. I was in constant email and phone conversations with the consultant. I personally had over 40 hours working on moving district lines, trying every conceivable change of district line and plan."
Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, listens to Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, make a point during Wednesday’s reapportionment meeting. Barmore was criticized by Jamestown Democrats Lori Cornell and Maria Kindberg.
P-J photo by Nicholas L. Dean
Neither Cornell, nor later Maria Kindberg, D-Jamestown, missed the comment - nor the opportunity for criticism that it provided them.
"From your arguments just made prior, this process was done completely behind closed doors," Cornell said. "You, with all due respect, sitting at your computer, behind closed doors, online with a political consultant from Albany, for hours on end, is not open government."
Whether or not it was open government, as the Republican caucus did eventually unveil their plan at the first reapportionment commission meeting - it was made clear again Wednesday night that the respective party leaderships disagree on how to go about the work of reapportionment. Democrats believe the two parties should sit down and do all the necessary work together, in public. Republicans preferred to have each of the caucuses prepare their own plans and then work together on compromise.
At the start of Wednesday's meeting, Minda Rae Amiran, of the local League of Women Voters, called the process a prize fight.
"Each contestant trains with his own specialist, or not, as the case may be," she said, "and then the sides meet once and once only to determine the outcome."
Later in the meeting, Barmore echoed that description when explaining how exactly Legislature Chairman Fred Croscut, R-Sherman, had called for the first meeting of the reapportionment commission.
"Mr. Chairman," he said, addressing Croscut, "I know you personally called Dr. Mueller the day after the census numbers came out, told him what we were doing, told him that we were going to spend the week developing a plan or plans and that we would come together the following Saturday for a meeting and that the Democratic caucus was to do the same thing and to come prepared. They did not come prepared."
AWE AND AMAZEMENT
At one point during his comments, Barmore said Republicans had first contacted the consultant they subsequently hired for the reapportionment process back in February.
Democrats called it a slip.
"That was a secret to all of us," Cornell said. "I had no idea until that two weeks ago (at the legislature's March meeting) when it was announced on the floor of the legislature that we were even thinking of beginning this process, and you had started it months prior."
Cornell went on to question how such actions served any good when legislators could have been "sitting down at the table and working" on a plan together.
Maria Kindberg, a fellow Jamestown Democrat, took Cornell's comments even further - alleging the majority caucus of lying to the minority Democrats as well as the public. Kindberg's full comments made on the floor of the legislature Wednesday evening can be found online at www.post-journal.com on the Mayville Bureau Blog.
"I've been a legislator for a number of years and I've seen a lot of power plays," Kindberg said. "I've never seen one quite as bold, straight-forward and brash as this however."
Some legislators were surprised by the Republican leadership's announcement last month that reapportionment work would move forward. It was during the March 23 meeting that county Republicans announced they were going to try to downsize the legislature in time for this November's elections, and that there was only a two-week timeframe during which to draw the new districts.
Something was said about "software" and "computer programs" by Barmore at that meeting, prompting questions and criticism from Democrats.
"I remember that last month, on this floor, I asked you, Mr. Chairman, 'Has work begun on this plan?''' Kindberg asked Croscut on Wednesday. "And you looked at me and said, 'To the best of my knowledge it has not.' True that you said it, yes, but I'm not sure how true the statement was since you had already contacted a consultant in February according to the majority leader's statements on this floor tonight.
"If in fact a consultant was contacted in February," Kindberg continued, "work on this plan had begun when I asked last month if it had begun. Was I lied to? I don't know. Was it a matter of semantics? Did I phrase the question incorrectly? I'm not sure. I guess we can play games with language, but I think that the work had begun."
Kindberg continued on to reiterate that it's her belief work began after the consultant was contacted. She also reiterated that she now believes she and others were lied to by the leaders of the County Legislature's Republican caucus.
"Utter awe and amazement," Kindberg said Wednesday. "I'm in utter awe and amazement. I think I was lied to last month. I think the people in this body were lied to. I think the citizens of Chautauqua County have been lied to. I understand the strength of the statement that I'm making. We've been misled. We've been lied to. This is bad policy."
Croscut responded to Kindberg during Wednesday's meeting, explaining that, yes, he did meet with the consultant in February.
"That's true," Croscut said, "but you know me better than to accuse me of lying to you or not being up front. I met with the consultant in February at NYSAC. I had no further comment with that consultant, only what he was going to charge us, until whenever we went up to see him. And to be very honest, I couldn't do much because I had no money. But the county Republican Party did. They had $3,500. That's no secret."
Republicans maintain that work on the redistricting plan did not begin until after the new census numbers were received. Additionally, contact with the consultant in February was merely to negotiate a price and reserve his time for when the census numbers were finally released.
The reapportionment plan to downsize the County Legislature to 19 members in time for the 2011 election was defeated in a 16 to 8 vote Wednesday night.
Five Republicans joined the legislature's 10 Democrats and sole Independence Party member in defeating it. One legislator was absent, Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia.
As a result of the plan's defeat, downsizing and redistricting will not be able to happen now in time for this November's elections. Instead, the County Legislature will instead remain a 25-member body through 2013.