Democrat DuWayne Gregory was elected Tuesday to his fifth term as the Suffolk Legislature’s presiding officer in an 11-7 party line vote, though Republicans also put forward Legis. Tom Cilmi, the new GOP caucus leader.
Democrats, with GOP support, also adopted rule changes to shorten often marathon legislative meetings that start at 9:30 a.m. and sometimes go after midnight. One cuts the two-hour lunch break at meetings to 90 minutes, A second limits legislators to making a single presentation honoring individuals or local groups at each meeting.
Lawmakers also unanimously agreed to move up confirmation votes for those named to county boards and commissions so that potential appointees did not have to wait for hours.
Legis. William Lindsay (D-Oakdale) said the moves also would cut the cost of meetings. “It’s important to lead by example,” he said. “The best way to save dollars is start with pennies so we can face the challenges in front of us.”
Cilmi (R-East Islip), who was named caucus leader last week over Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), proposed five GOP rule changes to improve transparency. Only one was approved — a requirement that draft committee and meetings agendas go on Suffolk’s website four days beforehand. There’s no deadline now.
Cilmi said he was “very disappointed” Democrats did not back most of the GOP’s proposed changes after Republicans supported Democratic initiatives. “So much for the spirit of bipartisanship,” he said.
The GOP move comes after County Executive Steve Bellone put forward five emergency resolutions at last year’s final meeting, which included $22.75 million in borrowing for new county health centers and lifting the residency requirement so new District Attorney Timothy Sini can hire lawyers from outside Suffolk.
The proposed GOP changes would have required the county executive to file emergency resolutions — known as certificates of necessity — at the legislature by 5 p.m. the day before the meeting so that lawmakers would not be forced to review last-minute bills while voting on other measures.
They also proposed a ban on an emergency resolution that is a local law or a charter law — both of which normally must undergo public hearings with advance notice in the county’s official newspapers. When put up as an emergency resolution, a notice for a public hearing is posted for only an hour outside the legislative auditorium, a practice Cilmi called “a farce . . . that does nothing to notify the public.”
Democrats countered that the rules now give lawmakers needed flexibility to deal with emergency situations, and safeguards to prevent abuses — including a requirement for a two-thirds vote for approval. The GOP, which this year has a seventh vote, can now block such measures. Democrats also noted the county executive must hold a fully advertised public hearing before the emergency measure could be signed.
Cilmi also sought a rule to allow lawmakers to request that speakers be put under oath when they testify before lawmakers to “add a line of surety” that consultants and administrations officials are being truthful.
However, Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor) worried Republicans were trying to “weaponize the ability to question speakers,” most of whom were taxpayers just trying to give their views.